Archive for October, 2017

BOOK INFO

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

LINKS

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 Gothic.net, 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 www.kealanpatrickburke.com.

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BOOK INFO

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

LINKS

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.

Today’s post on The Horror Bookshelf comes from Todd Keisling, the author of Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors – which is out now through Crystal Lake Publishing– and a ton of other great books. I will be reviewing this in the future, so I won’t get into the book too much, but trust me when I say this is an outstanding book you will want to add to your collection. I reviewed Ugly Little Things – Volume One a few years ago (review) and ended up listing it as one of my top collections of the year. This edition features those stories along with other entries in the Ugly Little Things series and Keisling’s outstanding novella, The Final Reconciliation and I’m positive it will end up on this year’s “Best Of” list. Todd stops by The Horror Bookshelf to share 11 facts about the collection that will give readers a look behind the scenes at what went into crafting this collection.

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

Ugly Little Trivia: Eleven Facts about Ugly Little Things

By Todd Keisling, author of Ugly Little Things

1: Many of the stories were written while I was suffering through a period of intense depression. The title Ugly Little Things refers to all the dark, nasty things that lurk inside all of us. The stories were my way of facing those demons, giving them names, and exorcising them. Several of these stories seem haunted to me because of this, like little totems representing a particularly dark point in my life.

2: The title Ugly Little Things was originally the title of a story in the collection. That story eventually became “The Harbinger” in order to avoid confusion.

3: The ULT “sessions” began in early 2013 and stretched through the end of 2016, but ideas for several of the stories go back nearly ten years. The aforementioned story, “The Harbinger,” originally began in 2007 as a Lovecraftian mythos tale set in West Virginia; “Saving Granny from the Devil” had multiple beginnings going as far back as 2009; and “House of Nettle and Thorn” was originally conceived in 2004 when I was still in college, with a working title of “Papercuts.”

4: Charles Boid, the antagonist of “Human Resources,” is a recurring character in a couple of unpublished tales involving his communion with an eldritch being that lurks in a digital domain. He may receive a proper story in the future, but for now, he pops up here and there as he pleases.

5: The opening scenes of “When Karen Met Her Mountain” were taken directly from a dream I had.

6: A limited-edition hardcover of the first four stories was printed in 2014 with the title “Ugly Little Things: Volume One.” There were only 45 in total. Henry Rollins has one of them.

7: I am my own worst critic and fully expect everyone to hate what I write. When I gave my wife an early draft of “The Final Reconciliation,” I did so with the warning that she probably wouldn’t like it. As fate would have it, that’s actually her favorite story of mine. Go figure.

8: Sometimes, I see my stories as images in my head. They’re mini-movies, their characters acting and speaking on their own behalf, and I’m just there to record things as they happen.

9: I’m currently at work on a novel titled “Devil’s Creek” that takes place in the hometown of the band from The Final Reconciliation. It’s also has some ties to “The Harbinger.”

10: Many of the events in “Saving Granny from the Devil” actually happened, including Granny seeing a man in black from her living room window.

11: Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors isn’t a book of “feel good” stories. They’re dark meditations on the human condition, and if you aren’t careful, they’ll cut you in the most delightful of ways. You’re going to have a bad time. You’re going to hurt. And I think you’re going to like it.

Links

Todd Keisling’s Official Website

Crystal Lake Publishing’s Official Website

Purchase Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors Synopsis

UGLY LITTLE THINGS
Short Story Collection by Todd Keisling
Includes the Novella, The Final Reconciliation
Published by Crystal Lake Publishing

 

THIS IS GOING TO HURT.

 

The eleven stories in Ugly Little Things explore the depths of human suffering and ugliness, charting a course to the dark, horrific heart of the human condition. The terrors of everyday existence are laid bare in this eerie collection of short fiction from the twisted mind of Todd Keisling, author of the critically-acclaimed novels A Life Transparent and The Liminal Man.

Travel between the highways of America in “The Otherland Express,” where a tribe of the forsaken and forlorn meet to exchange identities. Witness the cold vacuum of space manifest in the flesh in “The Darkness Between Dead Stars.” Step into the scrub of rural Arizona and join Karen Singleton’s struggle to save her husband from a cult of religious fanatics in “When Karen Met Her Mountain.” Visit the small town of Dalton in “The Harbinger” and join Felix Proust as he uncovers the vile secrets rooted at the heart of Dalton Dollworks. And in the critically-acclaimed novella “The Final Reconciliation,” learn the horrifying truth behind the demise of the rock band The Yellow Kings.

With an introduction by Bram Stoker Award-winner Mercedes M. Yardley and illustrations by Luke Spooner, Ugly Little Things will be your atlas, guiding you along a lonely road of sorrow, loss, and regret. This is going to hurt—and you’re going to like it.

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Praise for Todd and Ugly Little Things

“Todd Keisling is a born storyteller, drawing the reader into artfully constructed narratives that scout the darker end of the literary spectrum with skill and bravado.  A pleasure to read, his stories linger well after the last page has been turned.  Excellent stuff.” – John Langan, Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Fisherman

“Keisling writes in the shadows, his words like that first long drag on a cigarette after work. I couldn’t help coming back for more, and before I knew it, that one story, that one cigarette, turned into the whole pack.”—Stephanie M. Wytovich, Bram Stoker award-winning author of Brothel and The Eighth.

“In Ugly Little Things, Todd Keisling ventures deep into the dark abyss of cosmic horror. What he finds there—or what’s found him—will terrify you. This varied collection is tailor-made for fans of existential dread. Prepare to face the void. Try not to scream.”—Brian Kirk, Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of We Are Monsters.

“Todd Keisling’s promise delivers with Ugly Little Things. The only time you will dare to look away from the page is when you stop to look over your shoulder. He’s earned his right to sit on the shelf alongside King, Koontz, and Ketchum.” –Eryk Pruitt, author of Dirtbags and What We Reckon.

“Todd Keisling’sUgly Little Things contains 11 tales that sing with lyricism while they move the reader with suspenseful, clever, humorous and often wonderfully elegiac developments. The author has a keen, lucid understanding of suffering, which lends each plot-line extra heft and depth. These stories contain tenderly and humanely rendered characters who are drawn towards various forms of uncanny annihilation. After reading this excellent collection, I’m eagerly awaiting whatever Keisling produces next.” –Jon Padgett, author of The Secret of Ventriloquism

“One of the few perfect story collections I’ve ever read. Todd Keisling will keep you guessing page after page. He also has a knack for surprise endings you will not see coming!” – Armand Rosamilia, author of the Dying Days series

“Keisling always gets down to the essence of good storytelling. His no-nonsense approach arrests us, showing us worlds and characters that expand our imagination, leaving it tainted with horrors only the author can deliver. These stories are a testament to one of the bravest and scariest new voices in horror fiction.” —Ben Eads, author of Cracked Sky.

“Herein lie stories told in the traditional manner of spooky tales told round the campfire. Read this collection on a dark and stormy night and don’t answer the door if someone knocks.” —Kristi DeMeester, author of Beneath.

“A soundtrack to darkness, Ugly Little Things is hauntingly inviting and absolutely horrific. Keisling deftly weaves together a web of genre-bending terror in this must read collection.” – Michelle Garza, co-author of the Bram Stoker nominated Mayan Blue

 

About Todd Keisling

TODD KEISLING is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the critically-acclaimed novella, The Final Reconciliation. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and trio of unruly cats.

Facebook

Twitter: @todd_keisling

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Want to Feature?

If you’d like to feature Todd in an interview or guest article, or review Ugly Little Things, please contact Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com