Playing with Fire caught my eye because I've always liked reading horror/thrillers, and this one is a compilation of several horror short stories. Score! Thanks to Ms. Coral Russell for giving me this opportunity.
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Best Served by Susan Evelyn
Widows of the Night by Robynn Gabel
Bitten by Nomar Knight
Playing with Fire by CAV Laster
Devil of a Ghost Tour by Coral Russell
Key to a Haunting by Coral Russell
Amador Lockdown (excerpt) by Coral Russell
Flawed by Brian Fatah Steele
The Stuff Dreams Aren't Made Of by Brian Fatah Steele
This Dark Magic by Chryse Wymer
Living with Murder (excerpt) by Chryse Wymer
Let me just preface by saying that rating horror stories is akin to rating how spicy your food is. Everyone has different spice thresholds. What might be spicy for me, might be too tame for you. What might be horrific to me, might be so-so to you. And vice versa.
When I think of Horror, I'm immediately looking for the chill-in-your-spine, goose-bump-tickling kind that makes me look over my shoulder when I'm turning off the lights in my house for the night. While gore and graphic-ness is okay with me, I usually tend to favor the kind of psychological horror to scare me silly. Atmosphere, good tense writing, pacing, and appropriate descriptions can all contribute to a good scare.
Best Served is like a paranormal appetizer to whet your craving for more. I did not find this horrific by my standard, but nevertheless it was a pleasant read. You have a young mage playing detective in hopes of catching the man who killed her friend. A tiny bit suspenseful, but the outcome is predictable.
Widows of the Night is slightly disturbing, and is probably my favorite out of all the stories simply because of the emotions it invoked in me. The protagonist is a young girl who suffers neglect and abuse from her mother. Her punishment for the smallest mistakes entails spending the night in a closet crawling with Black Widow spiders (and she's an arachnophobe). Being one myself--an arachnophobe, not a spider! Sheesh--I had a lot of sympathy for this girl. The descriptions of her stay in the closet made me shudder. And that's a good thing. ;)
Bitten would appeal to zombie lovers anywhere. The protagonist lends an air of comic relief, even after he got bitten. So I enjoyed this, though I was mostly smirking while reading. Meeaattt!
Playing with Fire is a military experiment gone awry. Or is it? I got drawn into the story right from the start, and even while I kinda knew where it was heading, I read it anyway. I actually sympathized with the protagonist, who was suddenly abandoned by his father and hunted down by weird, evil-looking creatures. He didn't see it coming. Poor guy--all he wanted was a Hummer and he got the you-have-to-save-the-world kind of a deal instead. Lesson: Be wary of secretive military fathers who dabble in strange experiments.
Devil of a Ghost Tour is your typical ghost/demon possession story. A married couple goes on a ghost tour hosted by paranormal investigators Hector and Marcos. The story goes back and forth between the past and the present: the history of the haunted hotel and the young couple's experience while touring the hotel. While this is fairly solid and well-written, I felt like there was unnecessary verbiage, like Hector and Marcos' light bickering or dialogue lines that had nothing to do whatsoever with the story line. Aside from that, it was a nice, pleasant read. Didn't scare me out of my seat, but that's alright.
Key to a Haunting had a lot of beautiful potential. The love story aspect between the factory worker girl and the boss' son had me sighing after them. Like the story before this, it goes back and forth between the past and the present: (past) the forbidden love between worker girl and boss' son; and (present) a man struggling to succeed financially and to keep his marriage from crumbling apart. I kept expecting a sort of parallel between the two stories, and at least a resolution with the haunting, but I was shocked when it ended quite abruptly. Also, Hector and Marcos appear in this segment as paranormal investigators.
By the way, I love the historical aspects of Ms. Russell's stories. They bring so much dimension to the plot themselves.
Amador Lockdown (an excerpt) is such a tease...well, considering it's an excerpt so yeah. Here we have the Paranormal Posse back again with Hector and Marcos and a few others of their group hosting a cemetery tour. I loved this and it creeped me out, so kudos to the author for the creep factor!
Flawed is a perfect, horrific family drama. What happens when our darkest, flawed traits are magnified? For the protagonist, it means chaos and death. This is a story that makes one think.
The Stuff Dreams Aren't Made Of is another brilliant piece by the author who wrote Flawed (Brian Fatah Steele). It is melancholic, rather than horrific, but I really like the concept here of Dreams and Hell. Very original.
This Dark Magic has a great, easy-to-read voice. It follows the story of a Gazette reporter who gets thrown into the ugly world of Dark Magic and necromancy. I was drawn in immediately because of the voice, but the plot itself needed to tie some of its loose ends together, even for a short story. There were creepy, intriguing parts, but in the end, I was left more confused with the relationships between characters, instead of finding that "aha" moment.
Living with Murder (an excerpt) has a sci-fi feel to it, with the technology that this world possesses (such as the Oracle which lets you go through someone else's memories. As this is an excerpt, there is no resolution, but I thought it raised a lot of conflict and thought-provoking questions. The writing is well done--excellent descriptions and voice.
I really did enjoy reading this anthology. I'd give this 3.5/5 stars.
If you're interested, here are the links: