Double Book Review – Crowded House by S. J. Budd AND Last Meal in Osaka by Gary Buller

It’s a double Short Sharp Shocks! review today, kids, a SSSSSS! if you will.

When I saw these two authors were ‘Shockin it up, it was a no-brainer that I’d get these books purchased and read ASAP. As with all the SSS! releases, these two books are quick reads whose effects last a long, long time.

So let’s stop messing around and get into it.

crowded house

The three stories in S. J. Budd’s offering differ in the details but all carry a claustrophobic and uncomfortable theme that made me a little uncomfortable (and that’s a good thing, by the way).

Until I Go is the tale of a woman visiting her dying mother in hospital. The two have never got on, but a deep sense of guilt forces the woman to make the trip. Her inner voices argue whether she should continue with her quest or just go home; ugh, why can’t inner voices just agree?

The grief and guilt combine to make one creepy cocktail that never lets up. Her mind plays tricks on her once inside the hospital (or does it??). The vibe inside is very House of Leaves, and is also very awesome.

The title track, Crowded House is the gory, bloody filler in this horror sandwich, and was my favourite. The main character inherits an old and dilapidated house from her strange uncle, a dude that none of the family ever bothered with. Were they right to? Did they know something this lady doesn’t?

She visits the house hoping to make it home, but the state its in makes her seriously reconsider her plans. But he was family, so she feels some kind of obligation to make this place her own.

The dread was cranked up little by little here, until the shocking discovery is revealed. The creepy old house isn’t a genre-breaking theme, but this story was delivered in the most creepiest of ways. I can still smell that rancid house now.

Things end with A Bubble of Friendship Will Keep Us, the story of two girls who explore the woods with imaginary fairies. When one of the girls begins to grow up and decides that this is all a bit too babyish, her friend feels lost and jealous.

She will stop at nothing to get her friend back. This tale, without being too scary for the most part, really doesn’t let you relax. When the finale arrives, it’s a real nooooo moment.

These three stories captured grief, claustrophobia, and anxiety perfectly. I’ve read S. J. Budd’s work before, but this is easily my favourite offering from her.

So could Gary Buller equal the awesomeness?

Erm, yes!

last meal

Buller’s offering is another three stories with twists, turns, and shocks.

Swashbuckle Cove opens things up, where two kids sneak into a disused water ride at a holiday park. Their parents don’t know about this; well, no one does to be honest. Apart from some ancient monster/beast thing lurking in the depths.

There’s an insidious dread throughout this that always threatens to grab you, but keeps you at arm’s length for just the right amount of time. One of the kids isn’t scared and one is. But when the ‘brave’ one realises shit’s going down, the terror is heightened horrifically.

I’ve seen my fair share of Japanese horror movies, so the concept of Last Meal in Osaka was one that, although shocking, could maybe happen, perhaps? A terminally ill man is eating in one of the most desirable restaurants in Japan. Well, surely he deserves it?

This story gives you a woah, but that isn’t even the half of it. This is quickly followed by a wooooooaaaaahhhhh, which is all I’m going to say. To have two twists in a tale this short is something to be applauded.

The closing story is Rise of the Chiggy-Pigs. Now I’ve never been scared of woodlice. In fact I suppose they’re a bit cute, as creepy crawly thingies go. But that has now officially changed. What begins as fast forward through this dude’s life; where bad stuff seems to follow him like a plague of bad fortune; ends with a full-on body horror masterclass.

Bloody woodlice, ugh!

I’m sure one of these days I will say that a SSS! book was maybe just OK or even a bit meh. But not this time. Here are two more gems to add to the list, but if you have nightmares, or a bad smell lingering in your nostrils, or feel incredibly itchy after reading, don’t blame me!!

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