Length: 254 Pages

Publisher: Unnerving

Release Date: November 21, 2017

One of the best things about running a blog dedicated to horror fiction – and hell, just being a reader in general – is discovering new writers. One of the best and most rewarding feelings as a horror fan is reading a new author’s work and being blown away by their talent and the awe of discovering something cool. That is the exact feeling I got when I first sat down to crack open Mike Thorn’s debut story collection, Darkest Hours. I may have been a newcomer to Mike’s fiction, but I have long admired his “Thorn’s Thoughts” feature for Unnerving Magazine. So, when Mike reached out and asked me to check out Darkest Hours, I jumped at the chance.

Thorn’s Darkest Hours is a collection is a collection of 16 stories that run the gamut of the various horror sub-genres from bizarro to splatterpunk and everything in between. Just a few of the things you will find in Darkest Hours is alternate dimensions, deadly cults, ghosts, manipulations of reality, human monsters and so much more. I don’t want to spoil the unique journey Thorn has in store for readers with Darkest Hours, so rather than pinpoint every story, I selected some of my favorites.

“Mictian Diabolus” is one of the first stories in Darkest Hours and the one that really grabbed me and let me know I was in for one hell of a ride. A group of college-aged friends are enjoying their weekend partying and they decide to break into an old school that has a sinister past and urban legends surrounding it. Most of the group is excited and try to scare each other recounting spooky stories about “The Peeler”, the school’s old principal who was convicted of being a serial killer and committing horrible atrocities on students. but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that there is something very, very wrong with the school. “Mictian Diabolus” is a gore-soaked fright-fest that contains inspiration from 80’s style slasher movies with a dash of cosmic horror. Not only does Thorn come up with some seriously frightening scenes, I also love the atmosphere he crafts with this story, using the darkness and silence of the abandoned school to create a sense of tension and dread that doesn’t let up until the story is over. There are a lot of stories in Darkest Hours that were in the running for my favorite of the collection, but I have to go with my initial reaction of “Mictian Diabolus” being my personal favorite.

“The Auteur” – This story focuses on Cate and Simon. Cate is a woman who is filled with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films who is constantly pushing Simon to stretch his boundaries and check out new films. While he loves her recommendations of classic horror films, but what he really wants to watch is the movies she has been working on. Cate says he isn’t ready, but Simon is persistent and eventually wears her down, getting her to agree to show him one of her films. However, Simon could never have imagined his request would have dangerous repercussions.

I have a feeling this story will resonate with a lot of horror fans who long for the nostalgia of VHS stores and the sort of conversations that would lead to some awesome discoveries. I also love the dynamic of Cate and Simon’s relationship, which is strictly platonic. It would have been easy to have Simon pine after Cate, but instead, their relationship is driven by their mutual love of all things horror. I also love the build-up in this story. I don’t want to spoil the contents of Cate’s film, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the reveal that Thorn unleashes. The scenes in Cate’s movies are wildly imaginative and chilling, slowly sneaking under your skin, just like they did to Simon. I also like how this is a very extreme example of the joy of watching horror films. Have you ever had that one movie that just scared the hell out of you or unsettled you to your core, and yet you couldn’t wait to watch another one? That’s the sort of tone this story carries. If you enjoyed J Daniel Stone’s brilliant “Vision II” from I Can Taste the Blood, you’ll definitely dig this story.

“Long Man” is an interesting story of a man who was haunted by this terrifying entity who lived in his mirror for most of his childhood on a fairly regular basis. The first sighting was when he was around six-years-old and the sightings began to occur like clockwork. Unable to sleep, the character’s life began to slowly descend into shambles. He tries telling his parents, who try to put his mind at ease at first, but eventually they think his obsession with the “Long Man” has gone too far. As an adult, he gathers the courage to tell his friend about his vision and that is when he makes a startling discovery – maybe the “Long Man” isn’t just a figment of his imagination. What I loved about this story was the unique slant on childhood fears and how those fears potentially translate into adulthood. I’m sure most of us had recurring nightmares as kids and imaginary monsters that frightened the living hell out of us before leaving them behind as we got older. What if these monsters were real? If they are real, where do they go once we have forgotten them? This story explores those questions with chilling results.

I also enjoyed the Fight Club-esque “Economy These Days”, the terrifying creature feature style tale “Fusion” and Thorn’s unique spin on the ghost story “Remembering Absence”. Thorn’s writing is excellent from beginning to end, but there were a few stories that didn’t quite work for me. One of those is the gross-out story “Hair”, which leads off the collection. “Hair” is the tale of Theodore, a manager of a metal T-shirt shop who has a very peculiar fetish that he does his best to keep secret. Throughout the story, Theodore’s obsession escalates until he reaches a point of no return. “Hair” is very effective in that it makes the reader squirm and has some very cool body horror scenes, but ultimately, it didn’t leave as much of an impression as some of the other stories in the collection. I had a similar experience with “Mired”, where Randolph discovers a strange blob in the storage area where he keeps all of his research and books. Like “Hair” I didn’t have any issue with the writing, the story just didn’t really fit my tastes.

The stories in Darkest Hours are outstanding, but I also feel like I should mention the awesome design work that Unnerving put together for this collection. While reading through Darkest Hours, it’s impossible not to notice the love and enthusiasm Thorn has for the horror genre whether it be films or books. That is wonderfully represented in Darkest Hours cover art, which is designed to look like a battered VHS tape from a store called”Verne’s Video”. I can’t stress enough how much I love this callback to the glory days of horror when discovery of movies and novels was passed down from one fan to another or through endlessly browsing shelves and snatching up whatever looked interesting. Sure, that still occurs to some degree, but it doesn’t quite feel the same. All I know is I definitely need to grab a physical copy!

Reading Thorn’s Darkest Hours was a real treat and considering the variety of styles on display, there is sure to be something for all horror fans in this collection. Thorn is an exciting new talent in the genre and I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Darkest Hours. I know I’m a fan and whether it’s more short stories, a novella or a novel, I can’t wait to see what Thorn comes up with next!

Rating: 4/5


Mike Thorn’s Official Website

Unnerving Magazine’s Official Website

Purchase Darkest Hours: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Mike Thorn

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. He completed his B.A. with honors at Mount Royal University and his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Dark Moon Digest, Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id and Straylight Literary Arts Magazine. He co-authors the horror-themed series “Devious Dialogues” with A.M. Stanley for Vague Visages. Visit his website ( or follow him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.



Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from Mike Thorn, who released his debut collection Darkest Hours towards the end of 2017 through Unnerving. Thorn’s Darkest Hours is a collection of 16 stories that run the gamut of the various horror sub-genres from bizarro to splatterpunk and everything in between. Just a few of the things you will find in Darkest Hours is alternate dimensions, deadly cults, ghosts, manipulations of reality, human monsters and so much more. I will be posting my review of Darkest Hours tomorrow, so please stop by and check that out as well. Today, Mike stopped by to share his favorite Stephen King books from each decade of his career. What are your favorite King books? Does your list look like Mike’s or a little different?

I would like to thank Mike for stopping by The Horror Bookshelf, and be sure to grab a copy of Darkest Hours from the links below!

“Favorite King Book for Every Decade” by Mike Thorn

1970s – Rage (1977)
Runner ups: The Shining (1977), The Long Walk (1979)
Published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, Rage is aptly named. This novel brings brutal, furious social diagnosis to bear on a plot that’s condensed in time and space. The bulk of the narrative plays out when twisted protagonist Charlie holds his high school classmates hostage, subjecting them to a forced, Lord of the Flies-inspired psychotherapy session. This is a stunning early novel, driven by King’s already-polished sense of voice and carefully channeled anger. It also anticipates many of the author’s career long fixations – the damage caused by abusive adults; the bestial instincts lurking beneath societal veneers; and the psychological processes of outsiders. I devoured the entire novel in one sitting, but its readability should not be mistaken for disposability. This is a thoughtful, challenging novel and a glimpse of even greater things to come. Sadly, it feels more prescient than ever, given the recent tragic events in the United States.

1980s – It (1986)

Runner ups: Christine (1983), Pet Sematary (1983)
To my mind, the eighties saw King at his peak (which is no minor statement, given his remarkable output in other decades). It showcases the author at his boldest, most ambitious, and yes, his most reckless. The novel is excessive, teeming with ideas of micro- and macrocosmic scale that amount to nothing less than a series of lofty, summative statements: this book is about horror itself, both as a genre and an affect, but it’s also about the social cultivation of violence, prejudice, and the problematic notion of nostalgia. Is the titular monstrosity the result of socialized human beliefs and behaviors (especially those rooted in ignorance and fear), or is it much bigger than that? Is it in fact the face of some malicious cosmic order? King’s novel suggests that It might in fact be both, but this author does not set up camp in the same pessimistic territory as, say, Thomas Ligotti. No, even when he’s dishing out his most horrific material, King argues for humankind’s positive potential; even It finds affirmation within all the damning critique.

1990s – Dolores Claiborne (1992)

Runner ups: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
Alongside Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne was published in the first year of what appears to be a distinct cycle in King’s oeuvre rounded out by Rose Madder (1995) and, to a lesser extent, Insomnia (1994). To varying degrees, all four of these books deal with patriarchy and its profoundly negative impact on specific women. If you ask me, Claiborne is the most focused and beautifully written of the four. Written as a sprawling exercise in stylized first-person narration, this novel depicts its title character’s long, excruciating marriage to an abusive man. Claiborne lends attention not only to domestic context, but also to the ways in which social institutions fail to help Dolores and her daughter. It is by no means King’s first or last “non-horror” work, but it is one of his finest novels written outside the genre.

2000s – Dreamcatcher (2001)

Runner ups: From a Buick 8 (2002), Lisey’s Story (2006)
Stephen King allegedly penned this epic novel by hand while under the influence of Oxycontin — in 1999, he had been struck and nearly killed by a van, and sitting at a typewriter for long periods of time was too painful to manage. This is the author’s first post-accident work, and it’s a bizarre book indeed – set in It’s fictional town of Derry, Maine, Dreamcatcher nearly matches that 1986 novel’s wild ambition. This is an alien invasion story filled with grotesque body horror, telepathic connections and alternating timelines. It’s also filled with a palpable sense of pain and longing for the past, addled by drug-induced visions and teeming with playful pop culture references. It’s a tonally ballistic book, maybe weighed down by the range of its ideas and the conditions in which it was written, but I absolutely love it just the same. It was one of the first King books I read; the impact has been long-lasting and profound.

2010s – Full Dark, No Stars (2010)

Runner ups: Mr. Mercedes (2014), The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015)
Comprised of four absorbing novellas, Full Dark, No Stars shows Stephen King at his bleakest and most despairing. It’s an intensely moral book, underscored by severe reflections on the costs of violence and selfishness. Sometime around the late 1990s (I notice the shift most clearly with Bag of Bones [1998]), King’s prose style seems to change – it’s leaner, more focused than ever, often foregrounding inner and spoken dialogue rather than description. Some of his recent output veers surprisingly far from the unbridled, emotional energy of his early work, but Full Dark, No Stars appears to see the author back in the space that inspired him to write books like Roadwork (1981) and Apt Pupil (a novella from Different Seasons [1982]). It seems to me that the legendary writer has never been more lucid and fearless than he is here, charging headlong into the toxic terrain of human misdeeds. I look forward to reading whatever else he produces in the decades to come.


Mike Thorn’s Official Website

Unnerving Magazine’s Official Website

Purchase Darkest Hours: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Mike Thorn

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. He completed his B.A. with honors at Mount Royal University and his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Dark Moon Digest, Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id and Straylight Literary Arts Magazine. He co-authors the horror-themed series “Devious Dialogues” with A.M. Stanley for Vague Visages. Visit his website ( or follow him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.


Length: 260 Pages

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Release Date: July 24, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Seeing Double is Karen Runge’s debut novel, coming from one of the best horror publishers around Grey Matter Press. This was one of the novels I was really looking forward to this year as I have been impressed with Runge’s writing ever since I read her story “Hope is Here” in the outstanding anthology Suspended in Dusk, which was edited by Simon Dewar. After that I was hooked, looking out for her short stories whenever they appeared in an anthology and then being blown away when I read her brilliant debut collection Seven Sins. While her talent is on evident display in her standalone stories, this collection is incredibly impressive and showcases her willingness to take risks with her stories. There were a few that utilized interesting structures that only added more power to her words. Needless to say when I caught wind of her debut novel Seeing Double, I could barely contain my excitement.

Seeing Double focuses on Ada and Daniel, a married expat couple living in Asia. They compliment each other perfectly and while many who encounter them would dismiss them as an average, run-of-the-mill couple, there is more to their relationship that meets the eye. Ada and Daniel harbor a dark secret, one that only they know of and they never share with anyone else. However, that all changes when Daniel meets Neven, a mysterious stranger that seems to share similarities with Daniel and Ada. The trio form a relationship built around mutual attraction and it isn’t long until Ada and Daniel share their secret with Neven. As their relationship grows and they push each other into increasingly extreme situations, their boundaries are put to the test and the only possible outcome is that their lives will never be the same.

Seeing Double is a character driven piece focusing almost exclusively on the three primary characters – Ada, Daniel, and Neven. Their lust and feeling of power and control are brutal to witness in that they have no regard for those that get trapped in their orbit. Runge breathes life into these characters by giving them rich personalities that are shaped by the trauma they experienced at various points in their lives. This is important because there is a heavy psychological element to this story and the tension that arises throughout the novel is dependent on the author’s ability to create realistic characters and Runge accomplishes that with ease. Ada and Daniel work well together, like a well-oiled machine. They are predators in every sense of the word, and the fact they have spent so much time together allows them to read each others cues and send each other messages non-verbally as to not alert their targets. While there is a section of the novel where a character mentions that past trauma did not necessarily get them to this point, there is no denying that each of these characters have been through some rough situations that certainly played a role in their current situations.

Ada had to deal with a lot of abuse and had a rough home life as well. Her father had met a new woman and Ada never felt comfortable around them, often catching looks exchanging between the two of them that seemed to indicate they tried to tolerate her in as few visits as possible. Ada never felt like her relationship with her parents were built on love, but rather a sense of disconnection and obligation. However, Ada’s parents would take her with them to bars, which was a pivotal moment in her life. Runge brings these scenes to life by showing a teenage Ada in the midst of adult situations that she should not be in and the creep factor of older men trying to take advantage of her. It’s these sort of encounters that led to Ada being fascinated with the combination of pain and love. She mentions that she had to battle her own will to become the woman she is now, altering herself in sometimes horrific and extreme ways.

Daniel’s transformation is a little harder to follow as his story comes together later, but he went through his own trauma and I’m sure that he became the person he is as a result of that. He exerts a level of control that portrays him as the alpha of their group.

Daniel is clearly more experienced than Ada and Neven. When he talks about what they do and begins to initiate Neven into their dangerous lifestyle, it’s clear that he views their actions with a sense of detachment. We see aspects of Ada’s life that indicate she was on a similar path to Daniel, but it was almost like Daniel was grooming her, leading her down the paths that he chose and not necessarily ones she would have traveled down alone. The same pattern shows up in Daniel’s relationship with Neven, but over time, Neven becomes even more extreme than any of them (including Neven himself) could have predicted.

A bulk of characters in fiction seem to fall neatly into a set framework of traditional relationships, wants, and desires, but Runge’s characters form a polyamourous relationship which sets the stage for some interesting character conflicts throughout the novel.

Ada is a confident, independent woman, but there is a scene early on when she first meets Neven that we see Daniel’s internal thoughts and it is like he is claiming her by saying “she’s still mine” as he watches them interact for the first time. Originally Neven wasn’t seen as an addition to their relationship, but the more they spend time together, the more Neven begins to become a fixture in the relationship dynamic between Ada and Daniel. While it seems there is love there, there are more than a few scenes where you get the sense that the men view Ada as almost secondary. Without going into spoilers, there is a scene where the three interact and it is like they are making decisions for her, without asking her what she is thinking. That dynamic isn’t always readily apperant, but continues through a bulk of the novel.

In between the straightforward narrative chapters, there are also sequences from the characters individual perspectives. What is interesting about these sections is that it appears the characters are at their most vulnerable and open up a lot more. Despite their seemingly normal outside appearances, this is where we learn some of their darkest secrets and desires and events that shaped them into the people they really are. Another interesting thing about these chapters is that at times, they are stripped of any sort of indicator on who exactly the person is talking to at that particular instance. As Ada, Daniel and Neven get closer together, they almost congeal into one person, dependent on each other to satisfy their needs and desires. You are able to piece together who is speaking at any given moment through context clues, but I thought it was interesting that the perspective was blurred and I wonder if it was an intentional choice to show their dependence on one another.

There is something captivating about Runge’s prose and some of that is on her display when she is talking about the country Daniel and Ada have chosen to call home. It seems that Daniel and Ada’s decision to live in a foreign country, away from those that they know places them in an almost sort of isolation. I get the sense that they love living there due to their activities, but that it also makes them feel sort of trapped. This is a great description: “The city as a whole was vast and ugly, its long history razed to a whisper as most of the older building were torn down, replaced with cheap mock-ups or garish modern structures. Even in the calm centre, it was a city insane with contradictions. Rickshaws and Lamborghinis. Neon lights and dusty lanterns. Prada shoes and broken feet. It’s beauty, when revealed, seemed sometimes almost accidental.”

Without spoiling too much of the novel, I have to applaud Runge for the rich layers and complexity of her narrative. There is no denying that these people commit evil acts with no remorse, but there is a definite arc to their story and they undergo radical transformations throughout the course of the novel.

Make no mistake about it, there are some really tough scenes in this book, and I think that is part of why it leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Runge doesn’t flinch at showing these damaged characters and the enormity of their actions. Runge not only explores the psychology of relationships, but also the devastating scars that abuse in all of its forms leaves behind.

I honestly struggled with how to tackle a review of this book. I realize that for various reasons, it may not be for everyone. There is a subtle supernatural element that slowly trickles into the novel until the end when it all comes to a head rather quickly, but that is not where the horror in this story originates. Seeing Double peers into the darkest depths of the human psyche and that can be pretty uncomfortable. That is what really drives this novel. I can’t point to one specific thing that made me fall in love with this book, but it definitely consumed me while I was reading it.

There is no denying that Runge is an exceptionally talented writer and reading her debut was a truly special experience. I love her writing style and the way she was able to truly dive into the psyche of her characters. Never once did I feel the story was dragging in any way and her skill to be able to hone in on three characters and make the reader lose themselves is admirable. If you’re not reading Runge’s work, as a dark fiction fan, you are doing yourself an extreme disservice. Runge has a powerful voice and there is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be a force in the genre. I was absolutely blown away by Seeing Double and I’m definitely going to be a life-long fan of her work. I have a feeling most of you reading this will be as well.

Rating: 5/5


Karen Runge’s Official Website

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

Purchase Seeing Double: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Grey Matter Press or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Karen Runge

Karen Runge is a horror writer, sometimes an artist, and teaches adults English as a second language. Several of her short stories have been published in her collection Seven Sins. And two of her short stories appear in Grey Matter Press anthologies Savage Beasts and Death’s Realm. Jack Ketchum once told her: “Karen, you scare me.”

Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from Alma Katsu, the author of The Hunger and The Taker trilogy. I first heard about The Hunger from Max Booth III’s “15 Most Anticipated Horror Books of 2018” list on Litreactor, and Max’s blurb had me hooked right away. I have always loved history and I’m a big fan of horror novels that either focus on a historical event, or are set in a different time period. So naturally The Hunger immediately became one of my most anticipated books of the year. The Hunger takes the grisly and devastating events of the Donner Party and adds in an element of supernatural horror. Doesn’t that sound like a killer set-up for a horror novel? Alma is stopping by The Horror Bookshelf to share the inspiration behind the evil that plagues the Donner Party in The Hunger. I will have a review of The Hunger on The Horror Bookshelf soon and after reading Alma’s guest post, I can’t wait to tear into this book! The Hunger will be available March 6.
Before I turn over the blog to Alma, I want to thank her and Emily of Glasstown Entertainment for putting this together!

“The Monster in The Hunger” by Alma Katsu, author of The Hunger and The Taker trilogy

In the late summer of 1846, a wagon train heads down a little-known route through the American West in the hope that it will shave hundreds of miles off the trek to California. Instead, it takes them through a hellish landscape that proves nearly impassable, throwing them weeks behind schedule. And just as they arrive at the last mountain pass standing between them and their destination, the worst storm of the century descends on them. Out of food and already pushed to the point of starvation, they have only one choice if they want to survive.
One horrible, unimaginable choice.
This is the story of the Donner Party. It’s such a great story that you might think it doesn’t need any embellishment. But I saw the potential to tell another story.
I added the supernatural.
It’s hard to believe this hasn’t been done already (though it very well may have. There are so many books about the Donner Party, fiction and non-fiction, that it’s impossible to be exhaustive.) But as I researched the real events, it seemed to me that the wagon party seemed cursed from the start. There were injuries, deaths: a sick old man was left to die alone in the desert. Another man, worried that he was going to be robbed, went off to bury his treasure and was never seen alive again. They were followed by bad luck and tragedy every step of the way.
And it got me thinking: what if all this bad luck wasn’t the result of natural causes? What if they were being followed by something with evil intentions?
The problem was finding a supernatural creature that could stand up to the horror of the real-life Donner Party. When you’re already facing cannibalism, what monster would have the power to scare you?
Luckily, the supernatural is everywhere, if you know where to look for it.
In my research, I looked at Native American folklore. The Donner Party was traveling through Native American lands, after all. They would hear stories of terrifying beasts from the tribes they came in contact with. One such creature is the wendigo. Originally from Algonquian folklore, some sources describe it as a spirit that’s able to take over a human body; others say it started as a man but was made into a monster by greed. In all its variations, however, it is at its heart the same: an ever-hungry creature driven to cannibalism.
I also looked at another ever-hungry creature, the werewolf. While werewolves are generally credited to European folklore, there were stories of werewolf sightings in America around the time of the Donner Party. The wendigo and the werewolf strongly influenced the supernatural element in The Hunger but that’s not exactly what you’ll find in the novel. The Hunger is about that dark side we all have inside us. Whether that monster triumphs is up to individual.
I’ll stop here because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of The Hunger. In the end, it will be up to the reader to decide what’s pursuing the wagon party—or if there’s something supernatural on their trail at all. It’ll be up to you, the reader, to decide what—or who—the monster is. Or if we’re all monsters.


Alma Katsu’s Official Website

Alma Katsu’s Facebook Page

Putnam’s Official Website

Purchase The Hunger: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About The Hunger

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone–or something–is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck–the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history.

While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions–searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand–evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves “What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased…and very hungry?”

About Alma Katsu

Before she started writing novels, Alma Katsu was both a music journalist and an analyst for the likes of CIA and RAND. She has pounded the halls of the Pentagon, been in the West Wing of the White House, and interviewed rock stars. Her novels—The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent (which, oddly enough, have nothing to do with music or national security)—have been published in more than a dozen languages.


Length: 105 Pages

Publisher: High Fever Books

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Review for the Broken Shells Blog Tour hosted by Confessions Publicity

Broken Shells is the latest novella from Michael Patrick Hicks and it follows Antoine DeWitt, a man who just lost his job as an auto mechanic and was already struggling to make ends meet. This is just the most recent of many blows life has dealt Antoine over the past few years. Anytime something good comes along in his life, it’s only a matter of time before it gets ruined. This was the only job he was able to get after being released from prison two years ago on a trumped-up possessions charge and the fresh start he was slowly building was washed away in one moment of anger. As Antoine trudges home to face his wife Chanelle, he is dreading her reaction to the news.

Antoine’s mailbox is always either junk or past due bills, so he grabs the latest stack mindlessly and makes his way up the stairs, where he can hear his son Helix crying before he even makes it to the door. When Chanelle sees the Money Carlo flier, Antoine immediately tells her its junk and to throw it away but she is already picking at the tabs. She begs Antoine to call the number when she sees a $5,000 prize staring back at her. Even though he knows deep down it is too good to be true, the fact that past due bills are piling up, he’s staring down the barrel unemployment and a delayed WIC check allow him to believe in the fantasy for one brief moment. Not to mention the only thing that saves him from being ripped limb from limb by his wife is the prospect of this magical money arriving on their doorsteps.

When Antoine steps onto Jon Dangle’s Chevy lot to redeem his ticket, he is hesitant to believe he is actually a winner, but slowly begins to muster up some hope. Against all odds, maybe, just maybe, the winning Money Carlo ticket isn’t a scam at all, but the first step towards turning things around for his family. What Antoine doesn’t know is that Dangle is a man of secrets and that the Money Carlo ticket is indeed a scam. Just not the sort of scam Antoine was expecting. That fateful afternoon finds Antoine in a world of trouble and sets the stage for Broken Shells and the wild, intense ride that plays out through the course of the story.

What really grabbed me about this novella was Hicks’ characters, particularly Antoine. Through anecdotes about his history and glimpses of his home-life struggles early in Broken Shells, Hicks effortlessly gets readers to establish a connection with Antoine. While my situation was not quite as dire as Antoine’s, I know I have been in situations where it seemed like nothing was going right and the only way out seemed to be some sort of miracle. Who hasn’t at times felt beat down, hopeless, or worried about finances? That’s why I think readers will connect with Antoine and picture themselves as being in that situation and what they would do to try to climb out of that cycle of desperation. Antoine is put through the wringer throughout Broken Shells and every time he finds himself in a hopeless situation, he thinks of Helix and Chanelle, and his love for them drives him forward. He realizes how much he loves them both, despite the frustration that plagued him due to their situation and all of that stress piling up. It only took going through hell to realize that maybe his life wasn’t as bad as he had originally thought. Even facing unimaginable horror, he vows that instead of allowing life to beat him down, he is going to do whatever he can to survive and make it back home and try to be a better man. Antoine isn’t without his faults as he did contemplate walking away from his family, but while some may not like that side of Antoine, it makes him a more vivid and life-like character. Overall, I thought his character arc was pretty satisfying.

Jon Dangle is an interesting antagonist because while he is someone you definitely grow to despise, his motivations and actions are more complex than simply being some deranged killer. While there is no denying that he is responsible for tons of horrific things in Broken Shells, in Dangle’s mind, he genuinely believes in the purpose of his actions and feels he is doing the right thing. He is also intelligent in the way he carries out his “responsibilities”, but his strength is in his ability to interact with people. As a car salesman, Dangle trained himself to be an expert at reading body language and making people feel comfortable. Using those techniques, Dangle knows that he has found an easy mark in Antoine, or so he thinks. Dangle is calm and collected under pressure. Even when he notices Antoine is cautious and waiting for the catch, Dangle’s expertise allows him to navigate the situation and lure him into a sense of security.

Hicks also does a great job with the various settings throughout his novella. Antoine’s neighborhood doesn’t have any streetlights as the kids busted them out with rocks or they were shot out by gang members. Fires were a regular occurrence as a past time as well, and as Antoine is walking home from the bus stop the night he was fired, he passes the burnt out husks of houses in his neighborhood. These scenes paint a vivid picture and serve to accentuate of hardships Antoine and his wife Chanelle face on a daily basis. Then there is Dangle’s lot, where a bulk of the story takes place and is a very interesting location. It is situated out in the middle of nowhere Michigan, off M-72, in an area that is mostly woods and farm land. The isolation of Dangle’s lot serves as an ominous warning that will instantly resonate with horror fanatics who know nothing good ever comes from a secluded location. Without venturing too much into spoilers, the details Hicks gives of the subterranean parts of Dangle’s property are terrifying and one of the strongest parts of the novella.

The hardest thing about reviewing Broken Shells is there is so much to dive into about why this novella is so good, but to do so would ruin the story for readers. What I can say is that there is some truly impressive set pieces in this about what lies beneath Dangle’s car dealership and the horrors that Antoine faces are pretty unique. There are some bone-chilling scenes in this one that I absolutely loved and Hicks does a great job of using numerous sensory details to paint a vivid, hellish picture in the reader’s mind. Trust me, you will know what scenes I’m talking about when you get to them!

I also have to give kudos to Hicks for the ingenious way he set up the plot for this story. I’m not sure if this is how he got the story idea, but how many times have you gotten those sort of giveaway cards in the mail only to throw them in the trash without a second thought? Hicks manages to take a harmless item that barely registers on our radar on a daily basis and use it as catalyst for an unimaginable horror. It may seem like a small detail, but the set-up provided an impressive originality to the story.

Broken Shells is a blood-soaked, tense novella that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of horror fans, especially those that dig an old-school feel in their novels. Hicks does a great job of building tension throughout the course of Broken Shells and that helps keep the story moving at a blistering pace that kept me riveted until the final page. I read this one in one reading session and I came away very impressed with this story. This was my first work from Hicks, but it definitely won’t be my last. I look forward to digging into some of his other works and highly recommend picking up a copy of Broken Shells.

Rating: 4.5/5


Michael Patrick Hick’s Official Website

Purchase Broken Shells: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of a number of speculative fiction titles. His debut novel, Convergence, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist. His most recent work is the horror novel, Mass Hysteria.

He has written for the Audiobook Reviewer and Graphic Novel Reporter websites, in addition to working as a freelance journalist and news photographer.

In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from Eddie Generous the creator, editor, designer, and publisher of Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine. The most recent release from Unnerving is the anthology Hardened Hearts, which is described as “17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths.” I’m a relatively new Unnerving fan, but I love everything Eddie Generous has been doing so far. I’m pretty excited to dive into this one as the theme and list of authors sounds fantastic. Eddie is stopping by The Horror Bookshelf to share 5 Stephen King adaptations that he thinks are better than the source material. I’m curious to see the reactions to Eddie’s article as Stephen King fans have a wide variety of favorite stories and adaptations. I hope Eddie knows what he may have gotten himself into!

Before I turn over the blog to Eddie, I want to thank him and Erin of Oh, For the Hook of a Book Publicity for having me on the tour for Hardened Hearts.

“The Film was Better”

By Eddie Generous, Owner/Editor of Unnerving

Stephen King is in a rare category where there have been enough film adaptations of his writing that any number of lists can exist, and guess what, here’s another one of them. Starting with the closest to par, below are (in my ultimate and perfect opinions) the adaptations of Stephen King’s literature that were better than the original story.

  1. Cell – Novel 2006 – Film (director Tod Williams) 2016 release (2014)

Cell is the worst Stephen King book I’ve read (note, I’ve not read five or six of his titles, so maybe something’s worse). It’s all over the place, poorly edited, and slapdash in follow through. Not that there aren’t good points, because there are, but upping on the book is a pretty low bar.

Playing against itself, this adaptation was long without a distributor and found itself dated by years upon release. Much like the source material, this bad boy jumps around, relying on pacing because if nothing else, it’s quick. What really put Cell, the film, above the book was the finale, it’s rewarding and offers that lovely horror grin (changed by King due to customer complaints).

Plus, John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson never seem to fail, so there’s that too.

Cell trailer

  1. 1922 – Novella 2010: Full Dark, No Stars – Film (director Zak Hilditch) 2017

1922 is recent film and a relatively recent story. It’s one of four novellas in the collection Full Dark, No Stars. It’s been a few years since I read the collection, however, unlike the film, 1922 was not at all the standout, nor was Fair Extension to get right down to it. Big Driver and A Good Marriage were both deep sinking tales that awed and stuck with me. 1922, while not bad, was a somewhat stale tale relying on nostalgic notes, referencing Hemingford Home to tug the good ole’ strings of the Constant Reader. It’s a melancholy story that drags the reader along, never giving the hint of hope and thusly never giving much to hope for.

The adaptation did much of the same, but in a way that was loud when necessary and creeping under the skin at other times. The acting is fantastic and visuals alongside the almost Kubrick-esque score put it into one of the finest King adaptations ever.

 1922 trailer

  1. The Dark Half – Novel 1989 – Film (director George A. Romero) 1993

The Dark Half is a well-intentioned book that worked for me about half the time. There were bits that blew me away, but the characters were tough to connect with, if it wasn’t for George Stark and his loud pulp appeal, this thing might’ve floundered into something fully disappointing. The adaptation was screaming, faster, darker, and the visuals worked in a way that my imagination did not. The Dark Half is an ok book and a damn good film.

 The Dark Half  trailer

  1. The Mist – Novella 1980: Dark Forces, 1985: Skeleton Crew – Film (director Frank Darabont) 2007

The Mist is a novella that dwells, most availably, within short stories in Skeleton Crew, Stephen King’s second collection. The most recent adaptation was absolute garbage, worthy of cancellation, the characters were absurd and gaudily written, the acting was befitting of the writing.

Now, the film The Mist from 2007 is everything the original story was and more, particularly in the finale. The film version saw a horror twist that the master of terror did not and for that, it’s over the edge.

 The Mist trailer

  1. 1408 – Short Story 1999: Blood and Smoke (audio), 2002: Everything’s Eventual – Film (director Mikael Håfström) 2007

The adaptation of 1408 has an advantage over the others in that the original story was a sparse short story with huge space to roam in afterthought. The film explored everywhere it needed to be in order to be one of my favorite horror movies. The acting is perfect, there’s scope to connect and understand, letting empathy become toeholds for the terrors in room 1408 in the Hotel Dolphin.

Making a great film from a good short story is something worth noting and better the work of Stephen King is something special.

 1408 trailer

This list is right and perfect in every way, which is why you’ve nodded your head repeatedly since reading the first paragraph. I’m glad we all see this exactly the same way, so there’s no need to send me hate messages or question my views.

Hooray for Stephen King (also John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, and Thomas Jane)!


Follow on Twitter: @GenerousEd

Unnerving Magazine Site

Eddie Generous’ Site

Purchase Hardened Hearts: AmazonBarnes & Noble, and many other fine online retailers.


About Eddie Generous

Eddie Generous is the creator, editor, designer, and publisher of Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine. Besides other books he published this year, he also is the editor and publisher of the anthology Hardened Hearts. In early 2018, Hellbound Books is publishing a collection of his novelettes titled Dead is Dead, but Not Always, and also he is teaming up with Mark Allan Gunnells and Renee Miller to release Splish, Slash, Takin’ a Bloodbath, a collection of short stories.


About the Hardened Hearts Anthology


17 stories of difficult love, broken hearts, lost hope, and discarded truths. Love brings pain, vulnerability, and demands of revenge. Hardened Hearts spills the sum of darkness and light concerning the measures of love; including works from Meg Elison, author of The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award), Tom Deady, author of Haven (Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in a First Novel), Gwendolyn Kiste, author of And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and Pretty Marys All in a Row, and many more.

Hardened Hearts dips from speculative, horror, science fiction, fantasy, into literary and then out of the classifiable and into the waters of unpinned genres, but pure entertainment nonetheless.

The Author Line-up

Foreword by James Newman

“It Breaks My Heart to Watch You Rot” by Somer Canon

“What is Love?” by Calvin Demmer

“Heirloom” by Theresa Braun

“The Recluse” by John Boden

“40 Ways to Leave Your Monster Lover” by Gwendolyn Kiste

“Dog Tired” by Eddie Generous

“The Pink Balloon” by Tom Deady

“It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To” by J.L.Knight

“Burning Samantha” by Scott Hallam

“Consumed” by Madhvi Ramani

“Class of 2000” by Robert Dean

“Learning to Love” by Jennifer Williams

“Brothers” by Leo X.Robertson

“Porcelain Skin” by Laura Blackwell

“The Heart of the Orchard” by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

“Meeting the Parents” by Sarah L. Johnson

“Matchmaker” by Meg Elison


I’m a bit late with my 2017 list as the first month of 2018 is just about over (seriously, where did this year go?), but I still wanted to take a minute and share some of my favorite reads from this year. There is always a staggering amount of great horror books released every year, but this year felt like it was a really high mark for horror fiction. I’m already anticipating a ton of 2018 releases, so I have a feeling I will be saying the same thing next year!

This list is by no means exhaustive of all the books out there, some I was unfortunately unable to get to in time to include on this list. However, of the works I did get to read, these were among my favorites. There are a lot of books on here that appeared on numerous other lists, but I think you may find a few new selections and I hope that you will check them out and find something you enjoy. I also wanted to take a quick moment to say that I’m so glad to be a part of the horror community. I have met so many great people through running The Horror Bookshelf that I talk to fairly regularly and other than talking about the books I love, it makes all the time that goes into writing posts totally worth it. I hope to meet more fellow bloggers and writers and to be more engaged in 2018. Now that I got all of my rambling out of the way, allow me to introduce you to my Favorite Reads of 2017!


1. Josh Malerman – Black Mad Wheel

Leading off my list of favorite reads for the year is Malerman’s stellar Black Mad Wheel. I have been a fan of Malerman’s ever since discovering his debut Bird Box, which was highly original and one of my favorite novels of the past few years. Black Mad Wheel follows Detroit-based rock band The Danes as they attempt to track down the source of a mysterious and extremely dangerous sound emanating from an African desert. Malerman’s characterization is top-notch and his experience as a musician is what makes The Danes come alive. Throw in a mystery that compels you to journey deeper into the desert with the Danes and you have a compulsively readable novel that shows why Malerman is quickly becoming a favorite among horror fans.

2. Jonathan Janz  – Exorcist Falls

Exorcist Falls is the sequel to Janz’s novella Exorcist Road, which was originally released through Samhain Horror and appears in print again in this Sinister Grin edition. Exorcist Falls kicks off with the original novella, which is great for people like me that missed Exorcist Road the first time around or those who wish to re-read it to experience the story as a whole. Exorcist Falls draws inspiration from the towering classics that started America’s fascination with possession stories William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Legion and starts with a quote from The Exorcist. I could go on for hours about how much I loved Exorcist Falls (and almost did in my review), but I will sum it up by saying Janz conjures up some truly diabolical evil in this novel and it features some of the most bone chilling scenes I have read in a possession story. This is right up there with Children of the Dark for my favorite Janz novel.

3. Ronald MalfiBone White

Ronald Malfi consistently puts out great novels and if you are a regular follower of The Horror Bookshelf, it should come as no surprise to see Malfi’s name near the top of my list. Last year The Night Parade was my top book of the year and really struck a chord in me especially as a new father. Bone White is a novel that stuck with me, but for far more sinister reasons. Bone White follows Paul Gallo as he ventures into the Alaskan wilderness to a town called Dread’s Hand in hopes of finding out the truth of what happened to his twin brother who went missing over a year ago. What he finds is a town that is superstitious and wary of outsiders, but that is only the start of a strange and dangerous journey that will alter Gallo’s life forever. Malfi steadily builds tension and fear throughout the course of Bone White which seeps into your bones and makes for a thrilling read. The remote Alaskan setting is perfect for story and Malfi utilizes that sense of isolation masterfully, so by the time you discover the crosses in the woods, you are creeped out beyond words. I recommend this novel at any time of the year, but this is a perfect read if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow and find yourself snowed in. Bone White is a stunning novel athat has me looking forward to Malfi’s next work.

4. Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason – Those Who Follow

Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason – who go by the nickname The Sisters of Slaughter- burst onto the scene last year with Mayan Blue, their Stoker nominated debut that took readers on a bloody trip into the Mayan underworld. Mayan Blue was a blast to read and ended up in my top 10 last year and I mentioned in my review that I couldn’t wait to see what they came up with next. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long as they released their sophomore novel Those Who Follow over the summer. I just squeezed this one in prior to starting this list and I am so glad I did. As much as I loved Mayan Blue, the Sisters of Slaughter have taken their writing to another level with Those Who Follow. This novel is dark and brutal, featuring a villain that relishes the torment and horror he inflicts on his victims. If you like your horror a little more on the extreme side, definitely add this one to your collection.

5. Paul KaneBefore

Before is one of three stellar novels released this year from Grey Matter Press. This was my first time reading Kane’s work and I was totally enthralled by the sprawling world he created in Before. I don’t want to delve too much into the novel as I have a more in-depth review in the works, but Before follows college professor Alex Webber who attempts to decipher the visions that plague him and avoid crossing paths with a being known as The Infinity. This is an engrossing novel that will appeal not only horror fans, but fans of other genres as well. Before is impressive in scope and the characters are excellent. I love the contrast of a seemingly average man going up against a force that wields a staggering power. Excellent novel and I can’t wait to dive into Kane’s other works, particularly Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell!

6. J. Danielle DornThe Devil’s Call

The Devil’s Call is the debut novel from J Danielle Dorn, who I was surprised to learn was a local author. The novel comes from Inkshares, who is a publisher definitely on the rise as they have released this one and A God in the Shed from J-F. Dubeau (which I haven’t read yet, but is sitting in my TBR pile). The Devil’s Call is an interesting mash-up of the horror and Western genres set in 1859. Li Lian Callahan witnesses the brutal murder of her husband Dr. Matthew Callahan while carrying their first child. Little does this band of men know, they are dealing with a powerful witch that travels from Nebraska to Louisiana to the Badlands in order to bring her husband’s killers to justice by any means possible. I went into this one fairly blind and was blown away by Dorn’s gift for storytelling. Normally I’m not a huge fan of Western’s, but there was something magical about this one that kept me riveted right from the beginning. Dorn’s decision to have the narrative reflect Li Lian writing to her unborn daughter was a risky one, but she pulls it off flawlessly. Li Lian is probably my favorite character from this year along with Trixie from Chad Stroup’s Secrets of the Weird, which appears later on this list. Outstanding characterization and a fresh twist on the revenge tale, Dorn is writer worth following and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

7. Hunter SheaWe Are Always Watching

Hunter Shea is another longtime favorite of The Horror Bookshelf and 2017 was a great year for Shea fans which saw the release of 2 novels and 4 novellas. We Are Always Watching is loosely based on a true story and follows West Ridley as he and his family move from New York to their grandfather’s rundown farm. Almost as soon as they move in, weird this begin happening around the farmhouse but the threats become all too real as Wes wakes up one day to see the words “WE SEE YOU” scrawled into his ceiling. As the danger beings to pile up, West must sift through long-held secrets and find a way to expose the mysterious Guardians once and for all. The paranoia Shea conjures up by having these events plague the family’s home is what makes this novel so good. A bit more “quiet” horror than readers are used to from Hunter, but it is refreshing and ranks pretty high up on my list of favorite Hunter Shea novels.

8. Ania AhlbornThe Devil Crept In

What makes The Devil Crept In such an engaging read is the originality of the premise. Throughout the novel, Ahlborn makes readers question just what exactly is happening in the woods of Deer Valley. There are hints scattered throughout this seemingly sleepy small town that something isn’t right, but you can’t quite place your finger on it. That nagging sense of mystery is part of the fun of this novel. Out of all the crazy ideas that ran through my head – cobbled together from years of reading horror novels and watching horror films – the truth behind what happened to Jude never crossed my mind. The Devil Crept In is another stellar offering from a gifted storyteller. An original premise, vivid characters and a great sense of atmosphere (not to mention some truly unnerving scenes) all mesh together to create a thrilling reading experience. If you haven’t read any of Ahlborn’s work yet, I highly recommend grabbing at least one of her books. I have a feeling once you read one, you’ll be hooked, just like I was!

9. J.D. BarkerThe Fourth Monkey

The Fourth Monkey is more of a psychological thriller, but it mines the same dark depths of the human psyche for inspiration that Forsaken did, making it a must read for fans of both genres. The Fourth Monkey is being described as Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs and that is a pretty accurate comparison. This is a chilling thriller that is compulsively readable and offers up plenty of twists and turns, hinting at a very interesting future for characters in this book. While I hope for a continuation of Forsaken, I am loving Barker’s journey into the thriller genre and can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

10. Karen RungeSeeing Double

Seeing Double is Karen Runge’s debut novel, coming from one of the best horror publishers around Grey Matter Press. This was one of the novels I was really looking forward to this year as I have been impressed with Runge’s writing ever since I read her story “Hope is Here” in the outstanding anthology Suspended in Dusk, which was edited by Simon Dewar. After that I was hooked, looking out for her short stories whenever they appeared in an anthology and then fully cementing myself as a life-long fan when I read her brilliant debut collection Seven Sins. While her talent is on evident display in her standalone stories, this collection is incredibly impressive and showcases her willingness to take risks with her stories and there were a few that utilized interesting formatting (layouts? structure?) that only added more power to her words. Needless to say when I caught wind of her debut novel Seeing Double, I could barely contain my excitement.

Seeing Double is a character driven piece and Runge expertly breathes life into these characters, which is important because there is a heavy psychological element to this story. Stories that depend on this sort of psychological tension and issues live and die on the strength of the author’s abilities to create realistic characters and Runge accomplishes that with ease. I have to applaud Runge for the rich layers and complexity of her narrative in Seeing Double, a novel that is sure to establish Runge as a force in the genre.

11. Chad StroupSecrets of the Weird

Chad Stroup’s Secrets of The Weird is a novel that has drawn comparisons to Clive Barker’s darker fantasy work, but honestly, defies easy description. Secrets of the Weird doesn’t exactly follow a linear approach in terms of the narrative of the story, but it works extremely well and enhances the story and allows for a vivid and personal look into the life of the main character Trixie. It alternates between the present (which if I remember correctly, is like 1991 or 1992 in the novel) and Trixie’s Diary entries from the late ’80s. Not only does the timeline remain fluid throughout much of the story, the point of view often switches between Trixie, members of the Civilized Cannibals, the Angelghoul and a few others. Stroup’s Secrets of the Weird is a wildly imaginative novel that is a must read for any dark fiction fan that is looking for something a little different. There is no denying Stroup is a talented new voice and his outstanding character development and willingness to experiment within the horror and fantasy genres have definitely made me a fan. I look forward to following Stroup’s future work and highly recommend grabbing a copy of this brilliant debut novel.

12. Glenn RolfeBecoming

I’ve been a huge fan of Glenn Rolfe’s work ever since I discovered his chilling debut The Haunted Halls. From there I devoured all of his books from Samhain. Becoming is an absolute blast, drawing from 80s horror movies, particularly creature features. Rolfe’s adrenaline-fueled style leads to an action packed story from start to finish. After the collapse of Samhain, I was worried it would be awhile before getting anything new from Rolfe. I was happy to be proven wrong. Rolfe has a few things in the works (a collection called Land of Bones and a novella called Follow Me Down) coming this year. If you haven’t read any of his books before, now is a perfect time to get started.

13. Russell JamesCavern of the Damned

James’ Cavern of the Damned is a fun read that delivers both adventure and horror in spades. The characters go up against giant, deadly prehistoric creatures all while trapped in a cave with virtually no weapons. Once I started this book, there was no putting it down until I reached the last page. I had a very minor issue with one of the subplots, but aside from that, Cavern of the Damned was a blast to to read. I could be wrong, but I think recently I saw that James said there was a sequel in the works. I hope that there are many more books to come in this series, I think he could do some really cool things with the idea developed in Cavern of the Damned.

14. Brian Fatah SteeleThere is a Darkness in Every Room

Steele’s novel is one that i think was severely underrated this year. Anyone who knows me or follows this blog knows about my borderline unhealthy obsession about UFOs and aliens and that is initially what drew me to Steele’s book. While Steele mixes in enough of “traditional” alien elements, he also injects a special blend of evil and madness that creates a unique and oftentimes bleak cosmic horror piece. Steele is a talented writer and luckily he announced an upcoming project through Bloodshot Books, so it shouldn’t be long until readers can get their hands on more of his stuff.

15. Catherine CavendishWrath of the Ancients

This was my first novel from Catherine Cavendish and I’m kicking myself for not checking out her work earlier. Cavendish offers up an atmospheric gothic horror tale that effortlessly blends together history and the supernatural to create an unsettling horror story that will appeal to almost any horror fan. While leaning a bit more toward quiet horror territory, there are plenty of hair-raising scenes draw from the steadily growing dread Cavendish creates over the course of Wrath of the Ancients. I’m definitely a fan and can’t wait to dive into some of her other works. This one is listed as Nemesis of the Gods #1, so I’m hoping there is more to come from this line even if they are only loosely connected.


1. Kealan Patrick Burke Blanky

Blanky focuses on Steve Brannigan, who is struggling to keep his life together after the tragic death of his infant daughter. He is estranged from his wife after the grief they both felt in the aftermath placed a strain on their marriage that drove them apart. Burke holds nothing back and starts Blanky with Steve giving a heartbreaking account of what it’s like to lose a child. Then Burke throws readers right into the story with one simple line, “That was the beginning of the end of my world. This is the rest of it.” Blanky is a devastating novella that utilizes emotion, atmosphere and outstanding characterization to create a truly haunting story. I remember when I read the synopsis, I knew this story was going to hit me hard. I’m a new parent and I couldn’t imagine a more terrifying scenario than the one Steve and Lex face in Blanky. Burke did not disappoint as Blanky messed with my emotions and kept me glued to the pages, reading it in a single sitting and feeling like I took a sucker punch to the gut. If you’re looking to start discovering Burke’s work, this is a good place to start.

2. Ania AhlbornI Call Upon Thee

I’ve already gone over my love of Ania Ahlborn’s work more times than I can count, so I will jump right into I Call Upon Thee. This novella from Ahlborn follows Maggie as she returns to her childhood following a family tragedy. Maggie had a normal childhood for the most part until an innocent act as a child invited an evil from the local cemetery into her life that has refused to ever leave since. Maggie realizes she must confront her past in an attempt to vanquish the evil that has been responsible for so much heartache and tragedy, but it will not be an easy fight. When I originally read this, I was struck by its resemblance to my favorite Ahlborn novel The Bird Eater. It is its own unique story, but carries some of the same emotional undertones as that novel and that is probably why this one is probably the “1B” to The Bird Eater’s “1A” status. While Ahlborn conjures up some of her scariest scenes in I Call Upon Thee, it is the familial relationships that serve as the heart of this novel. A lean, mean story that proves why Ahlborn is one of my favorite storytellers.

3. Hunter SheaSavage Jungle

Hunter Shea has created numerous excellent horror novels that vary in topic, but there is no denying he is the king of cryptid novels. His stories that focus on infamous cryptids are always some of my most anticipated reads because they are high-octane reads that never lost their intensity from start to finish. It’s also evident that Shea shares my passion and interest in cryptid lore and he pours every bit of his extensive knowledge into these tales and then ratchets up the terror as high as possible. Savage Jungle has all of those hallmark traits and just when I thought this story couldn’t get any more insane (and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible), Shea annihilates my expectations. For those who loved following the McQueen twins on their quest for revenge in Loch Ness Revenge, they will love this follow-up that finds them once again teaming up with their friend Henrik on his own personal vendetta. This time they trio venture into the depths of the Sumatran jungle in search of the Orang Pendek, but what they encounter is beyond their wildest dreams. There are other dangerous things waiting for them in the jungle and it takes every ounce of will power and weaponry to have a shot at escaping in one piece. This was another stellar entry into Shea’s body of work and a perfect example of why I will read anything he puts out, no questions asked.

Honorable Mention: Hunter SheaFury of the Orcas

I didn’t want to rank this one because it’s dedicated to me, but I’ll be damned if I don’t mention it in some capacity. Shea’s latest novella offering takes a look at what would happen if Orca whales suddenly went on the warpath and needless to say, the results aren’t pretty. This story is vintage Hunter Shea, full of absolute mayhem and tense scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat. If you haven’t already, snag a copy of this one from Severed Press. You can thank me later.


1. Josh MalermanGoblin

Goblin is a set of six novellas that all take place in the strange town of Goblin, where it is seemingly always raining and you definitely don’t want to cross paths with the ominous police force that seems to be made up of men who are a little…off. I don’t want to get too much into the novellas that make up Goblin as I am working on a pretty extensive review, but I was amazed at the way Malerman was able to give each one its own style and tone. Despite each novella being its own contained story, they all fit together neatly to form one cohesive whole. Goblin is a town that is filled with a dark history and bizarre events that will unsettle most horror fans, but despite the oddness and danger that is seemingly lurking below the surface, you won’t want to leave Malerman’s creation. There is no denying Malerman creativity and with this collection it really allows him to stretch his talents and the end result is six fantastic novellas and a town that will cement itself right alongside King’s Castle Rock and Derry.

2. Ed Erdelac – Angler in Darkness

I first heard about this collection of novellas from Shane Keene of Shotgun Logic and his recommendations are always golden, so I decided to check out this collection from Ed Erdelac. Angler in Darkness is his first collection of short fiction that spans over a decade and let me just say….why the hell aren’t more people talking about his work?! Erdelac’s prose is simply outstanding and he displays that in every single one of Angler in Darkness’ 18 stories. There is not a single lull in this collection and one of the things I love about Erdelac’s work is that he mixes in history and isn’t afraid to take on different eras for his settings. He also mines folklore and legends from other cultures, so each story is a breath of fresh air as he avoids most of the topics horror fans are already familiar with. Seriously, if you haven’t read anything by Erdelac yet, you need this collection. I will definitely be going back and checking out his novels, I have Andersonville waiting on my Kindle and am excited to check it out.

3. Garden of Fiends

A brilliant and original concept, Garden of Fiends captures the struggles of addiction and the horrors they inflict on those affected by it. Yes, it is dark and visceral, but with moments of hope throughout that make this a memorable collection of stories. Matthews’ has put together something truly special with Garden of Fiends and this is a must-read anthology for any horror fan. Featuring stories from Kealan Patrick Burke, Jessica McHugh, Max Booth III, Johann Thorsson, John F.D. Taff, Glen Krisch, Mark Matthews and Jack Ketchum.

4. Todd KeislingUgly Little Things

One of my earliest reviews for The Horror Bookshelf was Keisling’s Ugly Little Things – Volume One and I remember being completely absorbed by the wonderfully weird stories contained within that made me think of The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. This release contains some of those stories as well as some of the newer ones I had missed. It has almost been 3 years since I first read these stories and upon my second read through, they still pack the same punch as when I initially devoured these stories. It’s hard to pick just one favorite, but the one that sticks with me the most is “Saving Granny From The Devil”. It’s a visceral and emotionally engaging story, the perfect blend of the sort of horrible things we go through in real life and the supernatural. It is a semi-autobiographical tale and the honesty Keisling shows here is probably why this one continues to stick with me years later. Then to top things off, it contains the brilliant novella The Final Reconciliation, which I read for the first time this year. This story follows the tribulations faced by The Yellow Kings after they meet up with the mysterious Camilla, who promises to deliver The Yellow Kings the success they are looking for. However, her help doesn’t come without strings attached. The Final Reconciliation made it to the preliminary ballot stage of this year’s Stoker Awards and if there is any justice, it will be on the final ballot as well. An essential addition to your library and my anticipation to read his upcoming work, Devil’s Creek, is off the charts.

5. Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi – BREATHE. BREATHE. 

A tireless champion of horror fiction, Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi breaks into the genre with her debut collection BREATHE. BREATHE. Her dark and vivid poetry and short stories will be sure to delight fans of dark fiction. What impressed me the most about Al-Mehairi’s work is the emotional power behind not just the poetry, but the stories as well. “Dandelion Yellow” is a heart-wrenching story that will haunt you long after you finish reading it. I had read it twice, once in the limited chapbook and then later in the extended ebook version, and each time it hit me like a ton of bricks. Another one of my favorites was “Destination: Valhalla Lane Loveless, Ohio”. This one had a really cool format that takes you into the households of a few couples on Valhalla Lane. I don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to read it, but these little stories within the story all tie together and I thought the structure was an excellent choice and an intriguing plot. The story stands strong as is, but I would love to see this concept fleshed out into a longer piece. This is a strong debut effort and I can’t wait to see what other stories Al-Mehairi has up her sleeve!

Special Mention

Grady Hendrix with Will ErricksonPaperbacks from Hell

This book gets its own section because it was the only horror based nonfiction book I read this year (which I want to change that for 2018), but also because it is just that damn good. My review of Paperbacks from Hell is the entry right below this one if you’re interested in learning more about it, but the short version is that this is a book that needs to be on every horror fiction fan’s bookshelf. It’s an incredible book and I hope that there is another volume or similar project in the works, but that’s mainly because I’m greedy and need more!


Length: 256 Pages

Publisher: Quirk Books

Release Date: September 19, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Paperbacks from Hell is a nonfiction book from author Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson – who runs the excellent blog Too Much Horror Fiction – that tells the history of ’70s and ’80s horror fiction. When Quirk contacted me asking if I would be interested in reviewing this, I jumped at the chance. Besides having one of the coolest names for this sort of book, I was hooked by the cover which features vintage horror covers and an embossed title design that gives a nod to the paperbacks this book highlights. I have always been impressed with the quality of books that Quirk puts out, and between the design elements and the well-researched history from Hendrix, Paperbacks from Hell is another excellent addition to their catalog.

My introduction to the horror genre was through R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark which featured the unsettling, yet utterly terrific illustrations of Stephen Gammell. I remember when we would have free reading periods at school and we got to choose any book the teacher had available, kids would practically trample each other trying to get their hands on those books. I would spend as much money as my parents would give me to buy these books by the armful at the Scholastic Book Fairs that used to come once a year and that was what sparked my horror fiction obsession. Around that same time, I also found myself drawn to the weird, the unexplained and anything considered scary. I was diving into books about aliens, cryptids, hauntings, you name it. I was hooked and that love for horror and weird stuff also mirrored my love for reading, something that I think people should keep in mind when looking down on horror – or any genre – for that matter.

Paperbacks from Hell is sort of structured chronologically, but it’s mainly broken up into sections about the prevalent themes in horror at that time like satanism, creepy kids, animals, and serial killers just to name a few. The section that really surprised me the most was “When Animals Attack”. Sure, I knew of some of the big hitters like Cujo and Jaws and the animals that were most likely to make for prime horror antagonists – vicious dogs, massive bears, and other animals capable of inflicting large amounts of damage. What surprised me the most was the variety of some of these novels and the willingness to take just about any animal or insect and use them as the centerpiece of a horror novel. There were towering mantises, slugs, ants, or even moths. I mean, how exactly could moths be scary? Well, Hendrix is happy to let readers know.

I also enjoyed the section on V.C. Andrews because I grew up around her books. I had never read any of them, but my mom has just about every V.C. Andrews paperback available and I always saw her reading them. I never in a million years would have thought she was connected to the horror genre and it was interesting to learn not just about how her books fit into the genre’s history, but her life too. Had I known that I was sitting on a potential goldmine of gothic novels, I probably would have gotten into horror even sooner then I did.

Besides the incredibly entertaining take on horror fiction from Hendrix, one of the highlights of this book is the cover art that is included throughout. Many of the covers come from Errickson’s own personal collection, but the scans are extremely vivid and high quality and are given as much emphasis as the text which makes for a visually stunning and engaging book. Besides highlighting some of the noteworthy cover styles of the era, there is also some special treats in their for horror fiction fans that appreciate the cover art. This includes cover art that has never before been published (it was either scrapped or altered) and also previously unpublished sketches of horror covers. In edition to chronicling the books and writers that left their imprint on the genre, there are also sections that highlight some of the most prominent cover artists of the time with interesting nuggets of information throughout.

I’ll be honest, I’m young enough that a lot of these authors are completely new to me. I have heard of most of them, but have only read books from a select few. However, that is exactly why a book like Paperbacks from Hell is such an important book. Not only does it serve as an interesting look back at books that more experienced horror fans may know and love, it serves as an excellent primer for those who may not know of all the great and talented writers of past decades. I know from reading this book, it has ignited something inside me much like the first time I read the Goosebumps series. My eyes were opened to a variety of writers and now I am determined to go back and discover some of these authors. I’m also pretty obsessed at seeking out original copies of some of the novels mentioned within.

While the book is highly informative, make no mistake, this is not just a dry, blow by blow account of horror fiction’s history. Instead of reading like a rigid textbook, Hendrix imbues every page with interesting facts and humor that make this book highly entertaining. If you’re a horror fiction fan or someone who is looking to explore the genre for the first time, Paperbacks from Hell is an absolutely essential addition to your library. This is definitely one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year and if you know someone who is a horror fan, this would make a great gift for the holidays!

Rating: 5/5


Grady Hendrix – Official Website

Too Much Horror Fiction

Quirk Books – Official Website

Purchase Paperbacks from Hell: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite local bookstore! 


Length: 73 Pages

Publisher: Self-published

Release Date: September 12, 2017

Review for the Blanky Blog Tour hosted by Confessions Publicity

I have been a huge fan of Kealan Patrick Burke’s work ever since I stumbled upon his original and haunting novel Kin. If you haven’t read that one yet, definitely check it out as I feel it is essential reading for any horror fan. That novel takes the well-worn horror idea – a family of cannibalistic killers –  and comes at it from the fresh, exciting angle of looking at what happens in the aftermath. I remember being completely blown away by Burke’s realistic characters and his exploration of their feelings of grief and revenge throughout the course of the novel. Despite focusing on the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, there is still plenty of scares found throughout Kin. Without spoiling it for those of you who haven’t read it, there is one scene in particular that has become pretty infamous among horror fans and is all but guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

While I could spend hours fawning over Kin, the reason I’m writing is the release of Burke’s latest novella BlankyThis novella focuses on Steve Brannigan, who is struggling to keep his life together after the tragic death of his infant daughter. He is estranged from his wife after the grief they both felt in the aftermath placed a strain on their marriage that drove them apart. Burke holds nothing back and starts Blanky with Steve giving a heartbreaking account of what it’s like to lose a child. Then Burke throws readers right into the story with one simple line, “That was the beginning of the end of my world. This is the rest of it.”

In the three months after his daughter’s death, Steve attempts to find comfort in the banality of every day life. Sewing on loose or missing buttons to all of his coats and watching old sitcoms to combat the isolation he has imposed on himself. Overdue bill notices begin piling up, but Steve just keeps pushing them off, unable to face the ever-growing pressure that threatens to crush him even further. He numbs his pain with whiskey and one day while he is in the middle of his usual routine, he hears a noise upstairs. He initially chalks it up to the changing seasons and the house’s age. As he continues to drown his grief with the bottle of whiskey, the noises continue, only this time it’s louder and sounds like something is being dragged. The noise fills Steve with fear as the sound seems to be emanating from what used to be Robin’s room and obviously he is the only one left in the house. Eventually his curiosity gets the better of him and he enters his daughter’s room for the first time since he and his wife packed everything up. What he sees turns his world upside down and brings all the grief he was feeling rushing back to the surface.

As the story progresses, Steve begins to have chilling nightmares that show his sanity is reaching its breaking point. I won’t get into those too much for fear of spoilers, but Burke conjures up some frightening images that steadily build a sense of dread throughout the rest of the novella. Make no mistake, there are some truly frightening moments throughout Blanky and plenty of weirdness, but the truly horrific moments of this novella come from the psychological elements that Steve and Lex battle throughout the story. Burke does an incredible job of exploring the crushing sense of loss that Lex and Steve feel after losing their daughter and all of the emotions that bubble to the surface throughout the course of Blanky as they attempt to cope with their grief. There are a ton of excellent scenes that illustrate this, but one of my favorites is early on when Steve calls his wife when he feels lonely, even though he feels their chances at getting back together diminishing with every passing day. The pain and awkwardness of suddenly being separated after many years together is shown through awkward phone calls, uncomfortable pauses and Steve’s internal monologues.

I have always loved the way Burke builds the atmosphere of his stories and in Blanky, the weather matches the gloomy mood that hangs over Blanky like a shroud. The first time Steve steps foot outside of his home, he is greeted by rain-slicked streets, dead leaves, jack-o-lanterns and a swirling, gray sky. Burke also cultivates a sense of isolation by sending his characters through the ringer. Aside from a few brief appearances from other characters, the bulk of the novella focuses on Steve and Lex and by keeping the focus of the story contained, it allows that sense of isolation to transfer to the reader, fully immersing them in the story.

Burke manages to take an ordinary item and attach an overwhelming sense of dread to it with the titular Blanky. Robin’s baby blanket is seemingly harmless, but leaves a path of devastation in its wake. It’s difficult to discuss Blanky without spoiling the adventure for other readers, but I will say that while it looks non-threatening, Blanky holds sinister secrets that are guaranteed to send shivers up and down your spine. Burke handles the twists and turns of this novella beautifully, leading readers down a path strewn with mystery and surprises and even when you think you finally get some concrete answers, there are little reveals that make you question your own view of the story.

Blanky is a devastating novella that utilizes emotion, atmosphere and outstanding characterization to create a truly haunting story. I remember when I read the synopsis, I knew this story was going to hit me hard. I’m a new parent and I couldn’t imagine a more terrifying scenario than the one Steve and Lex face in Blanky. Burke did not disappoint as Blanky messed with my emotions and kept me glued to the pages, reading it in a single sitting and feeling like I took a sucker punch to the gut. There are a lot of similarities that can be made to his previous release Sour Candy, which was something that I thought was kind of cool. Without delving into spoilers, there are a few scenes in Blanky that seem connected to Sour Candy, but I’m not sure if that was Burke’s intent or just my wishful thinking. Blanky is an excellent addition to your Halloween reading lists and is definitely one of my favorite novellas of the year.

Rating: 5/5


Kealan Patrick Burke’s Official Website

Elderlemon Design (Kealan’s design company for book covers, banners, etc)

Purchase Blanky: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore! 


About Kealan Patrick Burke

Born and raised in a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke knew from an early age that he was going to be a writer. The combination of an ancient locale, a horror-loving mother, and a family of storytellers, made it inevitable that he would end up telling stories for a living. Since those formative years, he has written five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and edited four acclaimed anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella The Turtle Boy.

Kealan has worked as a waiter, a drama teacher, a mapmaker, a security guard, an assembly-line worker, a salesman (for a day), a bartender, landscape gardener, vocalist in a grunge band, curriculum content editor, fiction editor at, and, most recently, a fraud investigator.

When not writing, Kealan designs book covers through his company Elderlemon Design.

A number of his books have been optioned for film. You can find him at


Length: 306 Pages

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Grey Matter Press has been one of my favorite independent publishers of dark fiction since the founding of The Horror Bookshelf. They were one of the first publishers I discovered since diving back into the world of horror fiction headfirst and it was around the time of the release of their debut anthologies Dark Visions – Volume 1 and Dark Visions – Volume 2. The thing that impressed me the most about those two anthologies was their eye for great talent as their first two anthologies were filled with recognizable names, but also one’s that were relatively new to me. It was clear they put a lot of work and love into their projects as these works were of extremely high quality in both the stories they contained and the design elements. Grey Matter Press has since branched out into the world of novels, their first being John C. Foster’s chilling and original Mister White. The good news for Grey Matter Press fans and fans of dark fiction in general, is the Chicago-based publisher has at least three novels coming out this year.

The first one to hit the streets is Chad Stroup’s Secrets of The Weird, a novel that has drawn comparisons to Clive Barker’s darker fantasy work, but honestly, defies easy description. Secrets of the Weird doesn’t exactly follow a linear approach in terms of the narrative of the story, but it works extremely well and enhances the story and allows for a vivid and personal look into the life of the main character Trixie. It alternates between the present (which if I remember correctly, is like 1991 or 1992 in the novel) and Trixie’s Diary entries from the late ’80s. Not only does the timeline remain fluid throughout much of the story, the point of view often switches between Trixie, members of the Civilized Cannibals, the Angelghoul and a few others.

At the opening of the novel it is the two-year anniversary of the death of Dr, Dorian Wylde, a former plastic surgeon who has developed a bit of a cult following after creating the “miracle” diet drug Witherix. This cult has been taking to the street looking for converts to follow their strict rules regarding weekly fasting and abstaining from the drug Sweet Candy that has been sweeping through the streets of Sweetville.  While sitting at home watching the news reports, Trixie notices a curious man who has somehow got into her apartment undetected and is sitting on her couch. He introduces himself as Kast, a self-made surgeon. He is short and despite the fact he broke into her home, seems eerily calm, making himself at home and even asking her for some wine. He has an accent and a rasp to his voice between a whistle and a gargle. Stroup comes up with a funny, accurate portrayal of Kast by saying he looks like a low-rent Augustus Gloop. This man knows a shocking amount about her life, which sets Trixie on edge. He says he is there solely to offer her a proposition, a deal from his business partners in Lower Sweetville. While Kast and Trixie don’t have many interactions throughout the novel, this initial meeting kickstarts the events of Secrets of the Weird and lurks in the background of Trixie’s journey throughout the novel.

This is also the scene that introduces the Withering Wyldes, people who are abnormally thin and almost indistinguishable from one another as they have transitioned into something entirely new. They are tall at six feet and have emaciated frames and although they are almost insectile in appearance, there is also a small resemblance to vampires as well. There is another scene where they are filming a commercial that is sort of bizarre. While filming, we are introduced to a young man named William Ekkert, who has a knack for languages and is able to understand the Wyldes. It also seems they are bent on converting the world to follow their beliefs.

Entries from Trixie’s diary break up the main narrative of the novel, but they offer important and illuminating insights into Trixie’s life and what has shaped her into the person she is in Secrets of the Weird. The first one finds her at 15 where she first realizes that she needs to abandon the name Thomas. It also chronicles her first relationship with a boy named Aron, who goes to Sweetville West. She hasn’t told him The Truth, but suspect he knows as at this stage in her life, she isn’t far into her transition as a woman. This relationship makes your heart ache for Trixie as she just wants to be loved but it is clear she has to deal with prejudice every step of the way. In one simple line, Stroup is able to give reader’s a glimpse into the sadness that Trixie faces in her relationships. “I’m not super passable yet, but as long as no one’s really paying attention to us he doesn’t mind hanging out with me in public.” Aron will show her affection and take her on dates, but makes it clear it needs to be somewhere where his friends will not recognize him. When she decides to surprise him at school one day when he is with his friends, he disowns Trixie and says hurtful things to her and abuses her to protect his own pride. This is just one of many entries in Trixie’s diary that are emotionally raw and serves as a brilliant way for Stroup to make Trixie’s character come to life. The further you get in the novel, reader’s will undoubtedly feel a connection with Trixie and be rooting for her to find the happiness that she not only desires, but deserves.

While Stroup’s concept and creation of the Withering Wyldes is interesting and is what initially caught my attention and made me want to read this book, the real strength is the characters that he has created. There is a pretty well-rounded cast of characters, but the stars of the novel – and by far the strongest characters that readers will be attracted to the most – are Trixie and Christopher. It’s important for literature and other media to offer representation for everyone and often there are few main characters in any popular media that represent anyone who isn’t straight. Stroup’s portrayal of Trixie is phenomenal and though I could never truly know what it feels like to be trapped in the wrong body, I think Stroup’s depiction is probably pretty spot on. Trixie is incredibly strong and confident in her daily life, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel insecure at times or unhappy about her body. However, that all changes when she meets Christopher and the sections that focus on their relationship are the best part of this novel in my opinion. As I mentioned before, I was initially attracted to this book for the “weird” elements, as I started reading my main focus was on their relationship. Stroup paints a very realistic portrayal of their relationship and without spoiling it for anyone, I think the issues they face and the course of their relationship is pretty close to what would happen if they were real people.

Christopher was seeing a woman named Cypress Glades, a Nazi sympathizer, earlier in the novel. Christopher Faith knows being with her goes against everything he stands for, but he can’t help himself. Cypress is far from a wannabe, and is unabashed about her brutality. While it is easy to see her as an extreme caricature, the sad reality is that these sort of people exist. When Christopher said he met someone else, this sends Cypress over the edge, as she has to be the one in control, the one to end things and the power that comes with it. She also is enthralled with Dr. Wylde’s work, particularly his views that certain people could take full control of their body – skin color, complexion, etc. She is able to get it to work for her, using it to attract any man she desires. She is so obsessed with her appearance and the Aryan lifestyle, that she even applies caustic bleach to her face.

Then there is Samuel, who is portrayed as a crusty punk figure, but it is all an act. He uses his outfit to disarm people and infiltrate the underground scene of Sweetville. Despite the fact that he is just acting, he is obsessed with authenticity, ripping up his posters and dirtying up his stuff to appear that this is who he really is. He infiltrate the local hardcore scene as a way to earn respect and also find new customers and to pray on those who were searching for anything to solve the issues in their lives. Samuel also has a secret – He is The Angelghoul. He has body issues as he is uncomfortable letting people see him without clothes as his nubs growing on his back serve as a reminder that he is not yet the person he wants to be. He works with Kast, who supplies him with Sweet Candy, and begins giving him some laced with Witherix. He was bestowed the nickname Angelghoul when he was 25 and leads a cult of sorts known as the Eaters. He eats flesh and encourages others to do the same, promising it will lead to enlightenment and allows him to reach a meditative state that allows him to understand the world. He is also able to peer into the minds of those he feasts off of and can learn their true selves and secrets.

I love how Stroup introduces these characters to each other and the subtle ways he links them to one another without explicitly mentioning their connection. I’m not sure if this is just a factor of them all running in similar circles or a conscious decision on Stroup’s part, but it adds another level of enjoyment to the overall story as readers discover these clues sprinkled throughout the story. Stroup also does a great job in bringing the city of Sweetville to life. Trixie lives in the heart of the city and a few simple sentences bring the city’s vibrancy to life. Fluorescent lights from bustling night clubs and small shops that are open all night that anyone who has lived in or near a city can conjure up in their minds. It is also bustling with an eclectic group of people and seems to focus on the gritty, uninhibited subculture of the city’s hardcore scene which comes to life thanks to Stroup’s musical background. I also think it was interesting how the story is set in the 90s, but it doesn’t feel like it is set in the past. It’s little details like a scene of Bill Clinton’s inaugural address playing on TV that help anchor the story in this time period, but without making it feel dated.

Besides the great story that makes up the heart of Secrets of the Weird, I thought the extra touches Stroup added into the novel itself and associated with the novel really helped elevate this novel into something special. Throughout there are advertisements, letter excerpts, set lists and other ephemera scattered throughout that are all well done and add a level of reality for the reader that brings them into the strange city of Sweetville that Stroup has created. I have also always been a huge fan of DIY music whether it be indie rock, punk rock, hardcore or any other genre of music, so I thought it was awesome that Stroup recorded an actual demo tape for the Civilized Cannibals. It’s a brilliant way to add another element to the story and on top of that the songs are pretty damn good! I actually ordered one of the limited cassettes, which were put together really well. If you would like to check out the music and get acquainted with the Civilized Cannibals either before you read the novel or after, you can check them out on Bandcamp.

The only complaint I have with Secrets of the Weird is that I felt the storyline that revolved around the Withering Wyldes didn’t really go anywhere. As I was reading, I got the impression that there was something ominous about their presence and that their agenda would be a focal point of the novel. While they do show up quite a bit, I just felt like their purpose in the novel was a little unclear and they just kind of faded into the background as the story progressed. Despite this, Stroup’s Secrets of the Weird is a wildly imaginative novel that is a must read for any dark fiction fan that is looking for something a little different. There is no denying Stroup is a talented new voice and his outstanding character development and willingness to experiment within the horror and fantasy genres have definitely made me a fan. I look forward to following Stroup’s future work and highly recommend grabbing a copy of this brilliant debut novel.

Rating: 4/5


Chad Stroup’s Blog

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

Website for Secrets of the Weird

Purchase Secrets of the Weird: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Grey Matter Bookstore or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore! 

About Chad Stroup

Chad Stroup’s dark short stories and poetry have been featured in various publications. Secrets of the Weird is his first novel.

Stroup received his MFA in Fiction from San Diego State University. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the San Diego Horror Professionals, and he dearly misses playing music.