Book Review: At The Cemetery Gates

At the Cemetery Gates: Year One, by John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan

I remember going to sleepovers as a kid, and staying up into the wee hours of the morning trading scary stories and urban legends in hushed tones with my friends. We’d swear up and down that we knew someone who knew someone who knew the girl whose boyfriend was murdered by the hook hand killer. We’d retell local legends, and stories we’d read in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.The tales were short and sweet, getting to the good stuff quickly and allowing for the storyteller to embellish for maximum effect. It spawned an entire generation of horror fans, including authors John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan, who paid homage to the Scary Stories collections with their newest book, At the Cemetery Gates: Year One.

The following aren’t short stories so much as they are digestible suburban fables.

Cemetery Gates Media presents a collection of fourteen twisted tales clocking in at 168 pages of consumable bites of horror and dark fiction, written in the very style that made Alvin Schwarz’s tales so popular two decades ago. Rather than setting everything up neatly like a regular short story, Brhel and Sullivan condense their stories into compact vignettes that are ready for retelling around a campfire, or in a bedroom late at night.

Favorites include:

Passion’s Paroxysm, a quick glimpse into a day in the life of a mistreated husband. The surprise ending make this tale destined to be an urban legend

The Girl With The Crooked Tooth, a thoroughly eerie homage to Edgar Allen Poe, complete with a creepy dude with an odd obsession with a woman. I don’t like dental stuff, so this one really got under my skin. The beautiful prose and unsettling imagery stuck with me.

New Year’s Eve, What A Gas!, about a simple mistake leading to catastrophic consequences. If you like the stories that play on fears of being killed at random, for no good reason, this is sure to titillate.

Considering that I couldn’t find a bad thing to say about this collection and found it to be even more enjoyable than their last anthology, I give this book the full 5 stars. Many of these stories are trope-heavy, but that’s how good lore works. It follows a basic template, and works as a means of expressing universal fears in American society. Anonymous murderers, poison in our food, and systematic conspiracies that affect the marginalized are all things that many of us worry about.  Urban legends synthesize those apprehensions into morsels of dread that serve to remind us that death awaits us everywhere, at all times. I’d heartily recommend At The Cemetery Gates to readers who want a little something to nibble on before bed each night, and to young horror fans who want something juicy to regale to their friends between classes. Find it on Amazon.

Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop: Book Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

     The Twilight Zone is one of my favorite shows ever. I’ve watched season after season, over and over, year after year. It never gets old for me. I’m attracted to short, weird tales that manage to enthrall and shock me in 30 minutes or less. Likewise, I also enjoy short story collections for the same reason. Bite-sized stories of suspense and the unexplained will always have a place on my bookshelf.

Marvelry’s Curiosity Shop, by John Brhel and Joseph Sullivan, is one such collection of stories. 12 fantastical tales of terror and mystery await in a retired stage magician’s shop. Dr. Marvelry (pronounced, “Marvel-rye”) has traveled the world and collected scores of curious objects. From the book summary:

“A phonograph that seemingly replays a tragedy. Fertility dolls that are more than decoration. A bedeviled mannequin. These are just some of the relics this eccentric shopkeeper has collected over the years.”

He seems like a nice enough man, but Dr. Marvelry seems to have no problem selling these cursed items to unsuspecting customers, without really giving them proper warning about the objects’ power. Seems kind of messed up, right? I had some trouble trying to figure out Marvelry as a character, whether his intent was malicious or not. In any case, he himself was featured in a couple of the stories, and was largely sympathetic.

As for the stories, they were a load of fun. My favorite tale in particular was “Seams of Consequence”, about a vintage sewing machine that served its purpose a little too well. It could have easily been an episode of The Twilight Zone, right down to the eerie, but fitting, ending. “A Gift Ungiven”, about a professor that purchases an ancient Native Amercian artifact, would have been a favorite had the ending been given more thought. Unfortunately, many of the stories ended sooner than I had hoped, usually with a character giving exposition in the final paragraph to explain the climax. Stories as strong as these deserve to be explored to their full potential, even if it means upping the word count a bit. I’m hoping that, in their next collection, the authors max out the narratives a bit more to let readers feel the full impact of the spectacular climaxes. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by Brhel and Sullivan.

The stories are told in a narration that takes some getting used to, but still consistent. Think of someone telling you tales by a campfire; there’s going to be much more “tell” than “show”. Once I got past that, I found the stories to be quite enjoyable. The authors took the time to weave the cursed objects, characters, and places within one another’s stories, which really brought the collection together, rather than just slapping together creepypasta-style tales together with a common theme.

I would recommend this book to fans of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, who want some light reading that’s creepy, but won’t give them nightmares. With the exception of one story with sexual themes (“A Made Match”), I think a YA audience would have a good time with the book, as well. Find it on Amazon.