Posts Tagged ‘Grey Matter Press’

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!

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BOOK INFO

Length: 290 Pages

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Release Date: August 23, 2016

Review copy provided as part of the I Can Taste the Blood Blog Tour

I vaguely remember when I first heard about this project. John F.D. Taff announced he was working on a shared title anthology, and even with minimal details, it rocketed to the top of my most anticipated books list. I have been a huge fan of Taff’s for years now, and I knew that if he was assembling the authors for this anthology, it was guaranteed to be good. Taff got his inspiration for the story after stumbling across the phrase “I Can Taste the Blood” scrawled at eye level in a dive bar bathroom. Taff even includes a picture of the original graffiti that inspired this collection, a nice touch that shows readers the beginnings of the project. That little detail alone made this an intriguing read for me. How would five authors with very distinct styles approach a similar title? The result is a unique and mind-bending novella collection that will appeal to dark fiction fanatics of all types.

Vision I – Josh Malerman

The lead off story – which are referred to as “Visions” – comes from acclaimed author Josh Malerman, the author of Bird Box. I remember reading that novel and being blown away by the concept of eliminating one of the key five senses. Ever since reading Bird Box, I have been a huge fan and look forward to checking out anything Malerman writes. Vision I opens with an introduction to Madmannah and his family. They were used to living in poverty, nomadic in nature and traveling the brutal heat of the dusty desert until their fortunes changed rapidly from a quick thinking lie on Madmannah’s part. They were used to meeting all sorts of outcasts on their travels. Madmannah and his family are finally able to enjoy the safety they always craved and sought after, but they still look back and remember how they used to do whatever it took to get by. Madmannah is sitting around the table with his family, celebrating his good fortunes when a mysterious traveler named Rab shows up, pounding on the door asking for refuge from a depraved man/demon he has met along the road and overcome with fear and panic.

They are unsure of whether or not to let this man, but their sense of goodwill as they were vagabonds and travelers once and a curiosity convince them to let the man in. Rab proceeds to tell them a story of the mysterious and dangerous  man he met out on the desert. As Rab tells them his story, it sets them on edge and makes them question their safety and deeply unsettles them. Though they are on edge, they urge him to press on and are captivated by his story.

This story from Malerman crackles with energy and the whole time you’re wondering if Rab’s story is for real. There are plenty of moments when the secret start swirling and the reader is held captive by the narrative much like the other characters in the story. At every moment where you think you have the story figured out, you are thrown a curveball and it helps keep your fear elevated. There are some truly dark scenes in this story that I didn’t expect and they are deeply unsettling, some particularly cringe worthy.The art of storytelling drives this novella and is another stellar offering from Malerman. I don’t want to give too much about this one away, but I love that there are key details littered throughout this story that once you reach the end, finally click into place.

Vision II – J. Daniel Stone

Stone’s story opens with a man named Bok waking from a nightmare. His nightmares are so debilitating that he often wakes up tasting blood, screaming in his sleep so forcefully it tears up his throat. Bok gets a call from a mysterious man with a German accent. All he wants to do is to say no to him, but with jobs hard to come by and the fact that the German man has paid him well before, Bok takes the call. Bok lives in an apartment that is a mess as Bok misses his boyfriend who is gone and never coming back. He catches a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror and is shocked by its skeletal appearance.

Bok’s boyfriend Jared is a film buff with a wide variety of interests from Italian splatter giallo and science fiction to the most experimental films. It is through Jared and his love of film that Bok is introduced to the mysterious Laurenz, a purveyor of the darkest and most experimental films on the market. Bok believes this man drove Jared insane. They get tangled up in his web of influence and the darkness calls out to them both as they attempt to capture the magic they so desperately crave. Laurenz is mysterious and it is obvious that he holds his own dark and warped secrets. The two characters descend into madness as they are drawn deeper into Laurenz’s dark world.

J Daniel Stone has a lush, evocative writing style that I absolutely love and the way he captures the dark, gritty aspects of this novella will definitely captivate readers. I loved the way he portrayed the relationship between Bok and Jared. They have a passionate relationship and Stone weaves readers through that passion while also showing how they were swallowed up by the darkness of addiction and the desire to be a part of something unique and horrific. Laurenz Althaus is also a very interesting character. The less I say about him the better, only that I found it interesting that he isn’t physically imposing in the least bit, but his charisma looms over the characters and his eye for people’s inner darkness and secrets make him a formidable force.

Stone also does an excellent job in transporting readers into his settings. I have never been to New York City, but reading this novella definitely helped me envision what it must be like. I really can’t stress enough how much I enjoy Stone’s writing. Just take a look at this line: “This part of town was interesting because no matter the weather or time of day, it was always balmy and dark with smog. Great plumes of steam shot up from the sewers, and exhaust spit out of the countless delivery trucks. Nobody wanted to live here, no gentrification robots or big business tycoons. Not yet anyway.”

There is a scene where Bok first starts to discover the sort of films that Laurenz is into and that is where the story first starts to descend into some truly dark and violent territory. I don’t want to get too much into what they see there, but it is pretty wicked and not for the faint of heart. Stone isn’t afraid to shine a light on the violence and depravity of this story and the final scenes of this story are definitely extreme horror. This is one of my favorite pieces of Stone’s work.

Vision III – Joe Schwartz

Two small-time criminals, Joe and Sam, are out a stake out waiting for a woman who has somehow crossed their boss, The Caretaker. She is their latest mark in a slew of jobs that have found them navigating the seedy underbelly of the city they live in. Sam and Joe seem to work well enough together, but it seems more out of necessity than anything else. Joe is a massive imposing figure with a penchant for letting little slights blow up into a personal affront. This garners him a violent reputation as he supposedly killed a guy who ignored his request for help loading boxes. He’s crude and doesn’t care if he offends anyone because the way he sees it, no one could possibly have the balls to stand up to him. Rumor or not, Sam says that the job they do is not for the weak or the brave, but the dregs of society who have nothing to lose. Joe also has a passion for the job, lighting up with glee when it was time to grab their target whereas Sam just views it as a job and safer than his old job transporting drugs across state lines.

Readers are shown flashbacks of Sam’s life of crime, living on the fringes, and dumpy motels that drove him into a career as a criminal. All of those moments throughout Sam’s life led him to this moment, a job that will forever alter the course of his life.

What really makes this story standout to me is all the little details Schwartz utilizes in this tale about the criminal life. Schwartz mentions cars with fictitious registrations where anything could be in the trunk from drugs to a body. Even when he talks about the blind luck involved and how guys could do runs for years without getting busted and others get busted on their first delivery. They are relatively small details, but stitched together throughout the story, they add authenticity to Sam’s story.

Schwartz’s characterization of both Joe and Sam is top-notch. Sam actually seems to have a good heart, all things considered. He is only 5’9 but has a mean streak that keeps him safe. He also isn’t ashamed to admit that he takes more beatings than he gives. He has limits to what he will do and views the pain he inflicts as being earned. Pain inflicted on grown men who should have known better and now serve as an example for the rest of the degenerates that operate in his world. Joe seems to enjoy his work a little too much and that friction with Sam leads to some great moments. The one thing they both have in common though is their reputations for getting things done. Undesirable things that only people with warped morals or desperation would dare dream of carrying out.

This was my first exposure to Schwartz’s work and I am kicking myself for not finding out about him sooner. This is awesome stuff! Schwartz’s tale stands out as being the one that doesn’t really contain any elements of the weird or supernatural. Instead, it is a straight-up crime story that hits like a freight train. I was drawn into this story from the opening scene. Brilliant characterization and larger-than-life characters that leap off the page, tons of action, there isn’t a single lull in this story. I don’t know how I have missed hearing about his work until now, but these stories are incredible and I need to go out and grab all of his books and give them a read!

Vision IV – Erik T. Johnson

The story introduces readers to a man named Canny, who is prone to long-recurring nightmares. Every night he meets with a hooded figure and Johnson takes us into the surreal mindscape of Canny’s mind.

Canny lives at home and has for his entire life. His mother is the only person he talks to, but their interactions with each other get less and less as the years drag on.  She threatens to kick him out on the street if he even makes one friend. He doesn’t mind though as he never really cared for people. He’s allowed to do whatever he wants, but must remain in isolation. She has a tendency to wear a black bathrobe, which is similar to the hooded figure in his dreams. She also wears a miner’s helmet that is equipped with a blinding lamp to prevent Canny from looking at her directly in the face. Why is she hiding her face? What secrets lie there? As you read, you will find out. If that isn’t weird enough, Canny doesn’t know his family history, birthday or who his father was. It’s like he has no personal history at all.  After introducing readers to Canny, Johnson takes readers on a journey through a world that is filled with bizarre creatures responsible for delirium-inducing nightmares.

My favorite part of Johnson’s novella was his creation of the town, Episode Lake. It is a dark, seedy town full of dangerous and deranged people. There are rumors of people like Mister Sunday, The Man Who Doesn’t Knock. He is a supposed escaped mental patient living in an abandoned institution built beneath a rubber factory. He creeps out to steal children from their homes. Then there is the Whore-Bug Witch who haunts nondescript locations like discount stores or nail salons or a duo who give a whole new meaning to the saying never take candy from a stranger. Each of these creatures/people have  their own rhymes, that I could only imagine sounding like the unsettling song from the Freddy movies (you know the one).

I will be honest right off the bat and say that I am only about 30% sure I understand what was going on in Erik T. Johnson’s tale (why 30%? I don’t know it seemed like a good number). That being said, I appreciated this mind melting novella which featured some really bizarre monsters. Vision IV seems to be a mashup of a variety of styles and it is easily the most divisive story in the collection. If you prefer more linear types of storytelling, this one may not be your cup of tea. However, if you are open to experimental writing styles, you will find a lot to appreciate in Johnson’s story.

Vision V – John F.D. Taff

Taff’s story opens with a cold open, a person scrunched up inside of a water tower. The man is someone who has worked with his hands his whole life and knows every mark on them and his fingerprints. Right off the bat, John hooks you with an opening that gives you just enough details to be drawn in and build a sense of dread, especially when you hear the sounds Click-clack. Trust me, you will know why that noise sends shivers down my spine as soon as you read this story!

We are introduced a man named Merle, a 50-year-old man who lives in the dying small town of Norton. His life is falling apart around him, starting with the failure of his marriage. They were a typical married couple and there was no violence or anything else, they simply drifted apart after seven years. Now, Merle doesn’t have much going on in his life aside from drinking with his childhood buddy James Derringer aka “Gun” at the Rest- Ezee. It is one night over a few beers that Merle begins to get an inkling that something isn’t quite right in Norton. He has a strange wound on his arm that he can’t recall how it got there and isn’t it strange how many blood drives have been popping up all over town? Later that night, Merle feels a bit off and sees something that not only scares him, but sets in motion a chain of events that alters his life and makes him question his own sanity. All small towns have their own secrets!

I absolutely loved Taff’s offering in I Can Taste the Blood. His novella is full of realistic characters and captures small-town Americana perfectly.  Taff excels at crafting stories that truly immerse readers in the world he has created. I can’t talk to much about the plot of this one without spoiling it, but even after Taff unleashes some truly crazy stuff, you are still able to suspend your disbelief. It still feels like you know these characters and that you know Norton like the back of your hand, just like Merle does. Taff’s utilization of little details like that breath life into the story and that is what has always drawn me to his work since I first discovered The Bell Witch. His description of the bar Rest – Ezee is top-notch too. From the Christmas lights behind the bar to the cigarette smoke hanging in the air, I would swear Taff was writing about my neighborhood bar. While Vision V is a terrifying and unsettling story, there is still humor at times. There is a particular line about the children’s magazine Highlights  that had me laughing my ass off.

Taff’s story was one of my favorites not just because I am a huge fan of his work, but because it marked him trying something a little bit different. A lot of the stories I have read from Taff seem to be geared more towards emotional horror which helped him get the nickname “The King of Pain”, but Vision V is a more straightforward horror tale. It is a violent body horror piece that features more gore than any of his other stories and that sort of unexpected twist makes this one a knockout piece.

Thoughts on the collection

Overall, I Can Taste the Blood more than lives up to the hype that has been surrounding it. I had already read three of the authors previously – Malerman, Stone, and Taff – so getting to read new stories from them was something that I was obviously looking forward to and the main selling point for me in regards to checking out this book. However, I was also able to discover two new writers who I really enjoyed. I honestly haven’t read anything like Johnson’s entry before and while I don’t know if I will ever fully grasp the meaning of that story, it was a fun journey. As for Schwartz, his story made me want to run out and read everything he has ever written. I mean he is that good.

This is another stellar entry into the Grey Matter Press catalog and is an essential addition to any dark fiction fans library with its variety of styles and unique vision. While there is no denying Taff’s talent as an author and storyteller, I Can Taste the Blood also shows that he is one hell of an editor and I hope this isn’t the last project he assembles (though I would hate for it to impact his writing output!). I Can Taste the Blood is a brilliant collection and a really fun read. I really can’t recommend this one enough!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

I Can Taste the Blood Official Anthology Website 

Grey Matter Press Official Website 

Purchase I Can Taste the Blood: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Grey Matter Press, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

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Use these hashtags to help spread the word about I Can Taste the Blood! – #ICanTastetheBlood #5uniquevoices #horroranthologies #OneNightmare

I Can Taste the Blood Synopsis

Five Unique Voices.
From international bestselling author of BIRD BOX and Bram Stoker Award-nominee Josh Malerman — the newly minted master of modern horror — and Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS, John F.D. Taff; to the mind-bending surrealism of Erik T. Johnson; the darkly poetic prose of J. Daniel Stone and the transgressive mania of Joe Schwartz, I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD offers up five novellas from five unique authors whose work consistently expands the boundaries of conventional fiction.

Five Disturbing Visions.
I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD opens the doors to a movie theater of the damned; travels the dusty, sin-drenched desert with an almost Biblical mysterious stranger; recounts the phantasmagoric story of birth, death and rebirth; contracts a hit that’s not at all what it seems; and exposes the disturbing possibilities of what might be killing Smalltown, U.S.A.

One Nightmare.
As diverse as they are, in voice and vision, the work of the five celebrated authors assembled in this stunning volume of terror share one common theme, one hideous and terrifying nightmare that can only be contained within the pages ofI CAN TASTE THE BLOOD.

Praise for I Can Taste the Blood

“Only a group of psychopaths would assemble a book such as this. Bloody brilliant, and beautifully executed. Taste this.” – Michael Bailey, Bram Stoker Award-winning editor of THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD

I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD is a tour de force for Grey Matter Press and for the five outstanding dark fiction authors gathered here. If you’ve read their work before, then you’ll know what we’re talking about, and if you haven’t, you won’t find a better place to start than right here.” – Shane Douglas Keene, THIS IS HORROR

“Very unique and the stories are very very different. A powerful, unexpected collection. A real page turner.” – Robb Olson, BOOKED PODCAST

“It is the slow burn, the creeping doubt, the inherent violence, the lore made real. Through exotic locations, where the wind blows from within; flashing across the silver screen, violence echoing into the night; pulled from the trunk of a car, dark deeds that deserve retribution; a monster lying in wait, one more city down every road. Haunting and disturbing, even now, I CAN TASTE THE BLOOD– Richard Thomas, author of BREAKER and TRIBULATIONS

“While this quintet of authors may taste the blood, we readers will feel the frightof their nightmare visions, sense the dread, the thrills, the awe of their standout voices. MALERMAN, STONE, SCHWARTZ, JOHNSON, and TAFF: The five points of a brilliant star that herald short horror mastery.” – Eric J. Guignard, fictionist, winner of the Bram Stoker Award and finalist for the International Thriller Writers Award

 Praise for Grey Matter Press

“Grey Matter Press has managed to establish itself as one of the premiere purveyors of horror fiction currently in existence via both a series of killer anthologies —SPLATTERLANDS, OMINOUS REALITIES, EQUILIBRIUM OVERTURNED — and John F.D. Taff’s harrowing novella collection THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS.” – FANGORIA

“The dark, all-encompassing theme seems to be the trademark of Grey Matter Press. When asked for a referral I often state without hesitation to the very press that has enchanted my reading attention.” – Dave Gammon, HORROR NEWS

Author Biographies

Josh Malerman

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Josh Malerman is the author of Bird Box and Ghastle and Yule and some forty other novels and stories that he wishes he could release all in one day… and he just might do that! He lives in Michigan with his fiancee Allison Laakko and their two cats Dewey and Frankie. Used to be three cats, but Dandy died on Halloween, begging the question: will the color orange always make Josh sad? Or will he see Dandy amongst the pumpkins, deliriously, happily, for the rest of his days…

J. Daniel Stone

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Daniel Stone is the pseudonym for a hotheaded Italian kid from New York City. He has been a menace to society since 1987 and continues to terrorize local bookstores, art galleries and dive bars.

When he is not causing mischief, Stone 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. Find him on Twitter @SolitarySpiral.

Joe Schwartz

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In 2008, Joe’s Black T-Shirt: Short Stories About St. Louis was published as a personal favor for friends of Joe Schwartz. The idea that people outside of Schwartz’s limited Midwestern world could find these dark, and occasionally personal, stories entertaining was as exciting as it was mysterious for the first-time author. Since then, he has written two more collections of short stories as well as the novels A Season Without Rain and Adam Wolf and The Cook Brothers – A Tale of Sex, Drugs and Rock&Roll. The kind of stories he tells have been described as “a sharp punch to the gut” and disarming “like a sunny day in Hell.”

Erik T. Johnson

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Erik T. Johnson doesn’t believe in order or boxes. He became a writer because he can’t make a straight line to save his life—since stories consist of terrifically asymmetrical, random sequences of random shapes. Also because of what Georges Bataille meant by: “I write the way a child cries: a child slowly relinquishes the reasons he has for being in tears.”

Johnson is a Written Backwards DARWA Voice Award-winner whose fiction appears in renowned places, such as Space & Time Magazine, Tales of the Unanticipated, Qualia Nous, and all three volumes of the award-winning Chiral Mad series.

Erik is certain unreliable narrators don’t exist—only unreliable authors. He will prove his uncompromising reliability when his first book of short stories is published in 2016.

Visit Erik at http://www.eriktjohnson.net.

Stalk him on Twitter @YES_TRESPASSING.

Curse him at your own risk, do other stuff when it suits you.

John F.D. Taff

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John F.D. Taff has been writing for about 25 years now, with more than eighty short stories and four novels in print. Six of his stories have been awarded honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror & Fantasy.

His collection Little Deaths was named the best horror fiction collection of 2012 by HorrorTalk. His 2014 collection of novellas, The End in All Beginnings, was published by Grey Matter Press. Jack Ketchum called it “the best novella collection I’ve read in years,” and it was a finalist for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection.

Taff’s work also appears in Single Slices, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories andThe Beauty of Death.

He lives in the wilds of Illinois with a wife, a cat and three pugs.

Like to Feature?

If you are a professional blogger or media outlet, please contact Erin Al-Mehairi at hookofabook@hotmail.com about a review copy or to schedule an interview or feature with any of the authors.

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BOOK INFO

Length: 316 Pages

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

As longtime readers of The Horror Bookshelf are probably already aware, I am a huge fan of the anthology collections released by Grey Matter Press. Each anthology they have released has featured a different theme, but the level of talent contained within the pages and the publisher’s commitment to outstanding dark fiction is apparent in every volume. After reading all of their releases, Grey Matter Press has established themselves as one of the few publishers who I would read any of their books without question based on the merit of their past releases.

When I heard about the release of Death’s Realm, it immediately became one of my most anticipated releases of 2015 and I must say, it did not disappoint. Contained within the anthology are 16 original horror tales that explore the unknowns of the afterlife. These are not your typical ghost or haunted house stories though, there is a ton of variety that push the boundaries of the genre to some exciting places!

As with any of Grey Matter Press’ previous anthologies, it is hard to pick favorites as each author conjures up some truly frightening and original stories that are sure to please horror fans. Everyone will have their own favorites, but these were a few that really stood out to me and beg for future re-reads.

“Some Other Day” by John F.D. Taff – My most anticipated story from this collection was John F.D. Taff’s latest, “Some Other Day”. It is the story of a father and his son struggling to deal with the aftermath of the death of the mother. The father slips into a downward spiral of depression, haunted by the constant memories of his wife while his son desperately clings to the few things that remind him of his mother. Despite their attempts at moving on, they never talk about their feelings and it takes a devastating event to bring them closer together and finally confront their grief. I have been a fan of Taff’s work ever since I first discovered him and it seems like he is operating at the peak of his powers lately. This story is downright heartbreaking and packs an emotional punch that makes it obvious why Taff has been dubbed “The King of Pain”. Now I could be totally wrong (and I probably am), but while reading this story, I couldn’t help but think of possible connections to the world depicted in “The Long, Long Breakdown” from Taff’s stellar collection The End in all Beginnings.

JG Faherty “Foxhole” – “Foxhole” follows two soldiers – Gaston and Pierre- who are childhood friends who find themselves in the midst of a war set in an undetermined future. Finding themselves outnumbered, the two friends must lean on each other for any hope of survival. They are lost in the jungle with no weapons, radio or food and all seems lost. Faherty’s writing is vivid and perfectly captures the brutality and carnage of war and the desperation felt by the characters. The twist at the end is a little predictable, but the way it is handled still sent shivers down my spine.

Brian Fatah Steele’s “Harder You Fall” – I remember reading Steele’s story “Delicate Spaces” in Dark Visions – Volume 1 and it was definitely one of the most frightening haunting stories I have read, so I was pretty excited to read what he came up with for Death’s Realm. “Harder You Fall” is a unique story of revenge that details the work of Madeline and Cavallero, necromancers who use their supernatural gifts to prey on the dead for their own personal gain. Madeline is dependent on Cavallero since he discovered her at her darkest point and helped her develop her powers to control and make sense of the frightening visions that led to her running away from home. However, it quickly becomes clear to Madeline that Cavallero has ulterior motives and she struggles with guilt over what Cavallero has helped her become and the things he made her witness. Madeline finally reaches her breaking point and turns to the spirits she has helped exploit to try to make things right. Steele’s descriptions of the spirits are truly horrifying, but the true evil comes from the sickening actions of the living characters.

Paul Michael Anderson’s “To Touch The Dead” takes place in a futuristic setting where people die and are given a serial number. Long after the people are gone, all that remains of their lives are personal belongings that contain traces of psychic energy which are stored in the building for the People’s History Project. These belongings are only accessible to Memory Coordinator’s, people who are able to tap into this energy and record the last moments of their owners before moving on to the next case. However, Gregor is not like most Memory Coordinators. I get the impression the Memory Coordinators and those behind the People’s History Project are emotionless and go about their duties with a sense of detachment, but Gregor is different. Gregor develops empathy for those who have passed on and digs deeper into the artifacts than any other Memory Coordinator in order to truly remember the people who others have long since forgotten. He pushes his abilities to the limit in his efforts and ultimately pays a heavy price.

All of these stories fall within the horror genre and are highly entertaining, but they also achieve something much more meaningful as they uncover some very raw and human emotions. Matthew Pegg’s “March Hays” contains plenty of chills, but at its core is the story of love and has a very touching ending. Jane Brook’s “The Weight” puts a supernatural spin on dealing with traumas of the past and learning to let go.

Death’s Realm is a truly great collection. I may have only highlighted a few of my favorites, but the anthology is full of great stories by some truly amazing authors. There is something for every horror fan here, whether you lean more towards atmospheric horror (Gregory L. Norris’ “Drowning”) or some of the bloodier takes on the genre (Simon Dewar and Karen Runge’s “High Art”). This collection is not to be missed!

2015 is shaping up to be a huge year for Grey Matter Press with at least three more books scheduled for release. First up is the brand new John F.D. Taff novella The Sunken Cathedralwhich will be released in March. There are also two more anthologies on the horizon, the music inspired Savage Beasts and Monsters. I am definitely looking forward to all of these releases as they are all on my “Most Anticipated Reads of 2015” list!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

List of authors and stories featured in Death’s Realm

Purchase Death’s Realm from Grey Matter Press

Gregory L. Norris “Behold: Death’s Realm!” –  Gregory L. Norris and the other authors appearing in Death’s Realm share the inspiration behind their respective stories. I highly recommend those who have read Death’s Realm to give this a read!

I am excited to announce that today I am hosting a guest post from John F.D. Taff as part of his blog tour for his stellar novella collection, The End in All Beginnings, which is out now through Grey Matter Press . If you are curious to see what I thought of his collection (even though the word “stellar” should give it away) and happened to miss my review, you can check that out here. John is one of my favorite authors and those of you who are longtime readers may know that John was one of the very first authors featured on this blog when it launched. So, it is an honor to have him as a guest poster on The Horror Bookshelf! I want to thank John, Tony and everyone at Grey Matter Press for asking me to take part in the media tour. I hope you enjoy learning about the inspiration behind the stories in this collection and be sure to enter the giveaway for an e-copy of The End in all Beginnings following the guest post!

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I thought I’d wind up this blog tour for The End in All Beginnings here at The Horror Bookshelf by getting a little more personal. Yep, that’s right, by letting you get a little glimpse into the person that wrote the stories.

Anyway, I thought I’d walk through each of the stories and discuss why I wrote them and what they mean to me. I’ll try to make it a bit different than the notes about the stories found at the back of The End in All Beginnings, so that you get a little different insight.

“What Becomes God”

First, I like the title of this story…a lot. I chose it for its ambiguity. It can be read any number of ways, and each of the different meanings it has are all applicable to the story. That makes me smile. I spend a great deal of time on naming stories, because I think that the title (in the best of all possible worlds) should give you some insight into the story. I have my fair share of stories that are titled, simply, “The _______,” but you should view those as defeats, at least in my case. Sometimes my stories don’t come right out and slap you across the face with their meaning, so I like the title to provide a clue.

That said, “What Becomes God” is a tribute not just to my childhood, but childhood in general. My childhood was spent in your average suburban tract house neighborhood, carved out of a gigantic, ancient woods that stretched for miles to the Missouri River. You know the type? Most of the houses on postage-stamp-size lawns. Most of the houses of the ranch variety. Most of the houses look the same. Nary a tree in sight, at least mature ones, because the developers ripped them all down to put up the subdivision. Sure, you know the type.

Lots of young families in that neighborhood, lots of kids my age, and we spent a lot of time together in those woods—hiking, playing, exploring. I had a great group of friends, and I borrowed much of those memories for this story. Particularly I wanted to explore the theme of friendship at that age, because I don’t think we ever have friendships that are that deep or open afterward. No, as we grow older, other forces shape our friendships—puberty, high school, social pressures, jobs, families, etc. But at the age of the characters in the story—you know, around 10-12 years old—it’s a lot less complicated. It’s that uncomplicated friendship I think we’ve all experienced that I wanted to recapture.

And, of course, what you’d do to save that friendship, that friend.

That’s what the whole story hinges on, at least to me. And that’s where its power is. Sure there’s the whole religion/sacrifice thing going on, but to me the heart of the story is simple: friendship. As I grow older, I hang on to my friends all the more closely. It’s a relationship every bit as important to me as spouse or family, and when I realized that I wanted to portray that in the story, that’s when the horror became apparent to me.

What would you do…what would you sacrifice for a friend? And should you?

“Object Permanence”

Here’s the story in the collection that you either get or you don’t. I’m constantly making comparisons between horror writers and comedy writers. We’re similar in that we both want you to “get” it. And if you don’t, there’s no amount of explaining that will help.

“Object Permanence” is a story that sort of carries on the same theme as “What Becomes God,” which is to hang or to let go. All of our decisions in life, it seems to me, can be divided into these two camps. So, obviously, charting a course through life boils down to knowing when to do one or the other. Hanging on too long is problematic, but letting go too soon is no better a choice.

I think memory is a terrific thing. You have, stored up in the great vaults of your head, memories of all the wonderful and awful things that have ever happened to you. Some are great to haul out, dust off and relive every once in a while—birthday parties, first dates, kisses, successes. But I also think that, as we grow older, a certain golden light begins to creep in and make our memories seem a great deal more attractive than how the actual events really were.

That’s when nostalgia becomes that old folks’ whining that times were much better when they were young. Or the old-age belief that the world is going to hell in a hand basket because kids’ hair is too long, skirts are too short, pants are sagging, morals are degenerating or America is going down the dumpster. That’s using memory in a negative, destructive way that I wanted to explore in a story.

“Object Permanence” took that idea and magnified it a thousand-fold. What if there were people who could hold everything in their memory just as it was, keeping everything in the real world set, static, never changing. Sounds great on the surface, but when you really start to think about it, that kind of nostalgia is poisonous. Extrapolating that out, sometimes nostalgia in general is poisonous, because it sometimes prevents you from seeing how good the world has become…or that things weren’t really all that wonderful back in the good old days.

That’s the whole point of the story, to remind us old people that the times, they are a’changing, and we’re better off respecting that.

“Love in the Time of Zombies”

Ok, the funnier story. As I’ve said many times before, I don’t do zombies often. I really don’t do classic horror monsters often, because…well, because who cares, really? I mean, they’re mostly overdone, mostly other people’s ideas. If I can’t bring something new to the table, why bother. So mostly, I leave them alone.

So, the zombies in this story aren’t what the story’s about. They’re background noise; something for the two main characters to play against. The story is about unrequited love. As with the universal theme of childhood friendship I explored in “What Becomes God,” I thought that most people have gone through a bout or two of unrequited love in their lives. Remember that Dan Fogelberg song, “Auld Lang Syne?” (Sorry for putting that earworm in your head…and that’s a hint about an upcoming story of mine in another Grey Matter Press collection.) If the line “Just for a moment I was back in school/And felt that old, familiar pain” doesn’t cause your breathing to hitch a little, then you, sir or madam, are dead beyond reviving.

Who among us hasn’t loved someone where that love wasn’t returned at the same level or at all? That’s a pain that is unique in its feeling, but universal in its application. And why wouldn’t it be? I mean, for all the serious studying and researching, we’re no closer to understanding love than was Bill

Shakespeare or the cavemen. So we think we can control it? Yeah, right.

“Love in the Time of Zombies,” despite its undead setting, is really all about that single problem. How do we control with whom we fall in love? Answer: despite how troubling it is, we can’t.

“The Long, Long Breakdown”

More of the holding on/letting go argument, this time between a father and a daughter at the end of the world. And despite the apocalyptic setting, the story’s not about the flooding or the mass extinction of mankind. Nope, it’s the smaller-scale story, the tug-of-war between a father trying to hold on and a daughter desperately wanting to be let go.

You have kids? I do. As they grow older you begin to think, quite seriously, about the world they’ll be inheriting. You think of all of the bad things that are out there, all of the seemingly worse on the horizon. And you worry…you worry about this broken world you’re set to give them.

But, and here’s the thing, they’re not looking at the world like that at all. They’re probably eager to get to it, anxious to get out there and explore and experience. They see the horizon, the same horizon that you do, and in their world, the sun’s coming up, not going down.

The appealing part of this story, to an older gentleman like me, is the fact that we senior citizens don’t necessarily have to relegate ourselves to the trash heap in order to step aside and let our children retain their wide-eyed engagement with the world. We serve a purpose, if we’ll just get out of our own way and accept it. And that purpose is to act as a bridge for our children, from the old world to the new. That kind of thought gives me some comfort in my old age.

“Visitation”

This one’s a sort of quasi-sci-fi, quasi-ghost story. Here’s where I get to share my love of science fiction with you. I started reading the usual sources—Seuss, the Berenstain Bears, Scholastic books—but progressed from there in this manner: comic books to science fiction to fantasy to horror. But I spent a lot of time in science fiction, reading everything from Heinlein to Asimov, from Bradbury to Clarke.

Along the way, I read a lot of science fiction that crossed the boundaries between sci-fi and fantasy. My two favorites are Jack Vance and Robert Silverberg, especially Vance’s The Dying Planet and The Demon Princes, and Silverberg’s Majipoor series. I like the ’50s gee-whiz, aww-shucks patina these two authors’ stories have. A lot of science fiction these days has kind of lost that feeling, and that’s too bad. I wanted this story to harken back to those old science fiction tales, to have that feeling that science fiction can still evoke an innocent kind of awe, at least on some level.

I still love science fiction, though mainly on TV or in movies. I’m a big Star Trek fan, though not quite so much of the two newest movies. Loved the darker incarnation of Battlestar Galactica. But reading science fiction has lost something for me. I think all of the darker, dystopian sci-fi is great, but I still long for those earlier, rosier styles of science fiction where we looked out on the great unknown with more wonder and a little less weariness.

And that’s it. Stop by and see me sometime at johnfdtaff.com or follow me on Twitter @johnfdtaff. And you haven’t gotten a copy of The End in All Beginnings yet, why are you waiting? Pick up a copy today.

John F.D. Taff

ENTER TO WIN A COPY OF THE END IN ALL BEGINNINGS!

I am giving away a free e-copy of John’s novella collection to one lucky winner courtesy of the awesome people over at Grey Matter Press. All you have to do is enter at the Rafflecopter page and a winner will be announced on the 27th!

About John F.D. Taff

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John F.D. Taff has published more than 70 short stories in markets that include Cemetery Dance, Deathrealm, Big Pulp, Postscripts to Darkness, Hot Blood: Fear the Fever, Hot Blood: Seeds of Fear  and Shock Rock II.   Over the years, six of his short stories have been named honorable mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror.

His first collection, Little Deaths,  was published in 2012 and has been well-reviewed by critics and readers alike. The collection appeared on the Bram Stoker Reading List, has been the No. 1 Bestseller at Amazon in the Horror/Short Stories category and was named the No. 1 Horror Collection of 2012 by HorrorTalk.   Taff’s The Bell Witch  is a historical novel inspired by the events of a real-life haunting and was released in August 2013. His thriller Kill/Off  was published in December 2013.

Taff’s short story “Show Me” is featured in the Bram Stoker Award-nominated anthology from Grey Matter Press, DARK VISIONS: A Collection of Modern Horror – Volume One.   His tale that breathes new life into the zombie apocalypse, “Angie,” appears in the Grey Matter Press volume OMINOUS REALITIES: The Anthology of Dark Speculative Horrors.   His “Some Other Day” will be published inDEATH’S REALM,  coming from Grey Matter Press in October.

More information about John F.D. Taff is available at http://www.johnfdtaff.com.

savagebeasts

It’s been a little over two months since Grey Matter Press announced their open call for latest anthology, the music-inspired Savage Beasts. I know I am going to be a little early with this post as they have not announced the stories that have been accepted or a release date, but this is a book I am really excited about! Inspired by their upcoming release and my love of music, I have decided to put together a playlist of songs that I enjoy listening to while writing and/or have some connection to horror. It could be the song title, lyrics or music video, but a lot of these songs do have some connection to horror themes. I have created a Spotify playlist and provided a short explanation for each song I picked. The songs span a pretty wide variety of genres, so while you may not enjoy every song, hopefully there are a few you like. I had a ton of other songs that could have made the cut, so I may break these up in installments. Enjoy!

Tracklist

1. Mogwai “Now You’re Taken” – Mogwai is hands down one of my favorite post-rock bands and this is easily my favorite track by them. This is one of their few songs with vocals (provided by Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat) and is absolutely perfect for chilly fall evenings.

2. Early Day Miners “Errance” – I don’t know what it is about this song, but it has been on just about every playlist and mix CD I have ever made from high school all the way until I decided to make this playlist. “Errance” is a warm and atmospheric track that has accompanied a large bulk of everything I have ever written.

3. Gregor Samsa “Jeroen Van Aken”– Largely piano driven, Gregor Samsa’s “Jeroen Van Aken” is an absolutely beautiful song that utilizes its simplicity as its greatest strength. Haunting lyrics such as “it seems the devil’s got a grip on me” and the song’s allusion to writing make this track one that not only has roots to horror but writing as well.

4. Radiohead “Pyramid Song” – A haunting song by one of the most original bands around. No description I could give would do “Pyramid Song” justice, just know that it is alleged that Thom Yorke once called this song the best Radiohead ever recorded at the time.

5. Deerhunter “Fluorescent Grey” – A pretty catchy song that centers around death and obsession, this was one of the first songs that began my obsession with indie rock.

6. Snowden “No Words No More” – The only cover song to appear on this list, Snowden’s brilliant take on Love and Rockets “No Words No More” is an atmospheric track that somehow manages to feel both gloomy and beautiful at the same time.

7. Explosions In The Sky “Your Hand In Mine” – Explosions In The Sky’s lush and cinematic arrangements make for some excellent writing music and this is one of their best.

8. Converge ” You Fail Me” – “You Fail Me” is a dark and visceral track from the band’s critically acclaimed 2004 album You Fail Me. The churning, metallic guitars, Jacob Bannon’s throat-shredding vocals and track’s slow-burning menace conjures up images of an apocalyptic wasteland and made this a “no-brainer” selection for this playlist.

9. Interpol “NYC” – I have been a huge fan of Interpol and their take on post-punk since their landmark 2002 debut Turn On The Bright Lights. “NYC” used to be the perfect soundtrack to my late night walks back to my dorm room in college.

10. Soundgarden “Fell On Black Days” – This was always my favorite Soundgarden song and its appearance on one of my favorite TV shows, Supernatural, made it a natural pick for this playlist.

11. TV On The Radio “Wolf Like Me” – TV On The Radio is an incredible indie-rock band that can boast about the fact that David Bowie is one of their fans, which should really tell you all you need to know about how good this band is. I can’t speak about the true meaning behind the song, but based on the B-movie inspired music video for “Wolf Like Me”, it’s about turning into a werewolf. How could it not make this playlist? Check out the music video here.

12. The Rolling Stones “Sympathy For The Devil” – I don’t think this selection really needs any explanation!

13. Cloud Nothings “No Future/No Past” – I was blown away by this song the first time I heard it. I had never really listened to Cloud Nothings prior to this track, but they supposedly leaned more toward the pop side of indie-rock before deciding to record 2012’s Attack on Memory with Steve Albini and shifting to heavier sounding songs. The music video for the song was directed by John Ryan Manning and was what really makes this song stick in my mind. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the video opens on a man seemingly being dragged by an unknown force just outside the camera’s view. It is one of the coolest and creepiest music videos I have seen in a while and I definitely recommend checking it out. I think this premise would have made an excellent short story.

14. Deftones “Change (In The House of Flies)” – Besides the fact that I just think this is an awesome song and one of the Deftones best, it gets its horror connection from being included in The Following and Dexter.

15. Young Widows “Kerosene Girl” – Young Widows is one of my favorite post-hardcore bands and this monolithic track is a must-listen for fans of heavy music.

16. Les Savy Fav “Adopduction” – One of my absolute favorite songs from the brilliant Les Savy Fav, the song is about a dream in which the narrator was kidnapped and slowly develops Stockholm Syndrome.

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Grey Matter Press is currently accepting submissions for an upcoming anthology tentatively titled Savage Beasts. They are looking for previously unpublished works of dark fiction that have been inspired by music. I have been tweeting the link for this since it was announced at the end of July, but I wanted to do a post here for any of my readers who don’t use Twitter. If you are interested in learning more about the anthology or are interested in submitting your work, head on over to their website for the detailed submission guidelines.

Now, anyone who has read any of my reviews knows how much I love Grey Matter Press, so it goes without saying that I will be looking forward to this anthology. As an avid music listener and occasional music journalist , I was REALLY excited when I read that the theme was going to be centered around music. Just when I didn’t think I could love Grey Matter Press any more, they announce an anthology that contains two of my favorite things in the world. I can’t wait to read the stories that make it into Savage Beasts and figure out what pieces of music inspired the stories! I know it’s probably a long shot, but hopefully someone submits a story inspired by The Toadies “Possum Kingdom”. I always thought that song would make a killer story!

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BOOK INFO

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Length: 256 Pages

Copy provided by publisher for an honest review

Equilibrium Overturned is the newest anthology from the stellar team at Grey Matter Press and focuses on stories that are a blend of horror, science fiction and dark fantasy, much in the same spirit of their previous anthology Ominous Realities. I am a huge fan of all of Grey Matter Press’ anthologies and I always look forward to their projects that push the boundaries of traditional horror. Equilibrium Overturned features excellent stories from a few familiar faces from Grey Matter Press’ other anthologies along with writers appearing for the first time. While choosing a favorite from this anthology is almost impossible, the following stories were the ones that really stuck with me.

The anthology gets off to a gripping start with Jeff Hemenway’s “The Final Testimony of Molly Ryder”, which blends elements of the horror, science fiction and crime genres into a wildly original story. The story focuses on a man named Kurtis Arlington, a Linkguide for the government’s Sandman program. The program is a sort of new punishment for criminals where they are drugged into a state deeper than a coma and imprisoned in nuspace, sort of like a prison for the mind. Arlington has been tasked with interviewing notorious serial killer Bruce Kristoff to try and give closure to the family of one of his victims. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse, with Kristoff and Arlington trading memories over their psylink and hurtling toward an explosive conclusion. I loved this story’s unique subject matter and Hemenway’s superb ability to keep the reader guessing before finally unveiling a twist that I definitely didn’t see coming!

“Martial Law” by JG Faherty – The story has a bleak opening as we learn right away that the end of the world has already come and gone. While telling the reader right away that everything is most certainly NOT okay may seem like it would spoil the story, the suspense comes from trying to figure out just what went wrong and what it means for humanity. The story takes place in a regular small town, the kind where people feel safe and comfortable. That false sense of security is what makes the events that unfold on Main Street that day truly horrifying.  Even when the true nature of what is what is happening is revealed and it seems everything is, Faherty takes a left turn and puts a fresh spin on a popular horror creature.

“Through The Ghostlands” by Rose Blackthorn is an atmospheric post-apocalyptic that details the struggle of three survivors of a global catastrophe as they search a desolate landscape with the hope of finding other survivors. While their search has proved fruitless so far, it slowly becomes apparent that they are not truly alone. Blackthorn does an excellent job portraying the desperation and hopelessness that the characters face and the last few pages of the story definitely gave me the chills! I am a big fan of post-apocalyptic stories and this one is definitely one of my favorites. While it works well as a stand-alone short story, I hope that Blackthorn continues the story of the Ghostlands because I would love to learn more about the characters and the outcome of their journey!

“Wombie” by Martin Slag –  Small-town veternatrian Dr. Ethan Sarvas is baffled when a little girl and her mother bring in an exotic creature known as “Wombie”, who is suffering from an unknown ailment. Wombie was given to the little girl by her uncle, Robert Frugal, who was sent to a mental health facility after crafting an unusual crop circle pattern in a local wheat field. After examining Wombie, it becomes clear to Dr. Sarvas that Robbie may be the only one with the answers he needs. However, the more information that Dr. Sarvas uncovers, he quickly realizes that Wombie’s condition is far from normal. This story has plenty of truly creepy scenes and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of Slag’s work.

Long time readers of the Horror Bookshelf already know that I am a huge history buff and that is one of the reasons I was drawn to Sean Eads’ story, “The Alamo Incident: From The Chronicle of Timaeus Shields”. The story takes place around the time of the Battle of the Alamo, one of the most well-known events in American history. The story focuses on Timaeus Shields, a mercenary for President Andrew Jackson who requests he take on a special assignment. President Jackson gives Timaeus a package containing numerous documents and a shoe that seems to have been melted by some unknown substance. Timaeus begins sorting through the documents which seem to be a random assortment of letters detailing rather mundane events that usually do not coincide with Timaeus’ work.  However, when he reads a letter that details a mysterious force that has been slaughtering the troops at the Alamo, he sets off on a quest to discover the truth.

Aside from the historical aspect, the aspect of the story that I enjoyed the most was the originality of the plot and the force that was responsible for killing the soldiers. I don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to read Equilibrium Overturned, but rest assured that the big reveal of the story will come as a surprise.

Equilibrium Overturned closes with “Sunrise” by Tony Knighton, a story about a father who must navigate through a dangerous city ravaged by an environmental disaster in order to save his son’s life. Despite its dystopian setting, “Sunrise” is a realistic story that captures the lengths people will go to in order to try to save the people they care about. This story really struck a chord with me, especially when I reached the story’s emotionally powerful ending.

I have been raving about Grey Matter Press’ books for a while now on The Horror Bookshelf and that trend will continue with Equilibrium Overturned. They are  having a huge year so far with all the early praise for John F.D. Taff’s incredible The End In All Beginnings  and I have a feeling that momentum will continue with the release of Equilibrium Overturned. Grey Matter Press is hands down one of the best publishers of dark fiction and the quality of their books makes each one of them an absolute must-own.

Rating: 5/5

Links

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

List of authors and stories featured in Equilibrium Overturned

Purchase Equilibrium Overturned on Amazon

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BOOK INFO

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Length: 319 Pages

John F.D. Taff’s The End In All Beginnings was easily one of my most anticipated reads of the summer ever since it was announced in late April by Grey Matter Press. The collection of five new novellas from Taff made its debut at this years World Horror Convention  months before its late summer scheduled release date, but I was unfortunately unable to attend. I thought I would have to wait a few more months to snag a copy, so I was ecstatic when Grey Matter Press made a few of the autographed Special Advance Edition copies available for order on their website.

The cover of The End In All Beginnings describes the novellas as “emotional horrors” and I think that term sums them perfectly with their focus on themes like love, life and death. The collection’s first story, “What Becomes God”, is a perfect introduction to the emotional wringer the reader is about to go through. Focusing on a boy named Brian, “What Becomes God” is a heartbreaking tale that shows the lengths a person will go to in order to try to save their friend. Taff does an excellent job of capturing childhood in this story, detailing how Brian would spend all day outside until dinner during the summer playing kickball, exploring the woods and generally spending the entire day hanging out with friends. The story grabbed me immediately because these scenes reminded me of how I spent my childhood and Taff captures that feeling of magical freedom perfectly.

Even without the dark twist toward the end of the story, “What Becomes God” is pretty terrifying. I was telling my wife about the story (before I made it to the story’s plot twist) and she said something along the lines of “That doesn’t sound like horror, I thought you said it was a horror book?” While everyone is entitled to their own opinion as to what constitutes horror, my immediate response was what is scarier than facing death at a young age and being powerless to do anything?

One of the things that makes The End In All Beginnings such a great collection is Taff’s ability to take familiar horror creatures and inject new life into them with brilliant twists. “Love In The Time Of Zombies” is an absolute must-read for any zombie fan as Taff manages to break new ground while still keeping the blood, guts and everything else people love about zombies intact. Taff also blends in some science-fiction with “Visitation”, a powerful story that puts an original spin on the traditional ghost story.

Picking a favorite from The End In All Beginnings is virtually impossible, but if I were forced to choose right now, I would have to go with  “The Long, Long Breakdown”. Detailing the life of a father and his daughter in a post-apocalyptic Florida in which flood waters have devastated the area, Taff paints a portrait of a parent-child relationship that instantly reminded me of the emotional narrative of one of my favorite novels, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. While the post-apocalyptic setting will appeal to fans of the genre, the real power comes from the portrayal of how even when society has changed forever, the dynamic between a parent and their child remains the same.

This is truly one of the best collection of novellas I have read in a while and will definitely be in the running for one of my favorite reads of the year. I feel like this collection will not only appeal to horror fans, but could interest readers of just about any genre. So, whether you are looking for introduction to the world of horror or are already a seasoned horror fanatic, you will definitely want to give The End In All Beginnings a read!

Rating: 5/5

Links

John F.D. Taff’s Official Website

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

Order The End In All Beginnings – Special Advance Edition (These are limited and come signed by the author, so order one soon before they sell out!)

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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