Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets by Assorted Authors – A Book Review

Fantastic Tales of Terror


Discover the lost supernatural stories behind some of the most famous people and events in history.

These Fantastic Tales explore the secret history that has been hidden in the shadows of the world, and even alternative histories from other worlds. Tales such as a young man seeking the secret of immortality from none other than Bela Lugosi. The tragic story of how the Titanic really sank. The horrifying lengths the people of New York city would go to raise above the Great Depression, rather in seeking fame or trying to feed the city. And many more Fantastic Tales of Terror.

Author: Various

Publisher: Crystal Lake

Release Date: 26/10/2018

Pages: 572

My Chosen Format: Kindle

My Rating for ‘Fantastic Tales of Terror’: 77 stars out of a possible 120 stars = 3 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon UKAmazon US



I have given a very brief mini-review of each story in the anthology along with the top five bullet-pointed reasons for getting this anthology.

Reasons to read this anthology despite the three out of five I gave it:

  • Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin hunting Russian werewolves on the moon
  • A horror version of Custer’s Last Stand told entirely through letters sent from the front
  • Edgar Allen Poe as a psychic detective
  • Elvis & and old black man who thinks he’s JFK fighting a soul-sucking mummy in a Texas care home
  • Zombie Dinosaur Battle Royale


The Deep Delight of Blood by Tim Waggoner – 4 Stars

This tale focuses around a young horror addict named Mike who, with the aid of horror film legend Bella Lugosi, is trying to become a real vampire. I was initially put off by being thrust right into things, but the author soon pulled it back and made things go at a much smoother, less frenetic pace. The writing style wasn’t my favourite, but the author took me in a direction I never imagined and left me feeling very satisfied. A good opener to the anthology.


Unpretty Monster by Mercedes M. Yardley – 3 stars

Unpretty monster tells of a siren who wishes to experience life as a human instead of a monster. It tells of the sinking of the Titanic and takes said sinking in a way you’d never have imagined. At its core, Unpretty Monster is a light-horror/romance tale. The writing is fairly simplistic and a little too melancholy for my tastes. Although the author did a fine job, I just couldn’t feel myself getting excited for it.


A Tell-Tale Mind by Kevin J. Anderson – 5 Stars

Edgar Allen Poe, before he was a writer, was a tortured soul who would use alcohol to dull the ability to hear other peoples’ thoughts. Poe, having heard the guilty thoughts of a murderer, tries to see justice done no matter how insane it may make him appear. This was great writing from a great author and feels like it could well have a series of its own.


Topsy-Turvey by Elizabeth Massie – 1 Star

This tells of the first ever filmed execution of an animal (Topsy the elephant). The story revolves around Topsy’s afterlife and the attempts at Haunting her killer, Thomas Edison. I felt the writing read too childish and silly and, for that reason, I struggled to get into the piece or stay focused whilst reading.


Ray and the Martian by Ben Vincent – 1 Star

I was really underwhelmed by this one. It tells of a young boy whose family have a small UFO land on their property. Nobody (in the family) seems to act with any real urgency that something has just crashed on their land. They literally go to bed, almost as if nothing has happened. The writing itself is simplistic and easy to pick up but I was left expecting more than I got.


The Girl with the Dead Mask by Stephanie M. Wytovich – 3 Stars

This story tells of a young artist, Frida Kahlo, recently disabled in an accident and how she would give anything to walk again. The writing was top-notch, you can tell the author is really talented. The only downside, and it’s a pretty big downside, was the ending. I felt it ended too abruptly and that there was no real pay-off. A shame, considering how much I was enjoying it.


On A Train Bound for Home by Christopher Golden – 4 Stars

Harry Houdini, escapist extraordinaire, agrees to take part in a daring escape atop a train that could see him splattered against the roof of an approaching tunnel. Golden’s writing is, as one would expect from him, fantastic. He tells the story well and gives good depth to his characters. The villain felt a bit like a pantomime villain, but that could be due to the theatrics of the final scenes. The ending really left me wanting to know what happens next.


The Custer Files by Richard Chizmar – 5 Stars

This, so far, is the stand out story. I can already tell that it will be one of my top five in this anthology. It details the days leading up to and including the Battle of Little Bighorn and Custer’s famous last stand. It does so purely through the medium of short letters sent from the soldiers from Custer’s Seventh Cavalry regiment. Very well told and the added horror element was done amazingly well.


Red Moon by Michael Paul Gonzales – 5 Stars

For a short story about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin hunting Russian werewolves on the moon … it was pretty damn amazing. The world needs more B-movie concepts pulled off spectacularly well. The actual concept was explained in such a way that kept me constantly hooked and, in a strange, roundabout kind of sci-fi way, made believable sense. The writing was great and the pace kept me on my toes. Top stuff.


The Prince of Darkness and the Showgirl by John Palisano – 2 Stars

This one was written well and I feel a tad guilty for marking it so low. I just found it a bit tedious. It was literally Marylyn Monroe having a conversation with a demon for eighty percent of the story. It just didn’t really do anything to excite me.


The Secret Engravings by Lisa Morton – 5 Stars

This story tells of famous 16th century artist Hans Holbein and how striking up a friendship with the being known as Death helped inspire Hans to sketch his famed ‘Danse Macabre’ (Dance of Death) series. The writing is superb and in-keeping with the time period. Absolutely loved this one. Can see it inspiring readers to check out Holbein’s sketches.


Mutter by Jess Landry – 4 Stars

The Hindenburg Crash was one of the most famous crashes in aviation history. Was it sabotage like so many thought? In this alternate re-telling we are treated to a new, very different theory. Along with this theory we are treated to the origin story of one of the most popular creatures from American Folklore. For a good portion of this one I was really on the fence. But the ending tied it together beautifully and really cemented my enjoyment.


La Llorona by Cullen Bunn – 3 stars

Ambrose Bierce was one of America’s most famous writers of horror, sci-fi, fantasy & war short stories. He was, during his life, however, more famous for his journalism. His disappearance is one of those unsolved mysteries that lingers to this day. This first person perspective tale (from the POV of Bierce himself) explores the possibility of Latin American folktale ‘La Llorona’ being responsible for his disappearance. The writing was good but I did not really feel hooked by this one. It interested me, but I would describe it as more of a passing interest. I feel the ending could have offered a little more.


The London Encounter by Vince A. Liaguno – 4 Stars

This story gives an alternate take on Judy Garland’s last night on Earth. The writing is good, even though it feels like the author tries a tad too hard at times. To start with, I found myself really disliking Judy. The author did a good job of changing my feelings towards her as the story played out, however. I really like the antagonist. Some incredibly fine writing where the antagonist is concerned.


Bubba Ho-Tep by Joe R. Lansdale – 5 Stars

I started off by struggling to like this. The main character, Elvis Presley (alive after trading places with an Elvis impersonator one night) starts off as thoroughly unlikeable. However, I found it impossible to stay cold towards The King for long and soon found myself warming to him. The premise is that of Elvis and an old black man, who is convinced he’s JFK, doing their utmost to stop a soul-sucking mummy that haunts a Texas rest home. This is by far the longest tale in the book and, quite easily, one of the best. You can’t help get behind Elvis and JFK as they do battle with their ancient foe. Extremely enjoyable! Just a warning; it is laden with sex references. Day turning to night even gets a sex similie. And there’s even an incredibly awkward scene where we get to read about Elvis masturbating.


Gorilla My Dreams by Johnathan Maberry – 2 Stars

This tells of King Kong’s rampage through New York from the viewpoint of the mayor and the chief of police. Kong is only really glimpsed and feels entirely detached from the main story. I felt the whole thing was a little too light-hearted and comedic. The piece was fully of typos (the version I had any way) and, at the start, one character makes reference to his daughter only for the narrator say he has only sons two pages later. The interesting take on Kong’s rampage was the only thing that saved it from a 1 star rating.


Articles of Teleforce by Michael Bailey – 1 Star

I really wanted to enjoy this one as it features Nicola Tesla and the proposed building of his ‘Death Ray’. However, it was entirely written from old newspaper cuttings or letters (in the past) or conversations intercepted by a hacker group (in the present). That, coupled with heavy science-based discussion, redacted letters/transcripts and official government-sounding conversations, there was just zero emotion. Not once did I get that sense of joy or wonder from reading. It just felt dry from start to finish and somewhat of a chore.


Sic Ocim Tyrannis by David Wellington – 5 Stars

Ever read a story that featured a battle royale of zombie dinosaurs? No? I hadn’t either until Sic Ocim Tyrannis. The story starts just after the asteroid that wiped out the dinos crashes into Earth. Then we learn of the horrifying taint it brought with it from the far reaches of space. Aside from the T-rex having modern day knowledge (knowing what calories are and how they work etc…) This was an incredibly fun read. I didn’t know it; but Zombie Dinosaurs was just what I needed in my life. And I think it might be just what you need in yours, too.


The Washingtonians by Bentley Little – 3 Stars

This one plays on how history is what we are told, not particularly what is true. A letter written by George Washington, found in the modern day, shows him to be a cannibal. What follows is a group, dressed as Washington, trying to catch, kill and eat the owners of the damning letter. Everything happens a little too fast for my liking and I found that, despite the excellent writing, I couldn’t take it seriously. A fun concept, regardless.


Scent of Flesh by Jessica Marie Baumgartner – 3 Stars

This one features the famous marksman married couple of Annie Oakley and Frank E. Butler as they hunt monsters on their way across America. There was a huge time jump midway through where the couple went from barely knowing each other to being married without any mention of the wedding or anything inbetween. That kind of soured me to the piece. I also struggled to get excited due to, at no point throughout the story, feeling as if they were ever in any danger from the things they hunted.

Rotscoping Toodies by Mort Castle – 1 Star DNF

It’s rare that I can’t finish a short story. But this … The speech was so badly written it’s just impossible to think that anyone could or would ever speak in that way. Every sentence just went further towards cementing the unreadability. ‘We want another child. So last night I did sex to my wife.’ I honestly felt as if my IQ was melting away as I read it.


Lone Wolves by Paul Moore – 4 Stars

This features Teddy Roosevelt as he and two others go off in search of a pack of skinchangers. Deadly wolves part of the time and men with dark pasts the rest. This story is incredibly well-written and was on the verge of a solid five out of five until the ending came along. It wasn’t a ad ending, I just kind of felt as though a few questions could have been answered for a certain character. I’d certainly have loved to have seem said characters thoughts and how they changed at the end compared to the start.


The Great Stone Face vs the Gargoryles by Jeff Strand – 3 stars

Silent film star, Buster Keaton, does battle with four gargoyles that foul up the shooting of one of this latest motion pictures. I like how this plays on the fact that he isn’t really a stunt-man, just both incredibly lucky and unlucky all at once as, no matter what he does, trips, slips and falls dog him every step of the way. He just has the good fortune to land right every time. I really enjoyed this story but felt a little let down by the ending. Just felt a bit more could have been offered. Such has been the case with many of the stories in this anthology. Maybe that was a sub-theme Crystal Lake were going for?


The Return of the Thin White Duke by Neil Gaiman – 1 Star

I confess that I didn’t really understand what was going on most of the time. Some godlike duke went off in search of adventure through boredom and literally a whole lot of nothing seemed to happen. If there was a horror element to this piece then I must have missed it. But I just don’t think it was there in all honesty. I didn’t particularly feel the writing was up to a very high-standard nor the storytelling. I feel this made its way into the anthology because of the name attached to it rather than any particularly ground-breaking writing or storytelling.




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