Halloween Spooktacular!

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

My first ‘tacular, what a milestone. This year I’ve wrangled four creepy horror or horror-adjacent offerings, so that you can watch me suffer through them like a teenager opening a book bound by human skin. Something tells me I’m not going to emerge from reading random genre offerings unscathed. Knowing my luck I will be covered in scathes, a giant scatheball rolling across the landscape braying “behold my scathes, ye mighty, and despair.”

The first ghoul to darken our doorstep is The Nightmare: A Collection of Deliciously Dark and Twisted Tales by F. B. Hogan. The extremely short and episodic stories in this collection are light on action, and generally don’t waste any time building up an interesting setting, creating a rapid fire, hypnotic experience. What the stories do well is thoughtful, character-focused glimpses. There’s an old amnesia lady, a pioneer girl, a reaper who arrives early, an unfortunate incident with a shoelace, and of course lots and lots of ghosts. The common theme is untimely death, and the prose has a good amount of punch without being cring-inducingly purple. Honestly things were off to a surprisingly good start with this one.

“Tonight the darkness was no friend. I could feel its black tendrils curling about the bed, creating holes and openings for nightmares to creep through.”

Next we move on to romance. Sweet, tender romance. Psycho Hot by M. Rose is your standard queer romance with a twist. Instead of a sexy vampire, or sexy lumberjack, or sexy jerk with an alarming disregard for consent, our narrator is madly in lust with a psycho killer in an insane asylum. Kenneth, recent psychology grad, locks eyes with a serial killer named Darren. To be closer to this absurdly gorgeous killing machine, he applies for a job, and so now he’s the asylum’s shrink because they’re desperate? It doesn’t matter. Darren quickly figures out that Kenneth took the job because of their eye-loving action earlier in the day, setting up a story of quirky gay romance. This thing was baffling, but I guess it shouldn’t have been. So often the masculine lead in these stories is basically a sociopath presented as a dream boat; Psycho Hot peels off the last flakes of veneer and just puts him in an institution for the criminally insane. Psycho Hot is mostly a romance, but does hit some classic horror beats, especially the bimbo protagonist whose sense of self preservation is out to lunch. “Don’t do it! Don’t go in there!” I shouted to myself, more than a few times.

The Dread Queen and Other Dark Impressions by Geoff Emberlyn is another short story collection. We have stories about Torgo from Manos the Hands of Fate running a roadside tourist trap, a man or possibly bird who’s wife has turned out to be a real piece of work, a surgeon who has a special way of taking advantage of the zombie apocalypse, and many others. Compared to The Nightmare, The Dread Queen spends a lot more time on setting, with tongue-in-cheek, tropey plots and a spooky, slasher atmosphere. Some of these stories are acidicly humorous, which was a lot of fun. I think one of the reasons I like Halloween so much is that I can cackle all I want at people being fed into a wood chipper, and when normal people look at me like I’m about to wear their skin to a cocktail party I can say “No, you don’t understand, I just like Halloween.” And then they smile nervously, which I think means they bought it.

“It was a male’s foot, I recall. Not ideal, but one has to work with the parts they can find. Plus, it’s the only foot she has.”

Having just said all that, I’m actually quite a coward. My autobiography would be titled Risk Aversion: The Person. It’s not difficult to find something on Amazon’s new releases that makes me very uncomfortable. What I’m getting at is that our fourth entry in this spooky Halloween post is a little book called Taboo Scary Sex by Corin Tavzitro. From the title and the vampy vampires on the cover I thought this was a horror book, and ultimately I was right, but first I was wrong. It’s erotica. The first story is a diaper-based sex story featuring a sexually active twlve year old narrator. The plot revolves around legal battles over bullying and adoption, and of course lots of gay sex (some of which becomes incest after the adoption, but let’s not split hairs here) that I cannot begin to describe to you here. Now, I have no interest in kink shaming. But reading this story, even out of the corner of my eye, was difficult. And after the first couple of chapters the narrative moves on to other places and characters, but I was braced the whole time, waiting for someone to use the term “soggy baby boyfriend” again without warning. The entire book was like when those Paranomal Activity movies show nanny cam footage of a bedroom, and you’re just waiting for the jump scare. Ten out of ten for fright factor, would have pissed my pants but then I would have had to change (hey, maybe these guys are on to something…).

I’ve said before that there is no ceiling and no floor to self publishing. You can find diamonds in the rough, and also you can find a big ol’ pile of just rough. Most of the time, honestly, it’s Oops All Rough. This year did not disappoint. I found a few legitimately scary stories, and a few bone-chilling moments that probably weren’t intentional. If you’re looking for some scares this Halloween, consider playing new release roulette in the horror category.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

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