Book Recommendation – The Worm and His Kings

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Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper.

Hailey Piper writes horror and dark fantasy, and is a member of the Horror Writers Association.  She is the author of Unfortunate Elements of My AnatomyThe Worm and His KingsThe Possession of Natalie GlasgowBenny Rose, the Cannibal King, and others. Her short fiction appears in publications such as Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, The Arcanist, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, Tales to TerrifyBlood Bath Literary Zine, and many more. She lives with her wife in Maryland, where she haunts their apartment making spooky noises. Find her on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays and on Instagram via @haileypiperfights.

Hailey Piper author photo

Synopsis

New York City, 1990:

When you slip through the cracks, no one is there to catch you. Monique learns that the hard way after her girlfriend Donna vanishes without a trace.

Only after the disappearances of several other impoverished women does Monique hear the rumors. A taloned monster stalks the city’s underground and snatches victims into the dark.

Donna isn’t missing. She was taken.

To save the woman she loves, Monique must descend deeper than the known underground, into a subterranean world of enigmatic cultists and shadowy creatures. But what she finds looms beyond her wildest fears—a darkness that stretches from the dawn of time and across the stars.

Review

The Worm and His Kings is the best cosmic horror story I’ve read all year, and easily takes a place amongst my all-time favourites. It has a protagonist you really root for, creepy monsters (love the Grey Maiden), a fantastic backstory, lots of twists and turns, and plenty of unsettling and mind-bending scenes. It also has an ending that surprised me, but also makes perfect sense with the story. This is my first book from Hailey Piper, and I can’t wait to read what else she has written.”

Ben (@reading.vicariously)

To read the full review, click here!

The Worm and His Kings by Hailey Piper is available now at Horror Hub Marketplace

Book Recommendation – Tome

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Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Tome by Ross Jeffery.

Ross Jeffery is the Bram Stoker nominated and Splatterpunk Award nominated author of Tome, Juniper & Tethered. He’s also a Bristol based writer and Executive Director of Books for STORGY Magazine. Ross has been published in print with with a number of anthologies. His work has also appeared in various online journals. Ross lives in Bristol with his wife (Anna) and two children (Eva and Sophie). You can follow him on Twitter here: @Ross1982

Ross Jeffery author photo

Synopsis

Juniper Correctional, jokingly abbreviated to JC, a dark jewel in the crown of the godawful American prison system, where the very worst of Juniper rot for life-sentences that seem to stretch forever. In this hell-on-earth, it’s hard to tell most days who is worse: the inmates or the corrupt guards that enact the will of the monomaniacal Chief Warden Fleming. Fleming is a fallen star, a once bright-minded leader who turned the prison around, now hiding a terrible secret eating him away from the inside, a secret he’ll do anything to cover up. But Fleming has problems, problems that threaten to unveil his secret. There is killer among those housed at Juniper Correctional. Inmates keep turning up dead, murdered in ungodly ways, but nobody knows how or why. The only thing that connects them is a nameless book from the prison’s library.

Review

“So what were my favourite things about this particular story? Well something that I loved, was the little nods to the horror community. Both Joshua and Gemma Amor, another fellow West Country author, got a shout-out and there were a few little nuggets like that. Those meta references always make me smile, an if a normie was to read it, you never know, they might just go and google their name and hence, a new fan is born. I also really liked the fact that Ross wasn’t afraid to get right down to the nitty gritty with some of the gore. We had blood and viscera a plenty and I love that! Yes I know, horror doesn’t have to be in your face to fill you with dread but gimme some ghoulish gutting scenes and I’m in heaven – or hell haha.”

Janine Pipe, author of Twisted: Tainted Tales

“If you like the perverse mystery of Fincher’s Se7en (but with demons), the violent prison setting of Brawl in Cell Block 99, or the literary quality and bleak humanity of much of Cormac McCarthy’s writing, then you will absolutely enjoy this! The characters, though immensely flawed, are all fascinating and multifaceted. The story line is full of twists and scenes I will never forget.”

Ben Long, reviewer at @reading.vicariously

To read the full review, click here!

Book Review: The Burning Girls Explores the Horror and Hope of Religious Faith

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The Burning Girls horror book Cover
The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor

Is there anything more complex than religious faith? Faith can be ineffably inspirational and intractably inflexible, a source of hope to motivate some of humanity’s greatest heroes and an excuse to defend some of our most despicable monsters. And when most people talk about the subject, they tend to focus on one quality to the exclusion of the other. 

So it’s to the credit of British author C.J. Tudor that her novel The Burning Girls incorporates faith into horror story in a humane and principled manner. The book’s title refers to two young girls martyred in the 16th century for their Protestant beliefs. Today, villagers in their hometown remember “the Sussex Martyrs” as champions, holding memorial ceremonies and constructing twig dolls in homage. And sometimes, the girls’ flaming ghosts appear as omens to those who are in trouble. 

The most important troubled person is Reverend Jack Brooks, a vicar who has been moved, along with her fourteen-year-old daughter Flo, to the tiny Sussex village Chapel Cross from her urban parish in Nottingham. Jack brings along her troubled past, including the murder of a young parishioner, her husband’s shadowy death, and a family history that she does not want to discuss with anyone, including us readers. 

Despite her increasingly weighty baggage, Jack makes for a kind and engaging lead. Serving as the narrator for the majority of the book’s chapters (Tudor employs third-person voice for chapters focusing on other characters), Jack is quick with a quip and a forgiving aside, without ever feeling like a saint. The mercy she extends to others stems from an awareness of her shortcomings. When she begins judging a colleague for engaging in a sin of omission, she checks herself and thinks, “Who am I to judge?” 

This isn’t to say that Jack doesn’t make mistakes. She gives into anger and (like all parents) constantly flubs in her decisions with Flo. But given how easily this smoking, swearing, horror-movie-watching woman of the cloth could become a “cool priest” cliché, there’s something refreshingly real to Jack’s grounded approach to the transcendent, especially to a lifelong practicing Christian like me. The Burning Girls insists that everyone has their demons and fights them their own way. 

Despite the certainly admirable quality of this theme, the novel does become laden with tragedy. Everyone from a small-time reporter to a fellow vicar’s wife has a tragic backstory, which can become overwhelming. Given the mundane atrocities that mark The Burning Girls, pyro specters and crooked exorcism blades seem excessive.  

The problem is exacerbated by Tudor’s sometimes too-lean prose, which prioritizes snappy dialogue over clearly defined spaces and characters. The book often reads like a script, as conversations between characters can go on for over a page, with little more than a signal phrase to break it up. As a result, the characters feel thin, as we’re forced to construct our mental image of them from the things they say, rather than the physical attributes the narrator allows us to see. This tendency crosses over from frustrating to irritating when the characters indulge in pop-culture references, talking about Evil Dead, Bill Hicks, and (with surprising frequency) The Usual Suspects. Unless you’re Nick Hornby, readers shouldn’t know more about your protagonists’ movie collections than we do about their physical features. 

Fortunately, Tudor balances these issues by moving the plot along swiftly. The author shows a deft hand at revealing clues and mysteries, allowing connections between the Sussex martyrs, the disappearance of two teen girls and a local priest, and Jack’s biography, to float into view with satisfying elegance. The reader feels like an active participant in the adventure, never ahead of the characters and rarely trailing behind.  

The Burning Girls treads some truly horrific ground, recounting some of the worst things humans can do to one another. And it does not shy away from the fact that religious faith often drives these acts of brutality. But it also shows us how faith can be a healing element, compelling us to care for each other, all the more in the face of such cruelty. 

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