As Women in Horror Month comes to a close, now is a great time to discover homegrown horror from one of indie horror’s best-kept secrets.
Considering the fact that she’s more selective, and ergo less prolific, with what she releases, any new offering from Heather Miller is a thing to celebrate.
I followed the inside track with Tales My Grandmother Told Me (TMGTM from here on out) for some time, patiently waiting in the shadows for the chance to pounce on it. Signing up for an ARC reading was a no-brainer. And once I finished devouring each and every word, I can honestly say it was well worth the wait.
Like Down by the Riverwalk before it, TMGTM is an anthology of terrifying tales penned by a single author and published on Daemon Manx’s Last Waltz imprint. It features thirteen (naturally!) stories and clocks in around 53,000 words.
As with all my reviews, I will attempt to keep spoilers to a minimum. But the most important thing you need to know is what you are getting when you pick up a copy of TMGTM.
In a word, quality.
There are no accidental passages here, no compromises in the caliber of the narrative.
Just thirteen terrifying tales beautifully told, with a place for every word and every word in its place.
In fact, there’s almost a cadence to Heather’s writing that occasionally borders on poetic. That’s not to say this book is filled with purple prose (it isn’t). This is more homegrown horror; think Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by way of The Great Depression.
Endlessly flowery sentences that twist and turn with convoluted and overly dramatic descriptors would not do these stories justice.
The tales contained herein have a sense of realism, which shines through with Heather’s narrative voice and word choices.
Speaking of word choices, one of the things that I believe elevates Heather above many of her peers is that she doesn’t just love stories. She also loves WORDS. Big ones, small ones, the obscure, and the archaic. But instead of just throwing a bunch of rare descriptors out there willy-nilly, Heather keeps them in reserve, deploying them for maximum effect right when the story needs them.
For those readers who like variety, TMGTM has you covered.
There are first-person POV tales, third-person POV tales, stories-within-stories, and a few other surprises thrown in.
It’s hard to talk about any of them without potentially spoiling something so I will simply list a few of my favorites.
“Vice” is the very first tale in the book, establishing a theme that at least one other story will follow.
A unique take on the “teens telling scary stories around a campfire” trope, it’s quite enjoyable (with a not-so-subtle message that I can totally get behind).
The second story is “Burglar Man”, and it is tied with a later tale as my personal favorite. This one was apparently inspired by a song (lyrics which are reprinted in the back of the book), and I love how Heather has taken that short rhyming snippet and turned it into a really cool short.
“The Cold Man” is a story conjured up by two of Heather’s children, which she then turned into a great little dreadful tale shared between two young siblings. So awesome to see that horror runs in her family — which is the impetus for this book in the first place! Irony or fate? You decide.
Just ignore the unwieldy title of “The Creature That Drains The Blood From The Sheep”. This is not only the best-written tale of the bunch but also one of the creepiest, and it is the other offering that’s tied for my favorite story in TMGTM. It’s a great story-within-a-story and puts Heather’s talents for creating tension on full display.
“Girl’s Best Friend” is a delightfully creepy take on an established urban legend. Heather manages to inject a fresh take on it that would be a great horror short on Shudder. Just a great little short with a wonderful gross-out moment in the end.
All in all, this was a wonderfully spooky little package.
I love the history provided about Heather’s grandmother (included at the beginning) and how each story received a blurb at the end explaining their significance and inspiration.
There is something about these old-timey tales, curated by family and handed down in the great oral tradition (like all stories were before tablets, parchment, and books), that lends them more gravitas.
What is also great about this collection is it can be enjoyed by people of all ages. There’s nothing overly objectionable within, which not only lends the stories a more era-appropriate tone (most of these take place in bygone eras) but also makes them marketable to more readers.
Young horror fans can certainly sink their teeth into the stories herein.
If you’re looking for an anthology with a bit of a different spin, I would HIGHLY recommend picking up a copy of Tales My Grandmother Told Me. You won’t be disappointed!