Archive for March, 2018

BOOK INFO

Length: 112 Pages

Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Kristopher Triana’s The Detained follows four former classmates heading to their old high school for their 20th reunion. Each one has their own reasons for attending, whether it’s overcoming their fear, showing everyone how much they’ve changed, or to simply reliving their glory days. However, as the former classmates arrive at the school, they realize something isn’t quite right. The cafeteria doesn’t look like it’s set up for a reunion at all. There are no decorations set up, no music and no crowd of their former classmates milling around catching up with one another. The only things in the cafeteria are five long tables set up to face a desk where Noah Dixon, former P.E. teacher and principle, sits waiting patiently. Sandy is the first one to say it looks less like a reunion and more like a detention. They begin to wonder if they’re in the wrong part of the school or if maybe someone is pranking them. When they finally decide to look around the school, they find that the doors are locked and they are trapped in the cafeteria.

They pull out the seats at the tables and realize there are grisly mementos sitting in each of their chairs, recalling the worst moment in their shared history. It is now they realize that they may be trapped in the school for a reason and someone wants to force them to confront the memory of that fateful day 20 years ago.

The strength of The Detained is easily the characters. The former classmates easily fit into standard archetypes at first glance, but what makes them stand out is the nuances to their character. Phoebe seems to be the picture of success after working her entire life to escape from Bonneville and put the horrific events of her high school years behind her. She’s a child psychologist who runs her own practice and has helped numerous kids work through their own issues and fears. Yet even with all of her accomplishments, Phoebe battles anxiety daily and struggles to follow the advice she has given to so many. Tyler was an outsider during his high school years, the product of being constantly picked on for most of his early childhood. He learned quickly that fighting back was his only chance of surviving the high school hierarchy, which led to many saying he was destined for jail or an early grave. As an adult, he is a successful horror author who realized how the violence he struggled to control could harm others. What’s interesting about his story is seeing why he developed this reputation and the real reason behind some of his illegal activities.

Sandy is a former cheerleader who is a bit of a smart ass and still carries around her sense of entitlement that she developed as being one of the most popular girls in school. Sandy is still attractive, but we learn that her life isn’t quite what she had hoped. The girl who was used to having all the attention she could ever want, now craves it more than ever. Bill, who went by the nickname “The Champ” all through high school, was the star running back at Bonneville High. He likes to think that he has moved on from his high school glory days, but the fact is he still feels the pull of nostalgia. He can’t help but blame wife Becky for the way his life turned out. He fell in love with her in high school, but now he can’t stand to be around her. Bill is the character you love to hate throughout The Detained because he is pretty much an asshole the entire time. There is one small instance where a bit of humanity seems to shine through, but it’s quickly extinguished.

Triana weaves parts of Graham’s story into the main narrative through the memories other characters have of him, which starts when they start the discovering the mementos. He was picked on by everyone in the entire school because he was viewed as being socially awkward and brought his comic books and action figures to school. Triana gives a vivid portrayal of the hell Graham had to go through and I couldn’t help but cringe when I saw how his classmates treated him.

Triana uses sections where he shows each character’s internal thoughts, which helps explain their backstory in an engaging way and introduce their personalities. I also loved how he was able to effortlessly switch between the point of view of each character. That can be jarring to pull off – especially in a shorter work – but Triana nails it. However, I think the characters really shine through Triana’s use of realistic dialogue and the interactions they have with each other. Even though two decades have gone by, it doesn’t take long for old tensions bubble to the surface. Triana’s decision to keep the scope of the story contained to the school is one that really works. It’s home to an incredible amount of sadness and tragedy, which amplifies the horrors that face the characters and creates a heavy atmosphere that leads to numerous scenes of palpable dread. One of my favorite lines captures this feeling perfectly. “The darkness was molasses thick, a smothering pall that took the already tense situation and germinated it into a full-blown nightmare.”

Being trapped in the school creates a sense of paranoia that brings out the worst sides of each character, though some are more susceptible to it then others. They accuse each other of planting the artifacts and orchestrating the entire nightmarish reunion, saying how easy it would be. Even when they figure out what is really going on, that sense of distrust only increases. The Detained is largely driven by the psychological horrors the characters face after digging up old memories, but there is no shortage of supernatural scares sure to delight horror fans. I don’t want to go into too much detail and ruin it for others, but there is a big scene in the latter half of the novella that is awesome. Trust me, you’ll know what it is when you read it!

The plot of The Detained may not offer much in the way of surprises, but the interactions between the characters and some of the scenes more than make up for it. This was my first time reading Triana’s work, but there is no denying his skill as a storyteller. His writing style is engaging and has a cadence that grabs the reader right from the start and never lets go.  The pacing is excellent, with no shortage of tension and the result is a compulsively readable story that is easy to rip through in one sitting. I really dug The Detained and I recommend it to any horror fan. There is a pretty good balance of violence and gore for fans of some more extreme stuff and psychological horror. The Detained is a damn good novella and I think it’s time I go back and check out Triana’s back catalog, particularly The Ruin Season. I have heard nothing but great things about it and now that I have a sense of his writing style from The Detained, I’m sure I will dig it. I’d also like to take a moment to highlight Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. They have an eye for talented writers and put a lot of work into every aspect of their releases. If you haven’t read one of their titles yet, you are missing out on some top-notch horror.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Kristopher Triana’s Official Website

Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s Official Website

Purchase The Detained: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Kristopher Triana

Kristopher Triana is an American author. His works include The Ruin Season, Body Art and Growing Dark. His next horror novel, Full Brutal, is scheduled for release in 2018 by Grindhouse Press. His fiction has appeared in many magazines, anthologies, audio books and on websites, and some of his stories have been translated to Russian. His novel Body Art was translated to German by Festa Verlag. His fiction has drawn praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Rue Morgue Magazine, Cemetery Dance and more. While primarily a horror writer, he also writes crime fiction, literary fiction, southern gothic, noir, westerns, and whatever else his brain sets ablaze.

Born in New York in 1977, Triana was yanked down to Florida at the age of nine and was forced to grow up there, much to his chagrin. Luckily he had heavy metal music and John Carpenter movies to get by on. Once he was old enough, he escaped all that pesky sunshine, and since then he has lived up and down the east coast, from New England to the rural Carolinas. He is obsessed with all aspects of the horror genre, and has amassed a staggering collection of cult films, horror books, movie memorabilia, busts and Halloween masks. He also has a very strong love of animals.

He works as a professional dog trainer and lives in Connecticut with his wife.

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BOOK INFO

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

LINKS

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 (mikethornwrites.com) 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.

LINKS

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 (mikethornwrites.com) or follow him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.

BOOK INFO

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

LINKS

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.

LINKS

Alma Katsu’s Official Website

Alma Katsu’s Facebook Page

Putnam’s Official Website

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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.