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Darkest Hours: Expanded Edition by Mike Thorn (Book Review)

cover image / art by Mikio Murakami

 

Between the covers of Darkest Hours, you will find academics in distress; humans abusing monsters; demons terrorizing people; ghostly reminiscences; resurrected trauma; and occult filmmaking. Ranging from satirical to dreadful, these sixteen stories share a distinct voice: urgent, sardonic, and brutal.  

This expanded edition includes a new foreword by Sadie Hartmann (Mother Horror) and author notes for every story describing Thorn’s process, influences, and more. This updated release also features seventeen of Thorn’s essays on horror cinema, which cover films by Tobe Hooper, George A. Romero, Rob Zombie, M. Night Shyamalan, Wes Craven, and Dario Argento, among others.   

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 

 

When I look at anthologies (multiple authors) or a compilation of works by a single author, I hope to walk away loving 1/2 of the short stories. With Darkest Hours: Expanded Edition by Mike Thorn, 11 out of the 16 horror tales scored a 4 or 5. That’s huge! It just shows you how well Mike Thorn crafted each storyline. 

Each story caused various reactions from me. Here are some examples:

 

HairAs a germaphobe, the idea of hair getting in my food or the possibility of eating hair is nightmarish. Ugh, just thinking about it makes my stomach turn. However, the inquisitive part of me wanted to know about hair fetishes. Oh my word, my browser history would raise some eyebrows. Curiosity made me read about hair eating (trichophagia), Rapunzel Syndrome (basically, hairballs), trichophia, and pubephilia. I’ll let readers of my review look those up for themselves. 🙂

While the plot 100% disturbed me and grossed me out, I was fascinated by the medical information surrounding the perversion to hair. 

Economy These DaysThis story wasn’t gory or horrific. It was, however, very plausible. In desperate times, people will do anything for money. So, I can absolutely fathom someone using their body as a punching bag. $450 a day, $2,250 a week, 9K a month, that amount of money is too irresistible to resist. Economy These Days made me wonder what I would do if there were no hope in sight. What would be my price? 

Lucio Schluter: In real life, humans are the real monsters of the world. They are the ones who abduct, inflict pain, suffering, torture, and kill. Every adult has probably watched at least one documentary of a famous serial killer, so you know the horrors that lurk in this world. For me, when Mike Thorn writes about plausible scenarios, that’s the stories that haunt me the most. The ones I won’t soon forget. 

 

Quick responses to 5 more stories featured in the Darkest Hours: Expanded Edition:

 

I’m never camping, thanks to Fusion!!! 

Mirrors are overrated, so I have no issue tossing all of mine in the trash. The possible result if I don’t is scary as shit! (Story, Long Man)

Mired: The absolute horror of the story was the blob eating all the textbooks. 😀

I’ve had many conversations about ghosts, so I loved the philosophical and theoretical discussions in Speaking of Ghosts. I wouldn’t want to face the actual outcome presented in the tale. Nope, I like to live in a world in hypotheticals. Leave the “seeing is believing” for other folks. 🙂

Mike Thorn ended the compilation with a fascinating tale. It’s a story through the eyes of a ghost. Remembering Absence wasn’t gory. It was another “thinker” story. While I love a good gory tale, I found this type of story sticks with you much longer because you’ll find yourself talking about the possibility of such an occurrence with your friends. 

 

After reading the sixteen stories, I learned several important facts.

No sober person had any supernatural encounters. Nothing good happens after dark, so stay the F*** home. Oh, and mirrors are evil so get rid of them! Now! 

 

Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 
Score: ❤❤

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Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Vastarien, Dark Moon Digest, The NoSleep Podcast, Tales to Terrify, and Prairie Gothic. His film criticism has been published in MUBI Notebook, The Film Stage, and Vague Visages. He completed his M.A. with a major in English literature at the University of Calgary, where he wrote a thesis on epistemophobia in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.

Connect with him on Twitter (@MikeThornWrites) or visit his website for more information: mikethornwrites.com.

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Death Perception by Lee Allen Howard (Book Review)

Kennet Singleton cremates the dead—and then they speak… “Avenge us!”
 
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.

He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice.

 

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(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique)

 

The gift of knowing a cause of death without insider information would come in handy for specific jobs — coroner and law enforcement. However, it’s more of a parlor trick for non-detective related occupations—unless you work in a crematory and the dead seek your help for vengeance. Then, it’s absolutely a welcomed gift. 

Kennet’s super power, gift, or whatever you want to call it, really came into play during the last 100 or so pages of the story. During this portion, things started to heat up. 😀

The dead wanted vengeance. Kennet wanted vengeance. 

Spirits communicated with the living to carry out their plan, and not all the angry souls were rooting for the good guy (Kennet). 

While the cover screams horror, in my opinion, I didn’t find Death Perception scary at all. I’m pretty sure I’d be singing a different turn if spirits wanted me dead and if one (or two or more) appeared before me. 

Was Death Perception weird? YES. 

Was it creepy? Yes! 

Seriously, roasting marshmallows over ashes and then eating them is WEIRD and CREEPY!

I only wish we would’ve seen more interactions between the spirits and the living. I wanted more creepiness. More horror. More suspense.

I was pleased by the ending, though. If anyone deserved a HEA, it was Kennet.

 

Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 
Score: ❤❤❤1/2

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About the author

I write dark fiction: horror, erotic horror, dark fantasy, dark crime, psychological thrillers and suspense. And technical manuals. All terribly horrifying.

Lee Allen Howard has been a technical writer in the software industry since 1985. (Why do fiction writers pretend like they don’t have day jobs? I like to eat just like everyone else!) I also edit fiction and non-fiction projects. I’ve done book layout and publishing consultancy.

A long time ago I earned a BA in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I also received an MA in Biblical Studies from CI School of Theology and an MA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University.Pride Flag

My publications include, but are not limited to:

I’m also the founder, editor, and publisher at Dark Cloud Press (http://www.darkcloudpress.com), publisher of horror, dark crime, and psychological thrillers.

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Death Perception by Lee Allen Howard (Book Showcase)

Kennet Singleton cremates the dead—and then they speak… “Avenge us!”
 
Nineteen-year-old Kennet Singleton lives with his invalid mother in a personal care facility, but he wants out. He operates the crematory at the local funeral home, where he discovers he can discern the cause of death of those he cremates—by toasting marshmallows over their ashes.
 
He thinks his ability is no big deal since his customers are already dead. But when his perception differs from what’s on the death certificate, he finds himself in the midst of murderers. To save the residents and avenge the dead, Kennet must bring the killers to justice.

 

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Read the first chapter here.

 

 

 

Lori S.
⭐⭐     Death Perception full of clever twists
 
Kennet Singleton is a young man with one of the worst part-time jobs I can imagine – he works in the local funeral home, operating the crematorium. Being a teenager, his mind is capable of dark humor adults might not understand and Kennet decides to try toasting some marshmallows over the remains of the corpses he burns in the oven.

Okay, he’s a little strange. Then he realizes that eating those marshmallows gives him the knowledge of how the deceased died. And that’s not so bad, until he realizes that the message he gets doesn’t match the information from the death certificate. Someone is murdering people and Kennet thinks his own mother might have been one of the victims. Kennet, with the help of a couple friends, investigates the murders, leading to all kinds of twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing.

Lee Allen Howard is a fine writer, with a knack for creating characters you’ll both love and hate. Everyone in the book comes to life under Howard’s skillful hands. Although the topic is a bit of a gross-out, this isn’t a disgusting book nor is it overly graphic. It’s a good book and I’d highly recommend it.

 
 
A Reader in the Mitten
⭐⭐     Death Perception full of clever twists

I’ve read a few of Lee Allen Howard’s other books, and I believe this is his best. They’re all gritty, realistic and chilling — not in a blood-and-guts way (although some details in Death Perception do spill out), but what I loved is Howard’s more-than-heroic hero. Kennet Singleton has had a rough life, and things just get worse due to some creepy people in the town – his greedy funeral director boss, the cold-hearted owner of the home care place where Kennet’s mother lives, and the half-stoned orderly who targets Kennet whenever possible. Howard does a masterful job peeling the layers in this deeply moving novel, revealing Kennet’s unusual gift of perception, plus the evil surrounding him. I cheered for Kennet every step of the way. A great, satisfying read.
 
 
Jennifer
⭐⭐ 

I’ve always enjoyed a good underdog story and Lee Allen Howard delivers just that with Death Perception. Our protagonist, Kennet, has had a hard life so why shouldn’t he enjoy some of the sweeter things? His boss may not like him roasting marshmallows on the job at the crematory but the dead don’t seem to mind. In fact, Kennet isn’t your average teen and that momentary pleasure brings him more than just a sugar rush. He soon finds he’s able to make contact with the deceased, giving him knowledge no one else is aware of. Part ghost story and part murder mystery Howard’s clean prose and spot-on timing make for a compelling read. The story is told with compassion for the less fortunate and insight into the way the world often torments the weak. But it also contains some truly laugh-out-loud scenes at the expense of the evil-doers and the ultimate triumph of the underdog. If you enjoy ghosts, revenge tales and mysteries this book is for you.
 
 
 
 

 

About the author

I write dark fiction: horror, erotic horror, dark fantasy, dark crime, psychological thrillers and suspense. And technical manuals. All terribly horrifying.

Lee Allen Howard has been a technical writer in the software industry since 1985. (Why do fiction writers pretend like they don’t have day jobs? I like to eat just like everyone else!) I also edit fiction and non-fiction projects. I’ve done book layout and publishing consultancy.

A long time ago I earned a BA in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I also received an MA in Biblical Studies from CI School of Theology and an MA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University.Pride Flag

My publications include, but are not limited to:

I’m also the founder, editor, and publisher at Dark Cloud Press (http://www.darkcloudpress.com), publisher of horror, dark crime, and psychological thrillers.

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Howl by Mariposa Cruz (Book Showcase)


Howl and Roar were originally released as two separate titles with the same cast of characters. Based on reader feedback, I decided to roll both stories under a single title when I re-released Howl. I had dedicated Roar to honor my dad so I kept his dedication and referenced the story as Book II, Roar. Find out what happens to Kate and Jack and the rest of the pack in Book II.

 

Evil often strikes in unlikely places, outside an office in broad daylight or at secluded cabin at dusk. This unflinching pair of shifter tales reveals the beasts in our midst. After surviving a brutal attack, a single mother’s days become a battle to maintain control while her nights are a disturbing blur of dreams. A workaholic is plunged into turmoil when her weekend romantic rendezvous becomes a desperate struggle to survive. Will love save them or be their undoing?


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Excerpt

     Jack’s fists clenched.

     “A month after Mom died, I started receiving newspaper articles about missing women. I knew Pierce picked up where his parents left off. I’ve been trying to track him down.”

    “Have you talked to the police?”

    “Except for the clippings, I have no proof. Even if they were to apprehend him, can you imagine what he’d do to a prison population?” Without more tangible evidence, enforcers won’t pursue the case.”   

    “Enforcers?”

    “Since criminal behavior risks exposing the entire were population, we have our own methods of dealing with illegal activity. Enforcers investigate, evaluate and execute if necessary.”

    “That’s harsh. How can one person act as judge, jury and executioner?”

     “It’s necessary, to avoid exposing the community. Do you want to spend the rest of your life caged in a lab?” Jack asked.

     “No.”

     “I did get one woman away from him and brought her to the lodge. I assume Lillian helped her sort out her life. I haven’t heard from her since. It’s probably better that way.” Jack hesitated.

     “What else?” Kate prompted. 

     “Pierce called me this morning.  He’s here. He left cigarette butts near your window.  I spent all day tracking him.”  Kate hugged her knees trying to shake a sudden chill.

      “When I think about what he did to you…” 

     “I’m all right. I want to be with you in any way, shape, or form.” Kate put her arms around him.  She felt the tension in his shoulders. Kate turned his face toward hers and kissed him slowly, her free hand stroking his beard.

     “I never realized you could be such a tease,” Jack murmured into her ear.

     “I never knew you could be such a beast,” Kate replied and she kissed him again. 

     He returned her kiss, pulling her onto his lap, his hands slid up her shirt caressing her bare back while she snuggled closer and wrapped her legs around him.

     The first howl startled them both.

     “Damn,” Jack muttered. Kate sighed.

     “We can’t be late for dinner?” She murmured.

     “No. I’m not going to rush this time. We’ll continue this later in bed. I’ll wait for you outside.” His fingers traced the curve of her bare thigh when he released her. He kissed her hard on the mouth then turned abruptly and left her to change alone. If he lingered around her much longer, they would miss dinner.

    Jack paced restlessly outside while he waited for Kate to join him. Changing in the chilled night air cooled his ardor. He heard the others in the distance and his stomach growled. Searching the forest for Pierce, he hadn’t eaten all day. What was taking her so long? It wasn’t as if she needed to freshen up her make up or curl her hair. Finally, after several long minutes a small silver wolf joined him. She nipped at him playfully as they raced to meet the others.

 

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Mariposa Cruz balances writing with working as a full-time corporate paralegal. For her Create on the Side blog she has interviewed a variety of real life characters from artists to romance authors. She works, writes and dances Salsa in Reno, Nevada.

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Raven’s Glen by Nancy E. Polin (Book Review)

Skylar Donaghue has no memory of the night her parents died. When the perfect career opportunity arises, she ignores her brother’s superstitious warnings, choosing to leave the Choctaw reservation where she grew up and return to the place of her birth…

Widowed and caring for his young daughter, relationships are the last thing on Jack Langham’s mind. A chance encounter finds him intrigued, then captivated by a beautiful, but mysterious, violet-eyed woman and before he realizes it, he’s falling faster than fate may ever allow…

Stephen Donaghue holds the key to that long ago night, but never speaks of it. Now that Skylar is being pulled into the past, he fears its ghosts will darken their future and claim his sister forever…
 
 
 
 
(review request submitted by the author for an honest critique) 
 
Raven’s Glen elicited many emotions from me. Read on to discover which ones and why. 


Curiosity: For a while, I pondered these questions…
What was up with the house?
What truly happened the night Stephen escaped with Skylar?
Will Nancy elaborate on John Patrick’s fascination with the occult?
What’s Molly’s background? How could she sense something was a miss with Jack’s house. 
What was up with the numerous encounters with the ravens?
Did Stephen have a unique skill like Skylar?
 
Frustration: Several times, I wanted to shake some characters. I wanted Jack to realize that not everything was kosher with his daughter, girlfriend, neighbor, and house. I wanted Stephen to wake up and stop dragging his feet regarding Chloe. 
 
Fear: For years, I have suffered from night terrors. No matter the age, they are frightening. I can’t imagine my bogeyman becoming real. I wouldn’t want to deal with a live version of Skylar and Avery’s monster either. Brief description: One side of his face was smashed in; the other was charred. An eye that appeared to be melting down his face. 
Gross, right?!
 
Love and Hope: Love was expressed throughout this story. Not always with words but with actions. Avery playing matchmaker for her dad. Avery trying to protect her dad and Skylar from the burnt man. Jack and Skylar finding themselves. Stephen finally realizing how important Chloe was to him. Jack sitting vigil against Sky’s bedside. Stephen taking a walk on the dark side. Even the ravens brought hope that evil would soon leave everyone’s life forever. 
 
I want to end the review with my favorite line from Raven’s Glen. It occurred during a meeting between Jack, the Principal, and a bully’s parents. The father of the bully said, “Words cannot physically harm, but hitting can.” What Jack said next is the absolute truth. 
 
(Jack) “Words can cause intense damage. It’s just not as easily seen with the naked eye.”
 
Recommend this book to others? YES! 

Heart Rating System:
1 (lowest) and 5 (highest) 
Score:  ❤❤❤1/2

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Nancy E. Polin began writing as a child and returned as a late bloomer to add experience and the occasional quirk to her work. She’s published four novels and several short pieces to date and is currently pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing. Nancy shares her life with her husband, kids and critters, nestled within the towering firs of the Pacific Northwest.
 
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