I received this book for free from the Author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories by Deborah Sheldon
Published by IFWG Publishing Australia on September 1 2017
Genres: Adult, Horror
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The nitty-gritty: An uneven collection of short horror fiction that nonetheless delivers some truly terrifying tales.
It’s very rare these days that I accept a book for review directly from an author, especially one unfamiliar to me. But I decided to take a chance on Deborah Sheldon and her debut short story collection, Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories. Deborah is an Australian author and has had great success with her writing in that country, winning awards and even being nominated for a 2017 Bram Stoker award recently. As you might be able to tell from my rating, some of these stories worked well for me, while others didn’t. It was truly a mixed bag. The collection comprises a total of twenty-one stories, some of them no longer than flash fiction, and I decided to rate each one individually and tally up the points at the end. I figured this would be a fair way to come up with a rating for the collection as a whole. My “star” ratings for each story ranged from two stars up to five stars, so when I say it was a mixed bag, you can see why. My overall reaction to this collection is that it felt inconsistent. I could see a flair of talent and assured writing in a handful of the stories, while others left me scratching my head in frustration and confusion.
Sheldon’s stories are filled with a variety of monsters, both otherworldly and human. Her fiction seems to draw on mythology, folklore and the universal fears of death and damaging relationships. In several of the stories, women are the target of abuse, and sadly, they aren’t able to pull themselves out of that fate. Redemption and revenge are distant notions, and many stories presented the opportunity for these outcomes, but never delivered. When I’m reading about horrible things happening to people, I’m always holding my breath for the tables to turn on the evil and good to conquer in the end. Unfortunately, this collection focuses more on evil winning, which made for a mostly depressing reading experience.
On the other hand, this is a collection of horror fiction, and in that respect, boy did it deliver! There were some terrifying stories that had me holding me breath while I was reading, and there is a distinct Australian flavor to most of the stories, which for me was a nice change of pace. I may not get all the Australian words and references, but I knew as I was reading that I was NOT on familiar ground.
Here is a breakdown of my favorite stories:
Perfect Little Stitches. The collection kicks off with the title story, and it was fantastically creepy! A funeral director named Angelo engages in a lucrative side business of harvesting bodies for bones, soft tissues, organs and more, before burying them. But when a beautiful eleven-year-old girl’s body arrives at the funeral home, Angelo unwisely agrees to harvest her, even though she has a suspicious bite mark on her neck. And it’s a decision he’s going to regret… I thought I knew what was coming while I was reading, but I was wrong. The outcome was so much better than I expected. 4 stars.
Across the White Desert. A Vietnam vet is hired to lead a dog sled team on a secret mission across Antarctica. But something monstrous is tracking the team, and it’s fast. This story was bloody and scary as hell, and although I do not like stories that involve violence toward animals, I liked the pacing of this story and the pages few by. 4 stars.
What the Sea Wants. A fishing crew encounters a bunch of mermaids who play on the fishermen’s base instincts in order to lure them into the sea. This was a fairly short story, and I knew what was coming, but I just couldn’t tear my eyes away! 4 stars.
Flight Path. A husband and wife emerge from a crashed plane and wander the wreckage, trying to remember what happened to them. You may figure out what’s up before the end, but this unsettling tale had just the right amount of eeriness to it. 4 stars
Will o’ the Wisp. A woman recollects the fate of her son Adam, who her midwife Cecily believes is a fairy changeling. This story was heartbreaking, and I was begging the mother not to make the choices she made. But it turns out I didn’t have any control over the outcome, and so the story played out the way I feared. 4 stars.
Species Endangered. A couple on vacation in Queensland is relaxing on the beach, when a large, odd-looking bird appears and begins to threaten them. My short description sounds ridiculous, but trust me, this story was terrifying and very dark. 4 stars.
The Brightest Place. A slippery, dream-like tale of a man who is having terrible nightmares. I thought this was the best written story, even though I’m still not sure what was going on. A mixture of reality and imagination, this story really plays head-games with the reader. 4.5 stars.
Angel Hair. This was my favorite story of the bunch, but man was it scary and gave me goosebumps! A girl and her grandfather become trapped in their home during an infestation of tiny spiders. This story was short but powerful, tense and terrifying. 5 stars.
Castlemaine. A mother and her son are taking the stagecoach home, but their rig is attacked by a mythical Australian beast called the yowie. I didn’t care for the abrupt ending of this story, but I did love the heart-pounding action. I definitely have a soft spot for monster stories, and this one was pretty good. 4 stars.
Over all, I’m glad I had the chance to read this collection. It’s my impression that these stories span many years of writing, as some are way better than others, but I believe Deborah Sheldon is headed in the right direction.
Big thanks to the author for providing a review copy.