Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 3 Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis-

Welcome to The Shadow Booth, the international journal of weird and eerie fiction.

Volume 3 is published as an ebook and a 200-page mass-market paperback.

Volume 3 contains stories by: Nick Adams, Judy Birkbeck, Raquel Castro, Armel Dagorn, Jill Hand, Richard V. Hirst, Verity Holloway, Tim Major, Annie Neugebauer, Robert Shearman, Gregory J. Wolos.

My Review

Tales from The Shadow Booth is a collection of short stories that I can’t wait to read every year. Volume 3 was no exception. Two hundred plus pages of eerie mind -bending tales that have a way of seeping underneath your skin, forcing you to consider every twist and fright long after you have turned the final page. As it says on the cover enter the Shadow Booth and you will never be the same again. I personally don’t think there could be a more accurate statement about how each volume changes you as a reader and a writer.

Dan Coxon has done an incredible job with the editing compiling a delicious blend of stories that leap off the page. They are so vivid that you feel as though you are watching a collection of movies, with each new tale adding something extra to the mix. What I enjoyed most about this dark tome was that it stayed true to the previous volumes yet at the same time added a new branch to the tree of horror and supernatural. Venturing into landscapes that explore a wide range of cultures and shed light on stories that include love, lost, violence, and the entire spectrum of humanity.

As with all collections there were stories that I enjoyed more than others. However, what I will say is that this volume makes you take your time as you sample each offering delivering a buffet of visionary delights that rival the best in the genre.

Some of my favourite stories from the volume were:

The Cherry Cactus of Corsica by Verity Holloway

It’s a story I have reread numerous times.  It’s a story of concern, experiments, and blood. It hooked me from the first paragraph. It centres around a young teacher who notices some odd behaviour being exhibited by a troubled pupil. As he digs deeper and tries to understand what could be causing it, we are drawn into a world of poisonous plants, strange professors, and beings that genuinely send a shiver down your spine. Verity has been able to create a story that taps deep into readers fears. Tales that used to keep you awake as a child. Yet present the reader with a different idea on some of the oldest beings in the arena that is horror.

I adored how she delicately pulled back the veil between our world and theirs. Making you hold your breath as every character trait and flaw was exposed in a frenzy of delicious prose that made me yearn for more. I didn’t want the story to end. I think she could early turn it into a full novel. If you read one story from this collection read this one, it will change how you view the world.

I Have a Secret by Raquel Castro

This is a hauntingly beautiful story of a boy’s changing relationship with his sick mother and neglectful father. That develops into a compelling yet worrying picture of how all family dynamics change over time. Enabling this narrative to be told from the child’s perspective adds a greater sense of vulnerability and naivety. That adheres to the theme of the volume of showing how we as humans are sometimes not aware of the damaging impact our actions have upon young minds. The supernatural element which runs parallel to the main thread within the story, only heightens the interest as you struggle to protect this child from what is about to happen next.

The School Project by Richard V Hirst-

This story gives you as a reader what you look for when you enter the supernatural and weird genre. What I mean when I say that is it makes the ordinary day to day things take on a sinister twist. The story opens with the author setting the scene an isolated school in a village that has a murky past is about to undergo an inspection from an outsider.  What appears to be your ordinary secondary school soon turns into something much darker. The story reminded me of a mashup between the Manchurian Candidate and Van Helsing. The dark undertones ripple out well beyond the narrative and make you question the origins of your own school days.

Cousin Grace by Jill Hand-

This piece of horror sinks it teeth into you as soon as you run your fingers across the first sentence, causing a sensory explosion within your mind. What appears at first to be unsolved family trauma takes on many faces, forcing the reader to doubt every word that is being fed to them. It is an expert example of how to write an unreliable narrator and opens the collection beautifully.

This volume builds on the legacy of the previous two issues. Pushing the boundaries on what the horror and supernatural community thinks belongs in their field and tastes. It receives four stars and I encourage any readers and writers of creepy disturbing stories to pick it up.

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

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Extract from Lifeshocks by Sophie Sabbage Posted By Dan Stubbings

Extract

Just In Case

As the targeted radiation continues to strike my brain, the hours replenish themselves. I am no longer judging this experience one way or the other. It is what it is and I am in it. Letting go. I have entrusted my beautiful brain to a team of strangers who are monitoring it every second to ensure I am still Sophie at the end of the procedure. And as I recognise this reality, gratitude dawns and spreads across my chest. This is what cancer does. It repeatedly brings my need for control to its knees.

All my life I have encountered Something Greater in the ebb more than the flow. From early on, I needed to march into the world not away from it, to find the sacred in the slime and grace in loss and peace on the other side of pain. I have never encountered the divine by going to a church or temple. I find it in those ‘lifeshock’ moments when what is really so confronts what I believe is so – until all the bullshit is shaken loose.

This is what Dr Brown, whom I knew as ‘Brad’, taught me: to look for specifics in a shit-storm; to pick one crest of one wave out of the rolling surf, the one that picks me by catching my attention more than the others; to hone in on a precise moment within the whole cascading experience. Not cancer, but ‘twenty-seven brain tumours’; not the loss of my books but the words, ‘I threw them away’; not date rape, but the bruises on my thighs after a night I couldn’t remember; not Gamma Knife radiotherapy, but the sight of a metal helmet screwed to my head like a vice when I looked in the mirror.

This is a lifeshock: a moment in time when something happens that you didn’t want or expect.

The specificity of these moments is very important. The mind loves to analyse events retrospectively, interpreting what happened by looking back on it and drawing conclusions. This is why some people spend years in counselling, trying to figure out the causes of their pain (which is a great way of not feeling the pain). Analysis does not reliably access the unconscious mind, which mostly stays hidden because that’s where it likes to stay.

When Brad was a practising therapist, he realised that taking people back to a specific lifeshock moment, and asking them to re-experience it, instantly unlocked their emotions and unconscious ‘mindtalk’ (what we tell ourselves about any given thing). It is like opening a file on a hard drive. This is because the thoughts and feelings we had at the time, which went unnoticed, are sealed in the memory of a single instant. You may have observed those occasions when you tell someone a story about something that happened in your life and, as you speak about the particulars, your feelings surface again, sometimes with great force. What I am describing is a way to invite emotions and mindtalk to surface very deliberately so that we see them in the clear light of day. This is a way to access the unconscious at will.

We get dozens of lifeshocks a day, some more significant than others. We allow many to bounce off us, unnoticed. We perceive them through our senses: we hear, see, smell, taste and touch them. They are external to us, appearing as empirical data and colliding with our internal expectations of how things should be. They are out of our control. Through lifeshocks, factual reality knocks on the door of personal reality, inviting us to realign with it, like sailors responding to sudden changes in the

wind direction by adjusting their sails. Discovering how to do so on a daily basis, while awakening and evolving in the process, is one of the primary purposes of this book.

Sometimes lifeshocks need to get very loud before we hear them. Sometimes we need to look death in the eye to realise what we want to make of living. Sometimes we don’t keep our promises until it is nearly too late. We think we have time. We get distracted. We doubt we can live up to our self-imposed standards. Until now, I haven’t known how to write about what Brad taught me and do it justice. He didn’t even do that himself. I’ve tried a few times and came closest in my first book, The Cancer Whisperer. But that didn’t express its true essence, just as it didn’t express the most sacred aspects of my relationship with cancer.

Lying in this machine is a thundering wake-up call to remind me I am ready. I don’t need to write the book he might have written or attempt to emulate him in the process. There is a story to tell that integrates various wisdoms I have collected along the way, including my own. I have found my own voice.

My mind quietens and something stirs in the stillness. I breathe. I listen. I wait.

Extract from Lifeshocks by Sophie Sabbage, published by Hodder, priced £17.99.