Posts Tagged ‘Dark Visions – Volume Two’

BOOK INFO

Length: 325 Pages

Publisher: Villipede Publications

Release Date: October 31, 2016

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

I have been a fan of J. Daniel Stone’s ever since I discovered his work through his short stories “Wormhole” (Dark Visions – Volume Two) and “Metamorphosis” (Ominous Realities) from Grey Matter Press’ stellar collection of anthologies. While I enjoyed those stories a lot, it was Stone’s contribution to last year’s I Can Taste the Blood that sticks with me the most and made me a fan for life. The story focuses on Bok and Jared, lovers who meet a mysterious filmmaker known as Laurenz and are quickly tangled up in his web of secrets and depravity. The story takes some truly dark and violent turns, and Stone makes some truly bold choices that pushes his contribution into extreme horror territory. Why do I bring up this story? Besides the fact that I think it is a brilliant novella, I feel like it shares similar ideas with Stone’s sophomore novel, Blood Kiss. If you haven’t already grabbed a copy of I Can Taste the Blood, I urge you to head on over to Amazon and order a copy along with Blood Kiss so you can get the full experience of this brilliant story.

Blood Kiss is a unique novel where Stone takes readers on a voyage into the world of art and the processes that drive it. Not to say that every artist is driven by darkness or trauma, but this novel feels like a love letter to the art of creating and those who pursue their passions at any cost. I have said it before in previous reviews of Stone’s work, but he really is a master of setting, which is an underrated quality of authors in my opinion. Stone’s depiction of New York City leaps off the page and he infuses the city with life with views from someone who lives there and allows his readers to experience the city first hand. It’s not the sanitized version we get from movies and TV shows, but the gritty and vibrant reality. I could literally quote section after section of Blood Kiss to illustrate this point, but trust me, you will want to read them for yourself.

Blood Kiss is an enthralling work of art that honestly left me as mesmerized as some of the people who witnessed Tyria and Dorian’s art, though with much less serious consequences. It’s a haunting and lyrical book that makes you question the reality of the events that unfold throughout the course of the story. It is full of lust, darkness, art, shadows and figures outside the realm of reality.

Stone’s Blood Kiss opens from Dorian Wilde’s point of view. He is an artist that specializes in the contrast of beauty and darkness, creating visceral works of art. His upbringing was rough as his parents never showed him any sort of affection, but he was able to accept this and it fueled him to become the man we meet in the book. While he was angry growing up when he reached his teens he channeled his anger into his creative endeavors. He is attracted to solitude and fell completely into the world of art and literature. He was constantly searching for his own path and growing up he frequently received beatings and insults from his father for being different. The day after his father caught him wearing his mothers underwear, he found a suitcase by the door with some money in it, effectively being kicked out of his own home.

It was shortly after being kicked out of his childhood home that Dorian began to notice things change. He saw his first sketch move, actually brought to life by the passion in which Dorian distilled into it. He has a boyfriend named Leland, an art dealer who is also a notorious party-boy. When he paints, Dorian loses control himself to the images that are fighting to break free, he compares it to an out-of-body experience. There is something more unique to Dorian’s artwork than just the dark images that spring forth, but even the tools he utilizes set him apart and show his dedication to his craft. He makes his own paint with blood and other bodily fluids, breathing his own living essence into the forms that spill from his imagination. Is Dorian’s work capable of coming to life? That is only one of the many questions that pops up throughout Blood Kiss.

Stone does an amazing job bringing Dorian’s dark, surreal works to life and they conjure up dark images that are extremely creative and original. Take this description from one of Dorian’s works, “A bony paunch balances on chitinous legs; carrion arms spread as if inviting a passerby to sit within its darkly beaded depths; a slack-jaw skull screams with no voice; xylophone ribs glow like the most intricate spider webs under moonlight; a hand curled into a fist has no arm to support it.” Despite the nature of Dorian’s art and the fact that it very well may be alive, he makes a pretty comfortable living selling his art at fancy galleries.

The other major character of Blood Kiss is Tyria Vane, a spoken word poet whose prose is incredibly powerful. Despite her writing talent, she struggles with emotions and trying to use her art to convey those feelings that most will never feel in the same way. Tyria has an obsession with words and language, stockpiling books in a way most other bibliophiles can immediately relate to. She has a self-published collection that sits on her shelf and she sees it as a failure, but it also serves as an affirmation of her art and fuels her drive to improve her craft. She has a partner named Adelaide, a drug dealer who is friends with Leland from years ago. Their relationship is one of co-dependence, Adelaide is perfect for her because she believes in Tyria’s talent and always has and that coupled with her listening abilities are what bonds them despite them being polar opposites in almost every way. Tyria’s relationship with Adelaide also fuels her use of cocaine because it is easy to come by thanks to Adelaide’s connections. She went through many phases to cope with her loneliness, but cocaine is the one that stuck because it makes her feel powerful. Tyria channels all of her rage and trauma from throughout her brutal upbringing and uses them in her performances, using her voice and delivery style as a weapon. Changes in pitch and unfiltered emotion drive her performances and leave anyone who witnesses her work changed. Her performances have an almost magical quality about them.

The moment Dorian and Tyria meet each other at an art gallery for one of Dorian’s exhibitions, their lives will be changed forever. They were brought together by their respective lovers, but I have a feeling neither Adelaide or Leland knew the consequences of this fateful meeting. Dorian gets a hold of Tyria’s personal notebook and it doesn’t take long for him to be consumed by the thought of her. It goes far beyond sexuality, the obsession and pull they feel is tied to the art and their similar backgrounds. It isn’t long before they are drawn together to combine their artistic gifts in the hopes that they can create something truly mesmerizing. They begin to gather a rather rabid local following and soon the power of their two creative energies will unleash something that defies logical explanation.

The character work in Blood Kiss is brilliant, as each one comes to life and feels like a living breathing person, complete with their own fears, desires, and past mistakes. Even the secondary characters are vibrant and help elevate the story. I also like that most of Blood Kiss focuses on alternative culture and art. I was never very artistic, but punk and alternative music was a huge part of my life and some of my best memories were going to those shows and Stone captures the feeling of those shows perfectly throughout Blood Kiss. It’s a small touch, but I loved the musical touchstones Stone sprinkles throughout the novel. I feel like we both are into the same sort of music as I loved all the references and nearly shouted with glee when I saw a Glassjaw mentioned (if you don’t know who they are, look them up. It’s worth it).

To be honest, I had a difficult time summing up Blood Kiss when I sat down to write this review. Not because it’s confusing, but because it is intricately layered and there are so many revelations that it is difficult to avoid spoilers. One thing that is for certain is that J. Daniel Stone has a unique voice and is stunningly talented. His stories are daring and original,  and there is no doubt in my mind that he is a special talent in the dark fiction field. Each time I read one of his works, I am totally enthralled in his story and blown away by the sheer talent on display. Had I read this one sooner, there is no doubt in my mind it would have been near the top of my best of the year list for 2006. Blood Kiss is a towering achievement and the scary thing is, Stone is just getting started. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this book, you won’t regret it.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

J. Daniel Stone’s Amazon Page

J. Daniel Stone on Twitter

Villipede Publications Official Website

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

About J. Daniel Stone

J. Daniel Stone is the pseudonym for a hotheaded Italian kid from NYC. He has been a menace to society since 1987 and continues to terrorize local book stores, art galleries and dive bars. When he is not causing mischief he reads, writes and attends as many rock shows as possible. He is the intermittently proud father of two bastard children: The Absence of Light(2013) and Blood Kiss (2016).

Somewhere, out there in the dark, one can find more of his illegitimate spawns telling imaginative stories.

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BOOK INFO

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Length: 278 Pages

Release Date: March 17, 2016

Review copy provided by publisher 

Longtime readers of The Horror Bookshelf know that I am a huge fan of Grey Matter Press and the stellar anthologies they have released over the years. So when I heard that they were branching out into novels and other formats, I was ecstatic! The first novel to be released under the Grey Matter Press banner is John C. Foster’s Mister White, a continuation of his short story that was featured in Dark Visions – Volume 2. When I came across the short story version of Mister White, I was hooked. I am pleased to write that the novel version amplifies the power of the original short story and adds even more mystery to the legend of Mister White.

Foster’s story opens with the line “Who is Mister White?” which is the last thing Abel hears on a static-filled phone conversation that leaves him shaken. Later that evening, Abel is on his way to a clandestine meeting in a graveyard—seriously, how creepy is that?!—when he hears the same question over and over again: “Abel? Sin sie das?” It sets his hair on edge and when he arrives at the meeting place, what he sees sets in motion a series of events that will fracture his sanity and place everyone around him in danger.

Russia

Lewis is watching a video of his fellow operative Abel torturing himself in order to survive a bizarre and hellish prison. Abel is forced to inflict this punishment on himself by an entity known only as “The Voice”. The commands are very bizarre and this is just one of the many scenes that stood out while reading Mister White. The psychological torture employed here is bizarre and frightening because you don’t know what to expect next. Not only does this scene unnerve readers, it also causes Lewis extreme paranoia while he is holed up in his study miles away, checking his security footage. As he watches this unfold, he gets a call from Bierce, the leader of all the agents and tells him about the disturbing footage. Once he mentions there was a name – Mister White – Bierce tells him he is beyond sanction and to get out of there right now. Lewis realizes he has made a grave error and initiates a protocol to help ensure his family’s safety as he is now left all alone with no resources to make it back to his family to protect them from the hell that is unleashed.

The truth is, I really struggled with the review for this novel, which is unlike anything I have ever read. How many times can you say something is brilliant? Because make no mistake about it, that’s what Mister White is. The creation of Mister White the character is the sort of thing I would imagine a horror writer would kill for – the chance to create an iconic monster. What makes Mister White so terrifying is the fact that we don’t really know for certain exactly who or what he is. He is mentioned in hushed tones and never by name due to his reputation. What readers will find out much like I did when I read it, is speaking his name is a very bad idea and if you ever cross his path, you’ll regret it. He is a legendary figure, someone who strikes fear into the hearts of operatives who deal with deadly situations on a daily basis in a career that calls for nerves of steel.

Not only does Foster do an excellent job breathing life into one of the scariest supernatural forces I have ever encountered, he builds an incredibly fascinating mythology and history around Mister White. There are a few scenes that seem to indicate one of the characters in this novel have at least some knowledge of Mister White’s origins. I don’t want to get too much into the details of that as it is part of the fun of the novel, but it leaves ample room for more stories. I am the type of reader who is often torn between wanting to know every detail about a book and having some mystery left behind, and Foster does a great job of leaving just enough mystery to keep readers intrigued. My imagination ran wild thinking about where Mister White came from, what his goals are, how he got mixed up in the world of espionage and a variety of other questions that popped up while reading. Mister White does a great job blending the occult with tinges of bizarre real-life programs in the intelligence world. One of the few things that is known about Mister White, is that he feeds off the fear of those he chooses to hunt down. Not only does it sustain him, but he derives enjoyment from it and will often toy with his victims. He is able to listen for his name and travel to anyone who mentions his name to attack them. Besides the mysteriousness of his origins, what makes Mister White such a great character is his unpredictability. With a lot of horror novels, you know what to expect whether it is a sadistic killer on the loose, a monster, or some other evil unleashed on the world. With Mister White, his motivations are a mystery. Foster does a masterful job building tension in this novel and when Mister White finally makes his grand entrance it is incredible.

Foster’s characterization is excellent and this cast of flawed characters leap off the page. Each character has a complex history and it’s clear early in the story that this isn’t your stereotypical squeaky clean family, they have secrets from each other. When we first meet Lewis, he is an operative who has been out of the game for quite some time. A family man who went from doing field work to more schmoozing with delegates and other members of the Russian elite that are of interest to the CIA. However, after years of not being in the field, his old training springs to the forefront of his mind and his only goal is survival once he realizes he is in danger. The tactics and logistics are fresh in his mind, but it takes a little while for his body to get used to the exhaustion of being on the run. His family is vaguely aware of his career, but they do not know the full extent of his past. His wife Cat has an affair to help push away the loneliness of constantly being separated from her husband and the distance and career choices that makes him appear to be preoccupied. There is a great section that talks about Cat’s life and how she got to where she was. Lewis is once again overseas without her and their only child, Hedde, is in high school. Her relationship with Hedde is now guarded when it used to be open. The loneliness she feels drives her to consult from home instead of going into the office and she has even taken up day drinking to help numb the pain.

Hedde is an interesting character and one of my favorites. She is a bit of an outcast and described by classmates as being addicted to drugs or “Most Likely To Become A Serial Killer”. She wears outdated clothes and while classmates tease her by calling her “Wednesday Addams” and “Lizzie Borden”, that doesn’t keep them from asking her to use witchcraft to solve their problems. Without giving too much away about Hedde, there are hints throughout the novel that she is far from your average teenager. I give Hedde credit, she is a hell of a lot braver than I would be if I were facing a supernatural entity hellbent on destroying my family. She does show fear, but she pushes through that in an effort to combat the sinister Mister White. Bierce is a fascinating character as well and I honestly thought for a while that he could be Mister White based on his description. He is completely hairless and has such a pale complexion that he seems white.  As you read Mister White, readers will learn that Bierce has a very interesting connection to Mister White and his shadowy involvement with the government.

There is a sense of isolation that not only amplifies the more terrifying scenes of this novel, but informs the characters personalities as well. It seems like each member of the family has adapted the sort of intelligence credo of distancing yourself from others and severing emotional ties to protect themselves from potential traumas. It is interesting to see a group of people who deal with the very real threat of danger on a daily basis try to use their training and protocols against a force that simply cannot be stopped. Lewis instituted a protocol list for his family years ago, which shows he was prepared for something like this to happen as soon as he started a family with Cat. They are a fractured family coming apart at the seams, but this event forces them to try to band together even though they are separated from each other with multiple continents between them.

Foster manages to craft a dark atmosphere that highlights the suspense and dread that lurks on every page. There is no cheap jump scares here, each scene is well thought out and deliberate. One of my favorite scenes was  the discovery of a bizarre coffin connected to Mister White and a creepy candlestick phone. The scene with these objects is absolutely brilliant. It takes a lot to truly unnerve me and something about these scenes, though devoid of any supernatural presence or violence, really rattled me. Foster manages to catch that darkness and distill it into potent blasts of fear that make for a truly frightening read.

Foster uses razor-sharp prose to draw readers in and can amaze with even a single line, like this one that describes an accident early in the novel “A two-by-four had crashed through the windshield like a spear, impaling the driver through his mouth and penetrating out the back of his skull, exploding like a brain, blood and bone grenade, until the wood lodged itself in the rear window”. While Mister White isn’t overly gory, there are a few blood-soaked scenes that he uses sparingly and effectively with sentences similar to this one.

It’s really hard to talk about Mister White without spoiling the novel and its many twists and turns that frankly are what make this such a standout novel. Foster weaves in so many bizarre and frightening moments that it’s jarring to the senses, but in the best possible way. Mister White is a truly exceptional novel that is a breath of fresh air for the horror genre and honestly, one of the best novels I have read this year. I honestly think Mister White is worth of being classified as a modern classic and I am sure this novel will have a lasting legacy. It blurs the lines between numerous genres and is a novel that I could honestly see myself re-reading multiple times. If you are a fan of any type of dark fiction, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of this immediately. The last 40 or so pages rocket by and reach a stunning conclusion unlike anything I have ever read. I loved this novel and I can’t wait to read what Foster has in store for us all next!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

John C. Foster Official Website 

Grey Matter Press Official Website

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

darkvisions2

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Length: 320 Pages

Dark Visions – Volume Two is the companion piece to the 2013 Stoker Award nominated Dark Visions – Volume One and features 14 more stories that explore the dark corners of the imagination . Now, if you have already read my reviews for the stellar first volume and Ominous Realities, you already know that I am a huge fan of Grey Matter Press and the anthologies they have released. I decided to dive into Dark Visions – Volume Two the same way I approached the other anthologies in Grey Matter Press’ impressive library of dark fiction – completely in the dark and avoiding the individual story summaries that give clues as to what to expect. The main thing I love about these anthologies is each story begins in a very realistic manner, drawing the reader in with the comfort of the familiar. As you read each story, however, you just know something terrifying is lurking in the shadows and the blind journey into each story’s dark twist is an exhilarating thrill-ride.

If you would like to follow the same journey, all you need to know is that Dark Visions – Volume Two is a diverse collection of highly entertaining and well-written dark fiction that comes with my highest recommendation and will be a welcome addition to your horror library. That being said, if you are the type of reader who can’t resist flipping ahead in a book and skimming a few passages before you start reading, allow me to introduce you to my favorite stories from this excellent collection!

“Moonlighting” by Chad McKee is the story of two New York City stockbrokers who seemingly have everything they could ever want, yet they feel bored by the mundane routines of their everyday lives. That all changes with the introduction of “The Game”; a dark series of objectives that begin with little more than a location and a time. “The Game” adds the jolt of excitement the two characters have been chasing, but at what cost?

“Moonlighting” is a thrilling story that while utilizing a mysterious group, focuses more on the evil that lurks within the characters. I loved the intricacies that went into building the background of “The Game” and the group known as “The Men With No Faces”. I expected the organization as being the main source of evil, but McKee’s portrayal of the participants and their motives make the story even more frightening. Sure, they are given instructions and monitored by guards at first, but the participants ultimately make their own choices and those choices are the sources of horror that drive “Moonlighting”.

“The Elementals and I” by C.M. Saunders is a unique story told from the perspective of an executive for a  pharmaceutical company who manufactures drugs that are supposed to combat psychological illnesses. His company develops a drug called Pirifinil, a drug which was supposed to improve cognitive function and reduce fatigue. The drug had all the makings of a huge financial breakthrough because who can resist the allure of becoming a better version of themselves? However, the human trials uncover a side effect of Pirifinil that has horrifying consequences for those who take the drug.

I was absolutely riveted by Saunders’ story of psychological horror and immediately thought of all the drug commercials that list side effects that seem as bad, if not worse, than the ailments they are supposed to prevent. Saunders takes this unsettling side of the pharmaceutical industry and uses it to create a truly creepy story that blurs the line between what is real and what is being caused by the drug. There is one question that has been nagging me since I finished “The Elementals and I”: I wonder what it would take to convince Saunders to reveal The Elementals’ explanation of what killed the dinosaurs!

David Murphy’s “Water, Some Of It Deep” is an atmospheric tale that derives its strength from Murphy’s excellent characterization and depiction of the rocky friendship between the narrator and Henry. “Water, Some Of It Deep” is a chilling read because it serves as a reminder that evil is not always easy to detect, sometimes it lurks within the person you would least expect.

Grey Matter Press editors Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson once again use their uncanny ability to discover engaging stories that have a universal appeal to dark fiction readers. Keep an eye out for their upcoming releases The End In All Beginnings (a collection of five new novellas from John F.D. Taff) and the recently announced Equilibrium Overturned anthology, you won’t want to miss these titles!

Rating: 5/5

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

List of authors and stories featured in Dark Visions – Volume Two

Purchase Dark Visions – Volume Two on Amazon