Monday, April 20, 2015

2014 Australian Shadows Awards nominees

The Australian Horror Writers Association has announced the shortlist for the 2014 Australian Shadows Awards, awards recognizing annually the best published works of horror fiction written and edited in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania. The winners will be announced on Friday, April 24th via the AHWA’s social media sites.

BEST NOVEL:

“Suicide Forest” by Jeremy Bates (Ghillinnein Books)
“Book of the Dead” by Greig Beck (Momentum Books)
“Dark Deceit” by Lauren Dawes (Momentum Books)
“Wolf Creek Origin” by Aaron Sterns (Penguin Books Australia)
“Davey Ribbon” by Matthew Tait (
HodgePodge Press)

BEST SHORT FICTION:

“Mephisto” by Alan Baxter (Daily Science Fiction)
“Shadows of the Lonely Dead” by Alan Baxter (Suspended in the Dusk, Books of the Dead Press)
“Mummified Monk” by Rebecca Fung (Daylight Dims Volume 2, Stealth Fiction)
“Bones” by Michelle Jager (SQ Magazine, Issue 14, May 2014)
“Last Year, When We Were Young” by Andrew McKiernan (Last Year, When We Were Young, Satalyte Publishing)

BEST EDITED WORK:

“SQ Magazine, Issue 14, May 2014” edited by Sophie Yorkston (SQ Magazine)
“SNAFU” edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J Spedding (Cohesion Press)
“Suspended in Dusk” edited by Simon Dewar (Books of the Dead Press)

BEST COLLECTED WORK:

No shortlist, winner to be announced

PAUL HAINES AWARD FOR LONG FICTION (NOVELLA):

“Ghost Camera” by Darcy Coates (self-published)
“Dreams of Destruction” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings (self-published)
“The Shark God Covenant” by Robert Hood (Dimension6, Coeur De Lion Publishing)

Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Review - "Pumpkins in the Closet - Burials" (Calabazas en el Trastero - Entierros)

Publisher: Saco de Huesos
The review is based on a bought copy of the book

A horror anthology centered on burials and funerals is a very interesting concept, with a wealthy potential for making the theme very scary. With fear of being buried alive popping right away into mind, a torment made by Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and the movie featuring Ryan Reynolds and directed by Rodrigo Cortés, “Buried”, even more frightening, “Pumpkins in the Closet – Burials” could pile up further nightmares related to the final road we are all inevitably going to take.

“The Michael Ranft’s Treatise” (El tratado de Michael Ranft) by Miguel Puente Molins – On the Halloween night two friends go to the cemetery to dig out the grave of an alleged gipsy witch, one to prove the affirmations of Michael Ranft’s two hundred years old treatise on vampires, witches and living dead, one to prove the other wrong. There is nothing groundbreaking at the opening story of this anthology, but Miguel Puente Molins executes very nicely the subject of “The Michael Ranft’s Treatise”. An obscure, occult volume on dark matters always holds an appeal for me, but the author also creates some powerful imagery within his tale. The violent acts surrounding the death of the alleged gipsy witch are brutal, without descending into unjustified gruesomeness Miguel Puente Molins projects on the readers’ eyes images not easy forgettable through the brutal act that leads to the vicious suicide of the supposed witch. And the lack of an original twist for the end of the story is heavily compensated by the way the protagonist experiences the final event, even seeing rats as playful, sweet and pleasant little things in hope that they are the cause for the dreadful sounds surrounding him.

“Death Certificate” (Certificado de defunción) by Manuel Osuna – Alfredo, an old undertaker who struggles to make ends meet, accepts the odd job of taking an unidentified man, dead by drowning, to the nearby cemetery. When in the middle of the night a winter storm prevents him from going further and the roaming wolves from the surrounding forest spook his horses making them bolt Alfredo faces an imminent death by freezing or by falling prey to the nocturnal predators. His only means for escape seem to lie on the dropped coffin from the runaway carriage. Manuel Osuna creates an excellent atmosphere within his story, besides the uncomfortable feeling left by the particularities of Alfredo’s job the extreme weather and the menace of the nocturnal predators generate an oppressive setting, working in the fullest. The end of the story is a bit predictable, but fortunately the situation becomes apparent well towards the finale, up to that point “Death Certificate” left me fumbling for the outcome of the tale, with plenty of room for satisfaction in the process.

“How the Mayor Attended the Night Debate of Buddy, ‘the Gravedigger’” (De cómo el señor alcalde acude al debate nocturne de Buddy, “el Enterrador”) by Juan de Dios Garduño – Buddy, an underachiever preferring to work as the gravedigger and cemetery caretaker of his village, holds intellectual nocturnal debates in his home, but for the latest, concerning the merits of horror literature over the more conventional one, he needs to summon the presence of the mayor in support of his opinion. It is a shorter story, but all the pieces of its plot fall, nicely, into place right at the end. There is also a tint of humor in Juan de Dios Garduño’s tale and although that is of a dark shade it still works favorably for the story, adding it an extra interesting layer.

“Important is to Start” (Todo es empezar) by Pedro Escudero Zumel – Samuel, the narrator of the story, recollects, twenty-three years later, his first day of work as one of the cemetery’s caretakers, when Antonio, the veteran occupant in a similar position, guides him through some of the tasks of his new job. Only some of them require more cold blood than Samuel imagines they would. I am afraid that I was not impressed by this story. Although the tale takes another approach of the anthology’s theme than the previous ones it does not manage to send a frightening feeling across. Yes, the protagonist comes face to face with something completely unexpected but his sense of terror left me cold and the danger he faces over his years on the job doesn’t leave the impression of menace I was left to believe it poses.

“The Procession of the Mourners” (La procession de las plañideras) by Jorge Mulero Solano – A procession of mourners follow the bodies and spirits of 26 women, dead in an unknown, strange event, into the afterlife. I cannot pinpoint a specific plot within the very short span of this story, I can only say that some of mourners walking in this procession are the mythological virtues and there are a couple more references to Greek mythology. Although it is hard to define Jorge Mulero Solano’s story it still contains some powerful imagery.

“The Junction of Music” (El cruce de la música) by Francisco Jesús Franco – The protagonist of the story kidnaps three girls he finds on the roadside following a car accident. “The Junction of Music” is told through the perspective of the main character holding a conversation with the three kidnapped girls while taking them to a secluded place within the woods and at the destination, although that is pretty much a monologue since the terrified girls have no direct part in the dialogue. This approach from Francisco Jesús Franco brings great fluidity to his tale. The character reveals his intentions early on, creating the sense of dread quickly, the readers, as much as the three kidnapped girls, are left to discover the manner through which he wishes to execute his plan only late in the story. The constant chattering is marked by sudden changes in the character’s attitude, sometimes very polite, sometimes angry, sometimes mocking, and throws a light on the terror behind his acts and motivation. The ordeal of the three girls unfolds also through little comments made when they have a certain reaction to something the protagonist says, these small glimpses on their responses to the fearful event looming ahead adding further dread to the story.

“Harvest of Bones” (Cosecha de huesos) by José María Tamparillas – Lucas Cebrián inherits a small farm from his uncle but his efforts are rewarded only by very poor crops and a great number of buried human bones. He is unaware that the people from the nearby village bury their suicides on his grounds and when Lucas discovers that he suspects there is something connecting these burials and his miserable crops. José María Tamparillas builds a deeply dark, haunting atmosphere throughout his story. Starting with Lucas, a character whose entire existence is full to the brim with misfortune, and continuing with the setting, spilling further mischance on Lucas’ already full of misery existence, “Harvest of Bones” is full of an unsettling feeling.
“Month after month, year after year, Lucas fought bravely against the fate he had inherited: a farm infected with leprosy, in the middle of an unhealthy moorland where only the mosquitoes, the snakes and the rats thrived: surrounded by a sterile land with which he had to fight to get some fruit.”
This disturbing feeling and overbearing atmosphere starts to grow however, the constant presence of hot temperatures and humidity, the self-imposed isolation together with the suspicions and rejections Lucas faces from the villagers and the eerie events of the burial make the story even more chilling. The icing on the cake comes with the end of the story in form of a long and very powerful final scene, uncompromising imagery and high-voltage tension gathering around one sinister event. José María Tamparillas strikes a balance of uncomfortable images and bloodcurdling sensations making “Harvest of Bones” raise goose bumps on my skin. Very strong characterization and excellently built atmosphere make this story one of the best I read in recent times.

“We Are Nothing” (No somos nada) by Laura Luna Sánchez – Assisting at the funeral of her friend the protagonist of the story makes comments on those attending it alongside her. Although the story touches on the theme of the collection it derails from its terrifying elements being more of a statement on hypocrisy and modern social status. It is also a very short tale, approximately matching the length of “How the Mayor Attended the Night Debate of Buddy, ‘the Gravedigger’”, but while that one delivers a punch through dark humor “We Are Nothing” doesn’t compensate in the same way. I am afraid that although its comment on modern society and some of the relationships born out of it is interesting the story misfires when it comes to the unsettling and disturbing aspects related to the anthology’s purpose.

“Moroaica” (Moroaica) by Juan José Hidalgo Díaz – Sophia Smith runs a herbalist shop, but the other side of her business deals with more occult aspects. When a countess enters her shop and her servant calls Sophia a very strange word she feels that can find an answer, with the help of the countess, for the powerful dream that haunts her constantly. The title of the story rang a bell as soon as I read it, the moroi is an important part of the Romanian mythology. (It is believed that a baby dead before being baptized, killed or buried alive or a person buried without a religious ceremony can turn into a moroi. In other legens a moroi is the offspring of two strigoi, which are bad spirits of the dead.) The story proved that I was not wrong to think of that, “Moroaica” deals exactly with this element of the Romanian mythology and it does so with outstanding efficiency. Juan José Hidalgo Díaz clothes this legend with powerful scenes and shivering feelings, his story sent, more than once, ice cold bolts down my spine. Sophia’s bizarre dream, her visit to the madhouse and the story she hears there are highlights of this very good tale. The author also flavors “Moroaica” with dark aspects of the historical times in which the story is set, adding further dread through some harsh realities of those years. I loved Juan José Hidalgo Díaz’s deeply unsettling story not only for his excellent take on a Romanian legend, but also because it tackles the anthology’s theme with originality.

“... And Avoid the Bad Thoughts” (… Y evitar los malos pensamientos) by Manuel Mije – An uncle and his nephew, both death and mute, go to a funeral in their village and on the road there they place little objects on the road. This story is a bit odd, but not in a bad way. It works in subtle ways and the outcome is left hanging in the air, without a straightforward conclusion. Among the other stories of this collection Manuel Mije’s tale is also the one leaving an optimistic feeling in its wake, but still using some of the sad facts related to humanity along the way.

“An Empty Grave” (Una tumba vacía) by Juan Ángel Laguna Edroso – A young boy sneaks into the attic of his grandparents’ house to read his favorite comic books. A nice little story, with a catchy twist and a metafictional touch. It is not a spectacular story, but it emits that lovely vibe similar to a point to that of “Tales from the Crypt” vignettes.

“They’ll Cry for You” (Y llorarán por ti) by José Ignacio Becerril Polo – A man wakes to find himself in the middle of one of the worst nightmares, buried alive. I guess for the main topic of this collection going at some point for the perspective of a buried was inevitable. However, what hurts “They’ll Cry for You” is José Ignacio Becerril Polo relating the story in first person, for me it took away some of the suspense and tension of the situation. The first person perspective let me believe the character will not end buried for good, otherwise how could his story reach out with the details only the buried protagonist could experience. Towards the end the author salvages something out of this through not one, but two interesting turns of the story. Unfortunately, as much as I appreciated the first, the second fell short from my point of view. Again it is the perspective nudging at me and also the fact that I believe the second twist has more to do with the soul than the body, which seems not to be the case here.

“It’s My Job” (Es mi trabajo) by Sergio Mars – The village’s gravedigger is called to attend the latest deceased, but some dead put him to harder work than others. It is not the most memorable way to bring this anthology to a close, but “It’s My Job” matches in tone some of the feelings associated to final departures. The sadness of a loss, the difficulty of accepting a destiny that awaits us all, seen from both points of view, are interesting aspects of Sergio Mars’ story. Like I said, not the most memorable story of the collection, but quite fitted for its end.

“Pumpkins in the Closet – Burials” is not an anthology where every story is a hit, but it has the merit of avoiding most of the pitfalls of its theme. With plenty of original tales, several strong writers and a couple of memorable stories “Pumpkins in the Closet – Burials” is a collection worth reading.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Table of contents - "The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015" edited by Paula Guran

Not Final Cover
I didn’t have a love at the first sight affair with short fiction, I grew into it over the years. At first the small allocated space seemed to frustrate my desire of emerging into the stories and creating a bond with the characters. However, I discovered that done right short stories delivered those with the same efficiency as longer fiction and even offered their twists and turns, their bangs and punches at a faster rate. Not to mention that I find myself more often re-reading a favorite short story than a novel. So I became quite fond of short fiction. Caught between short stories and novels novellas seem to fare better on the market than the former and less than the later, but they are certainly another appealing form of fiction. And since some of the most rewarding reading experiences I had in the past several years came from novellas I welcomed without restraint Prime Books’ initiative of launching an annual series of anthologies dedicated to science fiction and fantasy novellas. The first edition gathers, as it’s the case lately with all the year’s best collections, some of the fiction published online, but since I am not always able to catch up with them “The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novellas: 2015” gives me the chance to find them in a volume. That without mentioning that being a fan of K.J. Parker the presence of the author’s name on any table of content is enough to sell me that particular collection. Therefore, I am looking forward to read Paula Guran’s “The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novellas: 2015” and I am keeping my fingers crossed for this series to run as long as possible.

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novellas: 2015 inaugurates a new annual series of anthologies featuring some of the year's best novella-length science fiction and fantasy. Novellas, longer than short stories but shorter than novels, are a rich and rewarding literary form that can fully explore tomorrow's technology, the far reaches of the future, thought-provoking imaginings, fantastic worlds, and entertaining concepts with the impact of a short story and the detailed breadth of a novel. Gathering a wide variety of excellent SF and fantasy, this anthology of "short novels" showcases the talents of both established masters and new writers.

Contents (alphabetical order by author last name):

“In Her Eyes” by Seth Chambers (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2014)
“The Churn: An Expanse Novella” by James S. A. Corey (Orbit)

“Where the Trains Turn” by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen (translated by Liisa Rantalaiho) (Tor.com, 15 November 2014)
“Yesterday’s Kin” by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
“Claudius Rex” by John P. Murphy (Alembical 3: A Distillation of Three Novellas, eds. Schoen & Dorrance)
“The Things We Do For Love” by K. J. Parker (Subterranean Press Magazine, Summer 2014)
“The Mothers of Voorhisville” by Mary Rickert (Tor.com, 30 Apr 2014)
“The Lightning Tree” by Patrick Rothfuss (Rogues, eds. Martin & Dozois)
“Dream Houses” by Genevieve Valentine (Dream Houses WSFA/ Wyrm Publishing)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

2014 Aurealis Awards

Saturday, at the University House, Canberra, the winners of the 2014 Aurealis Awards have been announced.

BEST FANTASY NOVEL
“Dreamer’s Pool” by Juliet Marillier (Pan Macmillan Australia)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY
“St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls” by Angela Slatter (The Review of Australian Fiction, Volume 9, Issue 3)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
“Peacemaker” by Marianne de Pierres (Angry Robot)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
“Wine, Women and Stars” by Thoraiya Dyer (Analog Vol CXXXIV nos 1&2 Jan/Feb)

BEST HORROR NOVEL
“Razorhurst” by Justine Larbalestier (Allen & Unwin)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY
“Home and Hearth” by Angela Slatter (Spectral Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
“The Cracks in the Kingdom” by Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY
“Vanilla” by Dirk Flinthart (Kaleidoscope, Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION
“Shadow Sister: Dragon Keeper #5” by Carole Wilkinson (Black Dog Books)

BEST COLLECTION
“The Female Factory” by Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter (Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST ANTHOLOGY
“Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories” edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios (Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL/ILLUSTRATED WORK
“Mr Unpronounceable and the Sect of the Bleeding Eye” by Tim Molloy (Milk Shadow Books)

CONVENORS’ AWARD FOR EXELLENCE
Night Terrace

Congratulations to all the winners!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Guest post - "What Flavour of Apocalypse" by Tsana Dolichva

Apocalypse fiction rarely includes characters with disability, chronic illness and other impairments. When these characters do appear, they usually die early on, or are secondary characters undeveloped into anything more than a burden to the protagonist. Defying Doomsday will be an anthology showing that disabled characters have far more interesting stories to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction.

Defying Doomsday will be edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, and published by Twelfth Planet Press in mid 2016. Defying Doomsday is currently crowdfunding via Pozible. To support the project visit: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday

What Flavour of Apocalypse?
by Tsana Dolichva

Apocalypses come in all forms. And yet, if someone says “post-apocalyptic wasteland” I automatically picture a pretty similar scene, not matter the context. The image in my mind is of a barren landscape, probably a bit desert-like, maybe with some ruined buildings dotting the horizon. Why is that the default? I’m not sure. It’s not that I haven’t read stories where the world floods, or superstorms wreak havoc on the Earth, or climate change sends Earth into a deep freeze. And that’s not even touching on the creative ways aliens can kill us all, or the more permanently cataclysmic astronomical events that could destroy all life on Earth.

So why is the barren landscape what pops into my mind in the absence of other settings? I’m starting to wonder if it’s not a legacy of the Cold War. Did the fear of a nuclear holocaust imprint itself so strongly on our collective consciousness that it’s still our go-to apocalypse scenario? Maybe it’s just me, and maybe it’s a product of the specific places and times where I’ve spent my life, but I write this as someone who has lived something like 85% of her life post-Cold War.

That’s not to say that nuclear apocalypses aren’t a perfectly valid choice of setting, although I do prefer it when the background behind them is well thought through.

The truth of the matter is there are many different possible scenarios that destroy the world as we know it and the possible permutations are endless. From the mundane (see above) to the cataclysmic (Earth being torn apart) to the weird (the laws of physics suddenly stop working and neutrinos start reacting — I will never forgive you for that, 2012). We want to give authors the opportunity the explore all sorts of scenarios with all sorts of characters.

For Defying Doomsday we’re also looking for stories with disabled or chronically ill characters, but that doesn’t mean the apocalypse needs to take a back seat.

Author Bio:

Tsana Dolichva is a Ditmar Award ­nominated book blogger. She is editing the anthology Defying Doomsday with Holly Kench, the managing editor of Visibility Fiction. As editors and readers of science fiction, who also live with disability and chronic illness, Tsana and Holly have often noticed the particular lack of disabled or chronically ill characters in apocalypse fiction. They are excited to share Defying Doomsday, an anthology showing that people with disability and chronic illness also have stories to tell, even when the world is ending.

 To support the anthology or to preorder a copy of Defying Doomsday, visit: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday . Your support is greatly appreciated! You can find out more about Defying Doomsday at the website or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

About Defying Doomsday:

Defying Doomsday is an anthology of apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled characters, which will be edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, and published by Twelfth Planet Press in mid 2016.

Apocalypse fiction rarely includes characters with disability, chronic illness and other impairments. When these characters do appear, they usually die early on, or are secondary characters undeveloped into anything more than a burden to the protagonist. Defying Doomsday will be an anthology showing that disabled characters have far more interesting stories to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction.

The anthology will be varied, with characters experiencing all kinds of disability from physical impairments, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and/or neurodiverse characters. There will also be a variety of stories, including those that are fun, sad, adventurous and horrific.

The stories in Defying Doomsday will look at periods of upheaval from new and interesting perspectives. The anthology will share narratives about characters with disability, characters with chronic illnesses and other impairments, surviving the apocalypse and contending with the collapse of life as they know it.

Defying Doomsday is currently crowdfunding via Pozible. To support the project visit: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday

About the Campaign:

Defying Doomsday will be funded via a Pozible campaign, with the assistance of a Crowbar grant from Arts Tasmania. The campaign will run from April 1 2015 to May 1 2015, with a funding goal of $13,000 to cover production costs, reward items, and the funds to pay authors a professional market rate. You can support the campaign here: http://pozi.be/defyingdoomsday

Twelfth Planet Press:

Twelfth Planet Press is an award winning Australian publisher, championing underrepresented voices in speculative fiction. In 2011, Alisa Krasnostein won the World Fantasy Award for her work with the press, and Twelfth Planet books and stories have won the Shirley Jackson, WSFA Small Press, Aurealis, Ditmar, Chronos and Tin Duck awards.

Links:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Review - "Grimm Mistresses"

Review copy received through the courtesy of the publisher

The best-selling book lists might include the fairy tales of Brothers Grimm, but I believe they are the most famous stories out there. However, these old fairy tales hold not only fame, but also a power of transformation, they become something else while we journey from our childhood into adult life. They begin to reveal more than happy endings and merriment, their content becomes much darker. Of course, with modern entertainment spinning them into something new their power of transformation is enhanced. “Grimm Mistresses” aims for such changes, taking five fairy tales and giving them a new life, but without losing their dark core in the process.

“Little Dead Red” by Mercedes M. Yardley – Marie’s daughter, Aleta, goes to visit her grandmother at the hospital but on her way there she meets a terrifying end. Marie tries to exact revenge on the creature responsible for the terrible deed. “Little Dead Red” is a tremendous opener for this little anthology. Mercedes M. Yardley spins a dark story, the darker you can find, to bone chilling precision. All the set of emotions Marie experience are sent in an unsettling correspondence across to the reader, her suffering, desperation, loss, longing, and unrelenting determination to find vengeance are brought to palpable extent, whirled with great talent by Mercedes M. Yardley through haunting scenes. There is a lushness of language within this story, but its beauty has on the other side of its coin an oppressing atmosphere, an event that breathes so much dread. The terrible event at the core of the plot is not the only one contributing to the very dark setting of Mercedes M. Yardley’s story, because unlike the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale, where this tale has its roots, here the wolf is not the only dangerous creature living in the forest and not as easily recognizable, hiding not among the trees of the forest but blending in the city landscape. “Little Dead Red” is a harrowing, deeply emotional story, one that shook my ground and chased away my sleep long into the night. It is also one of the very best I ever read.

“Nectar” by Allison M. Dickinson – Two men going on a double blind date end up being held captive by a group of women with a particular agenda. The story is twisted, bizarre take of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, but unfortunately beside this original take on the old tale I couldn’t connect at any level with the other elements of “Nectar”. Heavy of science fiction elements the story left me puzzling over some of his aspects. The men are taken to a location on Earth, but to a different time. They are brought there for breeding purposes since only women can survive there, the air being poisonous for the male population, but why the males cannot withstand the noxious air is never explained. They are constantly fed a certain nectar that makes them depended to their captors, but that also fattens and drives them insane. Although with the story told from the point of view of one of the man held captive the degradation of his mind is never truly felt. From my standing point I also was unable to find any appeal in a rebellious act taking place, but without being supported by the believable reasons, and on a couple of gruesome images, not frightening in the way some horror stories play such scenes but stirring more the uncomfortable feeling of repulsion. Following in the wake of the very powerful “Little Dead Red” didn’t help Allison M. Dickinson’s story either.

“The Leopard’s Pelt” by S.R. Cambridge – During World War II, Henry Lowery survives an attack that sank his ship only to end up stranded on a deserted island. In order to escape what seems to be a sealed fate Henry strikes a deal with a leopard, a magical creature that is the only other inhabitant of the island. S.R. Cambridge weaves together very well the elements of fairy tales with a narrative of her own, creating a heart-warming story. Two powerful characters struggling against invisible boundaries and their condition, Henry facing the limits of the bargain he struck in order to survive and Beatrice fighting with a time and a society unforgiving with her dreams, find each other, ending up winning each other’s hearts and those of the readers. “The Leopard’s Pelt” is a wonderful modern fairy tale, one that kept me hooked within it and made me keep my fingers crossed for a happy ending. And while the finale brings with it a relief for the two main characters I also liked that it leaves some of the threads hanging, from that point things could very well become brighter or darker, it is entirely up to the imagination of the reader.

“Hazing Cinderella” by C.W. LaSart – Katie moves, not for the first time, into the house her mother’s new husband, but she must face the dislike and hidden agenda of her step-sister. At the same time her mother has some things to deal with too. I am not the one to make comparisons with other works, but while I read “Hazing Cinderella” I could not get out of my system that the story reminded me a great deal of the 2012 movie “Byzantium”, directed by Neil Jordan. Not in the way of being a copycat, but because it follows some similar roads and shares certain themes with this film. Leaving that aside C.W. LaSart’s story has its merits. It twists Cinderella’s tale in a very interesting way and while there is only a couple of touching points with the famous fairy tale the villains and the “rewards” they deserve according to their behavior are as nasty as those of the old stories. In my case the similarities with “Byzantium” make “Hazing Cinderella” more memorable but I am not the one to deny that the story delves in some vicious, brutal imagery that makes it a very dark tale.

“The Night Air” by Stacy Turner – Marla, in an attempt to offer a less threatening medium for her three little children to grow up in, moves together with her husband to a small town only to discover that some old perils still claim heavy tolls. I loved Stacy Turner’s take on the familiar fairy tale, I’ll not reveal it here since its discovery later in the story is part of the twist, but also the vibe of classic horror writings that “The Night Air” radiates. Small towns with old, well kept secrets and closed communities are elements that were points of attraction toward horror fiction ever since I first discovered the genre. The story reaches its turning point very well, it gathers momentum from Marla’s eerie discovery in the woods behind her new house and realism from the state of exhaustion she hits with the recent move and the demands of her work and young children. However, I felt a bit disappointed with the end, it leaves a certain feeling that I find difficult to grasp considering the tragedy unfolded previously.

“Grimm Mistresses” digs after the dark roots of Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales grafting this source with satisfactory results. There is very little happily-ever-after to be found within the urban woods of “Grimm Mistresses”, but since this collection aims for “those dark fairy tales that made you leave the light on long before Disney went and sanitized them” it achieves its objective successfully. It might not hit the bull’s-eye, but it is not far from it either.