Here With The Shadows by Steve Tasnic Tem – review by Mario Guslandi

mid_shadows1Here With The Shadows

by Steve Rasnic Tem

Swan River Press 2014

First Edition Hardcover, 165 pages

A review by Mario Guslandi

Here’s a short story collection by an American writer, published by a small British imprint, reviewed by an Italian reviewer and posted on an Australian website. Globalization has reached the world of dark fiction and this is a good thing because the present volume deserves to be enjoyed by as many readers as possible.

Steve Tem is a very prolific author of  “quiet” horror in its various shades, probing the secrets hidden in the human heart, which is the very source of any real horror. In his work you’ll hardly find monsters, gore and violence; you’ll find the sad, disquieting side of the horrors that affect our daily  life.

This particular collection is devoted to ghost stories, but, again, you won’t find here howling spectres lurking in old castles, but disturbing shadows lingering at the corners of our towns and cities. And most of those shadows are images of a past that still haunt our souls.

Among the fifteen tales assembled in the book, most are really outstanding examples of how good Tem is at his best.

The title story “Here with the Shadows” is a delicate, insightful piece where an old man lives his last days surrounded by a crowd of shadows, the shadows of the dead, while “A House by the Ocean” is a mesmerizing ghost story full of sorrow and despair, featuring two sisters separated for too long.

In the gentle  “G is for Ghost”, the main character is the ghost of a child, while in the subtly unnerving “Telling” the hidden secrets of a haunted house are finally disclosed.

“Back Among the Shy Trees” is an enigmatic, disturbing tale where a man returning to his now abandoned family house discovers some sinister facts about his long forgotten childhood.

“Seeing the Woods”, a story of intense lyricism, portrays an old semi-blind lady living in a cabin in the woods. Here the ghosts are those of her beloved trees burned down during a fire.

The nostalgic, melancholy “Smoke in a Bottle” depicts how the past is a ghost haunting our present and “Est Enim Magnum Chaos” is yet another great story about life and death, loneliness and old age, where people, as in the lyrics of the famous song “Ol’ Man River” are “tired of living but scared of dying”.

All great stuff.

-Review by Mario Guslandi

809 Jacob Street by Marty Young

809 Jacob Street

by Marty Young, Black Beacon Books, 2013

Reviewed by Kyla Lee Ward

809 Jacob Street coverSo, just what can an author like Marty Young do in a mere 189 pages?

For starters, set up one of those fictive situations that never end well. It’s the 1980s and fourteen-year-old Byron James is new in town. A run-down country town, where there’s nothing to do except go to school and there, it’s like he’s invisible. Only the other outcasts pay Byron any attention, and they are obsessed with the so-called Monster House out on Jacob Street. Byron is sceptical of their claims, Sceptical enough to go seeking answers himself.

“He knew then he was on the verge of the magical kingdom, the one he went seeking every time he ventured to the library. If he took another step back to where Joe had been, the old homeless man would come back into view and the shadows all about him would come to life… there’d be monsters in those shadowy vestiges of the world — there’d be nothing but monsters.”

At least Byron retains something of his childish innocence (“Kids who forgot they were growing up, he’d told them”). For all the immediacy of his fears, they can still be cast in terms of ghosts and vampires, entities with recognised limits and remedies. An exhausted remnant such as Joey Blue has no such defence.

Read the rest of this review at Tabula Rasa by clicking here.


The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes – review by Jodi Cleghorn

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Review by Jodi Cleghorn

A time-traveling serial killer is impossible to trace – until one of his victims survives.

In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras, leaving anachronistic clues on their bodies, until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

The Shining Girls by award-winning South African author, Lauren Beukes, is part dark supernatural thriller, part crime novel, part coming-of-age story, part time travel story, part historical fiction and part social commentary with a feminist bent. With so many angles to the narrative it could easily have become a tangled mess, yet Beukes pulls it off with class and style.

Set in Chicago, each of the historic periods reads authentically (though I am no expert) and it was refreshing to read the nuances in the voices of each of the POV characters (and there are a lot of them) based not just on personality but on the decade in question. Beukes has definitely not taken the easy way out.

The time travel (I’m calling it time shifting) rules are set early and as far as I can determine, the narrative abides by the rules (bending them slightly in terms of allowing Kirby and Mal entry to the house when they break in, by virtue of them possessing something from the house). The non-linear narrative of the time shifting stories occur between the linear stories of Harper in 1931/2 and Kirby in 1992. Like all the best time bending stories, you learn pieces of the plot out of time and without context allowing a slow piecing together of the larger narrative and those delicious a-ha moments when those non-context bits finally fall into place.

Kirby (the only of Harper’s girls to survive) is a protagonist with sass and you are with her each step of the way, desperately wanting her to find Harper so she’ll have vengeance and closure for her attack. It looks impossible, but slowly (partly through her own tenacity and partly through tightly-wound Harper coming apart at the seams) it looks achievable. I know there are others who have not enjoyed her bad-arse, punk attitude, but if the world spits in your face, you can either hide or go it head on. Kirby opts for the latter. Her hard-shelled, rebellious early 20’s self is consistent with the slightly detached, non-nonsense child we are introduced to early in the novel.

Dan (a burned out and jaded homicide journo-turned sportscaster) has the right amount of initial ambivalence toward Kirby as his intern and then pathos as her true mission is revealed. I have to agree with others that the romantic subplot woven into Dan’s character and the hapless knight in shining armour didn’t add anything. Beukes almost laughs at herself when Kirby re-asserts at the show down with Harper that Dan is Robin to her Batman. And while Dan might be in love with Kirby, there is a definite feel throughout that Kirby enjoys the off-beat companionship and perhaps a little flirtation but it’s an amorous relationship is not where she wants it to head. She is focused on the end goal and he is initially her meal ticket, then confidente and later partner-in-crime. Even the hardest and most determined protagonist needs someone to have their back in the 11th hour.

And then there is Harper, the time-shifting serial killer, terrifying in his cold-calculated stalking, the charismatic grooming of the young girls and sadistic dispatching of their older selves. His initial confusion in his changed circumstances helps to ground the reader in the weirdness of the house he happens upon while escaping from Hooverville vigilantes. The later awe, then fear of the plan laid out for him, gives us a sense of the inevitability of where he finds himself, both as a passive recipient ‘of the plan’ and as the active participant of ‘of murderer’. He’s the best type of antagonist because Beukes gives the reader a sense of Harper’s humanity as he attempts to court Nurse Etta. Despite his sociopathic drive, he still has a need for human understanding and contact, echoed again in his short-lived desire for Alice.

Being drawn into the worlds of each of the victims and their slaughter is perhaps the most horrific element of the book. We know from the list of names on the back cover who the girls are. At the first point of contact with each of them we know none of them will walk away with their lives as we are drawn into their worlds: their relationships, careers, hopes, pain and dreams. This makes each shining girl a well rounded character and amplifies the senseless violence of their deaths. (Beukes doesn’t hold back on the grisly details either.)

Each of the shining girls dies in their own time, but there is a sickening anticipation in the reader as Beukes kills some off in the chapter where we first meet them and others chapters later. The chaos of the reveal echoing Harper’s killing spree.

The story of Alice is perhaps the most disturbing of all, as the only one of Harper’s girls who waits with passionate intensity for his return. Harper, the man who kissed her with wild abandon when she was sacked from her job as a dancing girl in the carnival and then disappeared telling her he would be back. Alice waits for him to swan back into her life and save her. As the only girl with any agency in her death, she is perhaps the most closely aligned with Kirby and why she resonated with me beyond her death in a way the other women didn’t.

While ‘the shining’ is never articulated by Beukes (and this seems to have upset some readers–though it appears as ‘potential’ on some edition’s blurb and not on others?) it is there, woven intimately in the lives of each of women. They are all living outside the acceptable boundaries of society as dictated by the decade they’re in. They contain an inner fire that allows them to thumb their noses at societal expectations; to confront with verve and determination the discrimination and hurdles thrown up by their gender and complicated by race, career, sexual and political preferences. In some cases it is a personal choice, other times it is by luck (good and bad) of circumstances. It’s not just a knife blade that can extinguish the shining. It is not a certainty for the future as we see when Harper’s arrogance leads him to tamper with Catherine’s understanding of her life. While Catherine expires as the other shining girls do, it would seem she has been dead for years and Harper disappointed by this, becomes disillusioned and looses confidence in himself; he has undermined himself with the ego of his God complex.

The outstanding ensemble of characters is topped off by well-rounded secondary characters from Indian-goth Chet, one of the newspaper’s librarians to Rachel, the barely present mother surrounded by her own ineptitude and broken dreams as a woman, mother and artist. Then there is Kirby’s high school love, Fred Turner, who is so off the mark when they meet up again, that the car scene is beyond cringe-worthy. All are absolutely believable and add to the overall tapestry.

The only character I wondered about was Mal, the homeless addict, whose interest is piqued by the odd comings and going of Harper from the condemned building in Mel’s neighbourhood. While Mal ramps up Harper’s sense of paranoia by stealing from the house, the number of pages devoted to Mal seem superfluous to the overall narrative in what was such a strong collection of characters who all had something real to add to the momentum of the story.

And the house. (It appears I have a penchant for creepy houses.) The house is character, tech and paradox. The true nature of its existence revealed beautifully at the conclusion (it had me thinking of the Elyora Homestead). The paradox is circular, and is thus self-serving, but Beukes does a brilliant job of justifying it, filling in all the holes as she goes. The post script ties up the narrative perfectly, allowing the ends of the circle to fuse together in a truly satisfying manner.

The Shining Girls is a complex, gruesome, slow burn of a novel that achieves what it set out to do without taking the easy way out.

- review by Jodi Cleghorn

Jodi Cleghorn is a Brisbane-based writer, editor and publisher. Learn all about her at

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – review by Marty Young

HillJ-NOS4-UK&US_thumb[1]NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

ISBN: 978-0575130678

Reviewed by Marty Young

“Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

Exclusive to the print editions of NOS4A2 are more than 15 illustrations by award-winning Locke & Key artist Gabriel Rodríguez.”


I’ve been a fan of Joe Hill’s ever since I read his collection of short stories 20th Century Ghosts, and in particular his short tale called ‘Pop Art,’ about a friendship with a living inflatable boy. It sounds odd and somewhat crazy but it was a highly emotional tale that knocked me for a six. As I’m quickly discovering, Hill is very capable of making the odd believable and fuelling it with a lot of emotions along the way.

Since that first encounter, I’ve read Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, along with the brilliant Locke & Key, and have enjoyed them all. Subsequently, I was excited about NOS4A2 ever since I knew it was coming out. But the problem then is that expectations kind of get huge and you know the damn book won’t live up to it. I ended up having Hill’s monster tome (it’s 692 pages) sitting on my desk for several weeks before I dared pick it up and begin reading, not wanting to ruin just how good the thing looked (my hardcover came with deckle edging and included fantastic artwork by Hill’s Locke & Key partner Gabriel Rodríguez).

So was it worth it? Did it live up to my expectations? Yes, for the majority. Is it worth reading? Absolutely, without a doubt.

At first, the story sounded somewhat odd when I tried explaining it (there’s a guy who drives an old car that is an extension of himself and he rejuvenates himself by kidnapping kids and taking them to an imaginary world called Christmasland, where nothing bad ever happens, except the kids become frightful things with rows of small hook-like teeth and a desire for playing bloody games, while the heroine is mentally scarred by what happened in her past and can travel to her own make-believe world by a magical bike over a bridge that doesn’t exist but can be seen by others, meeting along the way a stuttering librarian who has her own magical scrabble tiles that tell her what’s going to happen…), but the more I thought about it, the more frightening it started to sound. Either way, the insanity is believable, the story engrossing, and the characters, each of them broken and troubled, connect strongly with the reader, and that empathy is what makes this novel work so well and what makes it so damn terrifying.

The heroine, Vic McQueen is a bad-ass tattooed biker mom with a foul mouth, who would do anything to protect her son from the true villain of the book, Charles Talent Manx III. She is troubled and damaged in the most extreme ways, even setting fire to her home by putting all of the telephones into the oven, and spending time in a mental hospital as a result (you can’t blame her, though, as dead kids from Christmasland were calling her, and that’s probably enough to derail the most sane of us). As a kid, she discovers she can ride across the Shorter Way Bridge on her Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle to her ‘inscape,’ the world inside her. Everyone has an inscape; Vic uses hers to find lost things, while Manx visits his via his Rolls-Royce Wraith and takes what doesn’t belong to him. And as all inscapes are connected, Vic and Manx soon run into each other, adding the biggest scars to Vic’s then young life, and the reason for Manx’s desire for revenge.

The tale spans several decades, and when we leave Vic as a child and return to her as an adult with a young boy of her own, we can see the results of her troubled past gleaming from her eyes and colouring in all she does.  She has tried to convince herself her inscape was a delusion, but then the stuttering librarian turns up and sends her spiralling into madness again. Vic McQueen is a wholly believable character whose suffering drives her on and you can’t help but feel for her plight. Her obese geek husband (who saved her as a child) is like a giant but protective teddy bear, and you’re thankful for that ‘cos you know he is always going to have her back, and Vic deserves someone like that. Hell, I’d have her back. No bastard would hurt her under my watch.

Hill’s characters are the driving force of this story. Even Bing Partridge, Manx’s mentally challenged sidekick, evokes feelings of pity instead of hate. Bing believes he is doing the right thing throughout the book and has no idea he’s one of the villains, something which perhaps makes him come across as even more pitying and horrifying at the same time. That’s the same with Manx, too; he doesn’t see himself as evil, only as necessary in order to ‘save’ the children from a life of misery caused by unloving parents. But whereas Bing is the creepy guy you feel sorry for, Manx’s cheerfulness is always unsettling. He’s not nice at all.

There is a lot of horror in NOS4A2 but the novel is by no means explicit. The abduction of a child would be most parent’s worst nightmare, and the kidnapping of a parent as well is family-shattering. Bing has his horrible way with the parents but this horror is conducted off the page, with Bing thinking about the deep loving conversations he had with them as he teaches them about love. As Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “Where there is no imagination, there is no horror.” Here, Joe Hill leaves us to vividly imagine what these poor people endured in their final hours, and this shaded horror works a treat.

Perhaps the biggest sticking point for this reviewer was the ending, which didn’t really do the book justice. It’s difficult to comment too much here without giving it away, but it will suffice to say a character I had spent many hundreds of pages getting invested in, isn’t really afforded their dues. And to be honest, this left a bitter taste in my mouth. However, this is a small gripe about an otherwise highly enjoyable read. The ending doesn’t ruin the book and nor should it put you off.

The sneaky little references to the works of Hill’s dad, Stephen King, were a neat touch, too; there’s Pennywise’s Circus, Mid-World, Shawshank Prison, the True Knot (from King’s upcoming Doctor Sleep), and even a mention of King’s fictional town of Derry. Hill has said in interviews that instead of trying to hide from his father’s huge shadow, he would embrace it, and have a little fun. Indeed, despite the stark horror filling the pages of NOS4A2, there is a lot of playfulness throughout the book. Hill also references is own earlier work, in particular the Treehouse of the Mind from Horns, and the town of Lovecraft, MA, from Locke & Key.

NOS4A2 is a highly recommended book that can be devoured as easily as Charles Talent Manx III devours children. Joe Hill is already a wonderful storyteller, and NOS4A2, his biggest book in both size and scope to date, proves he is only getting better.

- review by Marty Young

Marty Young is a Bram Stoker nominated and Australian Shadows award winning editor, writer, and sometimes ghost hunter. He was the founding President of the Australian Horror Writers Association from 2005-2010, and one of the creative minds behind the internationally acclaimed Midnight Echo magazine, for which he also served as Executive Editor until mid-2013.
Marty’s first novel, 809 Jacob Street, will be published in late October by Black Beacon Books. His short horror fiction has been nominated for both the Australian Shadows and Ditmar awards, reprinted in Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror (‘the best of 2008’), and repeatedly included in year’s best recommended reading lists. Marty’s essays on horror literature have been published in journals and university textbooks in Australia and India, and he is also co-editor of the award winning Macabre; a Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears, a landmark anthology showcasing the best Australian horror stories from 1836 to the present.

His website is


A Killer Among Demons – review by Martin Livings

A-Killer-Among-DemonsA Killer Among Demons

Edited by Craig Bezant

Published by Dark Prints Press 2013

Review by Martin Livings

In his introduction to A Killer Among Demons, editor Craig Bezant states that two of his greatest passions in fiction are crime and horror. Dark Prints Press has previously published well-received anthologies dealing in both of these genres – crime fiction in The One That Got Away and horror in the Australian Shadows Award-winning Surviving the End – but this is his first foray into combining the two, and personally I hope it’s not the last. A Killer Among Demons collects the work of a variety of authors, both local and international, all writing tales of supernatural crimes, ranging from the most personal and human – revenge, murder, obsession – all the way to the apocalypse itself, and even beyond.

The quality of stories in A Killer Among Demons is uniformly high. One fantastic element of every single story in the collection is the sheer invisibility of the writing, which is a staple of fine crime fiction especially. The reader is simply absorbed into the stories, swallowed whole, without being aware of the act of reading. As the much-missed Elmore Leonard once sagely advised, “if it sounds like writing, rewrite it”. This is a rule all ten writers in this collection clearly followed. Different readers will find different favourites – I personally lean away from the more standard gumshoe-style stories towards other more unique viewpoints and plots – but I can’t imagine any fans of crime or horror fiction being disappointed here.

Some of my personal favourites were “Cuckoo” by Angela Slatter, about a justice-meting body-swapping demon which finds itself up against something even worse than itself, Alan Baxter’s nigh-on Lovecraftian “The Beat of a Pale Wing”, which blends dark magical rituals with urban mobsters, and “Angel’s Town” by Madhvi Ramani, a bloodily violent tale of revenge from beyond the grave taken to its logical conclusion. The absolute highlight for me though was Stephen M. Irwin’s “24/7”, the longest – and closing – story in the anthology, which was a damn near perfect horror crime tale in my mind. Again, revenge takes a front seat (literally!) in this story of a man driven (again, literally!) to extremes by jealousy and rage. From mysterious beginning to inevitable but surprising end, “24/7” is a great piece of storytelling, and a fine end to the book.

With only ten stories nestled in its pages, and consisting of a mere 224 pages, this collection is short, sharp and deadly effective, like a bullet with a crucifix carved into it. This book is a must-read for fans of horror, crime and all things in between, and Bezant deserves great credit for gathering the work together and shaping it into a very unique and absorbing anthology.

(A brief disclaimer – Craig Bezant and Dark Prints Press are also the publishers of my collection Living With the Dead. But don’t hold that against them!)

- review by Martin Livings

Perth-based writer Martin Livings has had over sixty short stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His short works have been listed in the Recommended Reading list in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and have appeared in both The Year’s Best Australian SF & Fantasy, Volumes Two and Five, and Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2006 and 2008 editions. His first novel, Carnies, was published by Hachette Livre in 2006, and was nominated for both the Aurealis and Ditmar awards. His collection, Living With The Dead, is available now. Find him at


Book Review – River of Bones by Jodi Cleghorn

This is a cross-post from Adventures of a Bookonaut.

river_thumb[1]River of Bones was previously published by the Australian Review of Fiction under the title of Elyora, the name of the town featured in the novella.  I read it back in January and by a stroke of good fortune happened to read Dr Lisa L Hannett’s article, Wide Open Fear: Australian Horror and Gothic Fiction at the same time.  Hannett introduced me to the concept of unheimlich, a term that roughly translates to an object, situation or place that has a quality of being familiar yet foreign at the same time.

The term describes River of Bones perfectly.  The setting is familiar, yet strange and Cleghorn presents a story that straddles the borderline between the everyday, the mundane and the disturbing.  She presents an Australian landscape and characters that I know and manages to embed a “wrongness”, a fractured reality that builds until the true horror is revealed.

Australia is the sort of country where a wrong turn can kill you, either the people, the animals or the environment.  The initial opening of the tale ( a short prologue was added with the new edition) starts off with a band in their combi-van traveling an outback road to a gig.  Most Australian’s have that experience of the road trip, of turning off into towns bypassed by the highway, of taking shortcuts that turnout to be long-ways-around.  Elyora could be anyone of a hundred once-were-towns in my state.

Read the rest of this review at Adventures of a Bookonaut.


Book Review – The Bride Price by Cat Sparks

This is a cross-post from Adventures of a Bookonaut.

tbp[1]Cat Sparks is probably more widely known for her role as an editor and small press advocate (indeed she was included in Donna Maree Hanson’s Australian Speculative Fiction: A Genre Overview as such). A talented graphic artist and photographer she’s been a stalwart, a firm fixture in the Australian Speculative Fiction scene long before I rocked up.

The Bride Price collects works that have appeared intermittently over the course of the last decade or so, it’s the short fiction that she’s fitted in around being generally brilliant and multitalented with everything else. And like everything she does in Australian speculative fiction its got that polished feel to it.

You can perhaps tell I am a little bit of a fan.

No collection can be everything to everyone, there’s usually some stories that hit the mark and some that don’t but heavens, I’d have trouble finding a story in this collection that I thought was even slightly off the boil.

Read the rest of this review at Adventures of a Bookonaut.