Posts Tagged ‘John F.D. Taff’

I am a bit late with my 2016 list as the first month of 2017 is just about over, but I still wanted to take a minute and share some of my favorite reads from this year. 2016 was a slow year for The Horror Bookshelf and I didn’t hit any of my goals that I made this time last year, but it was for a happy reason! The last few months of 2016 were some of the happiest in my life as my wife and I had our first child. The blog has slowed down considerably, but I do not plan on closing The Horror Bookshelf. I fell a bit behind, but I plan on starting 2017 off catching up on some reviews I owe and then hopefully getting back into a normal routine. I have met so many great people through this blog and it would take forever to name everyone, but I want to thank all of my friends, authors, and readers for sticking with me and offering me encouragement and support. My main goal for this site has always been to have fun, interact with other horror fans, and give back to the authors whose art has inspired me and helped me through some rough patches. That goal remains the same and I hope I can continue the blog for many more years.

Being that I fell a bit behind, some of the books featured here haven’t had their full reviews run yet, but they are on the way. I still want to recognize the authors and their works for helping make 2016 an incredible year for this horror fan. Here is a list of my favorite reads from 2016. I decided to go with a Top 15 for novels, a Top 10 for novellas and a Top 5 for Anthologies and Collections. Thanks for sticking with me this far and I hope you find some great new reads on this list!

Novels

1. Ronald Malfi The Night Parade 

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2. John C. Foster Mister White 

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3. Kristopher Rufty Desolation 

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4. Jonathan Janz Children of the Dark

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5. Justin Cronin The City of Mirrors

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6. Damien Angelica Walters Paper Tigers

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7. Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason Mayan Blue

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8. D. Alexander Ward Beneath Ash & Bone

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9. Hunter Shea The Jersey Devil

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10. Joe Hill The Fireman

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11. Kristin Dearborn Stolen Away

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12. Robert E. Dunn A Living Grave

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13. Stephen Kozeniewski Hunter of the Dead

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14. Joe Schwartz Stabco

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15. John Quick Consequences

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Novellas

1. Adam Howe Tijuana Donkey Showdown

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2. Glenn Rolfe Chasing Ghosts

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3. Josh Malerman A House At The Bottom of a Lake

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4. Mark Matthews All Smoke Rises

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5. Robert E. Dunn Motorman

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6. John F.D. Taff The Desolated Orchard

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7. Kristin Dearborn Woman in White

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9. David Bernstein Blue Demon

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10. Lucas Mangum Mania

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Anthologies and Collections

1. I Can Taste The Blood

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2. Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories

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3. Richard Thomas Tribulations

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4. Brian Moreland Blood Sacrifices

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5. Glenn Rolfe Out of Range

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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.

I am a bit late with my 2015 as the first month of 2016 is rapidly coming to a close, but I still wanted to take a minute and share some of my favorite reads from this year. 2015 was a great year here at The Horror Bookshelf. The blog celebrated its one year anniversary back in April, I made some great friends, I got to take part in SFSignal’s Mind Meld feature and I had the honor of premiering a brand new story from Glenn Rolfe.

I never really made a post for The Horror Bookshelf’s first anniversary, so I wanted to just take a minute and touch on a few things before getting to my list of favorite reads for the year. I started this blog as my way of giving back to the extremely talented writers who have created the books I enjoy reading and connecting with other horror fans. In that respect, I think the first year of The Horror Bookshelf was a huge success. I am so thankful for all of the writers and publishers who reached out to me and offered me review copies and words of encouragement along the way. Without you and the books you spend so much time crafting, The Horror Bookshelf would not exist. I also want to thank anyone who has ever taken the time to read any of my reviews, interviews or guest posts. There is no greater feeling as a reviewer than introducing someone to a potentially new favorite author or a great book and I hope that by visiting this site, you have found a few.

There are so many people to thank for helping this blog become what it is today, but I wanted to take a moment to thank a few special people who have shown me a humbling amount of support since the very beginning. A huge thank you to my friends and family, Tony and Sharon at Grey Matter Press, John F.D. Taff, David Spell, Mark Matthews, Dale Elster and Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi. You have all offered me so much support and tons of encouragement when The Horror Bookshelf was getting off the ground and I will always be grateful for that. I also want to thank my beautiful wife for encouraging me to follow my dreams and for giving me that boost of confidence I need when I feel like I can’t possibly keep everything going.

I am not usually big on New Year’s Resolutions, but what the hell, I came up with some for The Horror Bookshelf anyway.

1. Read more in 2016 – This one is fairly vague and for anyone that runs a review site, it sounds borderline crazy. I read a ton of great novels in 2016, but one of my biggest regrets was that I didn’t read that many novellas, short stories or anthologies this year. I hope to change that in 2016 and also to increase the amount of novels I read in a year.

2. Get more organized – I am notorious for my poor organizational habits, but I have already made some progress by using a planner (that my wife made me buy) to help me keep track of all my upcoming reviews, interviews and features. This may be the most mundane and boring resolution of the list, but it is an underrated part of keeping a review site going in my opinion.

3. Keeping the site updated more frequently – This may be the biggest challenge of them all. I am the only writer on The Horror Bookshelf and the amount of reviews I have going at any given time can be overwhelming, but I want to set a modest goal – starting in February – of posting at least once a week. Sort of on the same topic, if I owe you a review and have not posted it yet, I promise I haven’t forgotten! I appreciate every author that sends me a book for review and sometimes time gets away from me, but I promise I will get to them soon.

Here is a list of my favorite reads from 2015. I decided to go with a Top 10 for novels, a Top 5 for novellas and a Top 3 for Anthologies and Collections. Thanks for sticking with me this far and I hope you find some great new reads on this list!

1 . Brian Kirk We Are Monsters (Samhain Horror)

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2. Richard Thomas Disintegration (Random House Alibi)

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3. Ronald Malfi Little Girls (Kensington)

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4. Ania Ahlborn Behind These Walls (Gallery Books)

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5. Hunter Shea Tortures of the Damned (Kensington/Pinnacle)

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6. Jonathan Janz Wolf Land (Samhain Horror)

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7. D. Alexander Ward Blood Savages (Necro Publications)

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8. Russell James Q Island (Samhain Horror)

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9. Glenn Rolfe Blood and Rain (Samhain Horror)

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10. Kristopher Rufty Jagger (Sinister Grin Press)

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Novellas

1. John F.D. Taff The Sunken Cathedral (Grey Matter Press)

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2. Kealan Patrick Burke Sour Candy (Self-published)

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3. Glenn Rolfe Abram’s Bridge (Samhain Horror)

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4. Adam Howe Gator Bait (Comet Press)

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5. Matt Manochio Twelfth Krampus Night (Samhain Horror)

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Anthologies and Collections

1. Savage Beasts (Grey Matter Press)

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2. Todd Keisling Ugly Little Things – Volume One (Precipice Books)

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3. Tony Knighton Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties (Crime Wave Press) 

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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.

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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: 256 Pages

Submitted by the publisher for review

Dark Visions – Volume One is one of the first anthologies released by the stellar horror publishing company Grey Matter Press. A few weeks ago I posted a review of their latest, Ominous Realities, and mentioned that they are putting out some of the best anthologies around. After having just read Dark Visions – Volume One, I still stand by that statement. Edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson and nominated for a 2013 Stoker Award, Dark Visions – Volume One contains thirteen horror short stories that immediately grab your attention and refuse to let go.

I am a huge fan of horror short stories because I love seeing an author build a complete world full of vibrant scenes and characters in such limited space. It builds tension and keeps you turning the pages until you reach the final conclusion, often leaving a sense of ambiguity that allows the story to linger long after it is finished. Dark Visions- Volume One delivers all of the best traits of the format and a diverse selection of authors to create a must-read collection.

Just like Ominous Realities, this collection features writers that I already enjoy and writers that I have not heard of before. There were a few stories from the writers I discovered in Dark Visions that really stuck with me in a profound way and I wish were novels instead of short stories (though that’s just me being greedy).

Jeff Hemenway’s story, “The Weight Of Paradise”, is an absolutely stunning story and ranks as one of my more recent favorites. The story focuses on Alfie, a man who was diagnosed with leukemia and near death before his scientist girlfriend Sophie discovers a cure. While the discovery helps cure him of his disease, it has horrible consequences for everyone involved.

I can’t speak for the author’s motivations for writing the story or his inspiration, but this story instantly made me think of a certain type of horror monster as soon as I read it. Alfie and his friends share some remarkable similarities to these monsters, but there is a fresh and horrifying twist that makes their origin unique (if I am right in my assumption). The story itself is well-written and engaging, but it is the ending’s emotional sucker-punch that really makes “The Weight of Paradise” shine.

“Second Opinion” by Ray Garton is probably the scariest story I have ever read involving writers since Joe Hill’s “Best New Horror”. Garton wastes no time in grabbing your attention by starting his story with a simple yet horrifying question – “Do you know what it’s like to cut up your best friend with a hacksaw?”. What follows is a haunting recollection by an author named Greg, where he explains just what drove him to murder his best friend. What really scared the hell out of me with this story was the fact that it was, for the most part, plausible. Garton throws in a dash of the supernatural, but most of the story is something that could realistically happen in real life. I always wanted to be a writer, but after reading Garton’s tale, the prospect scares the shit out of me!

Milo James Fowler’s “What Do You Need?” is the haunting story of a man named John who wakes up in a mysterious room devoid of any windows, doors or other means of escape. There is little in the room except basic necessities, an ominous television broadcasting nothing but static and a telephone. The telephone does not seem to work in any capacity until finally a voice asks, “What do you need?” There is no other communication from the person on the other line, despite John’s multiple requests for answers, just the same phrase every single time he picks up the phone.

I loved “What Do You Need?” for its psychological elements. I couldn’t even begin to imagine being trapped in an inescapable situation, and Fowler does an excellent job putting the reader into John’s shoes and conveying the desperation someone would feel in that situation. Another reason I probably connected so much with this story is it had the atmosphere of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode and that is one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

Brian Fatah Steele’s “Delicate Spaces” focuses on a small group of paranormal researchers who are drawn to the Rayburn Hotel in order to investigate the numerous reports of unexplained phenomena that occur there. Most of the incidents seem to occur in the back hallway of the hotel where two mysterious items are stored. The items in question are a decorative mirror and a tapestry with an abstract design that hangs on the wall directly opposite the mirror. Most of the sightings that originate from the Rayburn Hotel occur when visitors look at the tapestry in the reflection of the mirror, causing them to see things that are not really there. Many of the sightings are seemingly harmless, until a woman says she sees an army in the tapestry and flees the hotel.

After not experiencing any of the alleged activity during their stay, one of the researchers decides to conduct a last-ditch experiment in the hallway with low-frequency generators. This experiment leads to the shocking revelation of what exactly is occurring at the Rayburn Hotel and it is definitely something you will not see coming. I don’t usually get scared that easily, but after reading “Delicate Spaces”, it is only a matter of time before the events of the story wind up in my nightmares!

I also loved “Mister Pockets” by Jonathan Maberry and “Show Me” by John F.D. Taff. These stories were the ones I was looking forward to reading the most when I first received Dark Visions and they were every bit as good as I hoped. This is an absolute “must read” anthology chock full of scary tales and you are guaranteed to find at least one new author you will love!

Rating: 5/5

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

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

Purchase Dark Visions – Volume One on Amazon

I am back again with the second installment of my most anticipated summer reads! It seems like I just posted the first installment,  but time seems to be flying by with summer  just around the corner and I still have TONS of books I want to write about. The last batch included novels from Stephen King, Hunter Shea and Brian Moreland. This time around I will be featuring John F.D. Taff, Tim Curran and Stephen Lloyd Jones!

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John F.D. Taff The End In All Beginnings (Late Summer) from Grey Matter Press

I am a relatively new fan of Taff’s, but this one has rocketed right to the top of my list after it was announced by Grey Matter Press due to how much I loved his novel The Bell Witch and his story “Angie” in Ominous Realities. The End In All Beginnings will feature five new novellas that, according to the folks at Grey Matter Press, “explore the painful, emotional horrors of life, love and loss through the ages”. Sign me up!

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Tim Curran Blackout (August 2014) from Dark Fuse

While summer usually conjures images of pool parties, barbecues and warm, beautiful weather, there is also a less pleasant side to most people’s favorite season.  I am talking about the huge storms complete with downpours, thunder and lightning. It is not unusual to lose power for long periods of time after lightening lights up the sky and the booms of thunder rattle your windows. At most, this is a minor annoyance. However, Tim Curran’s upcoming novella for Dark Fuse takes this mundane scenario and dials up the horror by throwing in tentacles that snatch people into the sky at random. I imagine that the first time a big storm rolls through town after I read this novella, I will be absolutely scared out of my mind and fighting with my wife over who gets to hold the flashlight (though I doubt that would be a good defense against airborne tentacles).

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Stephen Lloyd Jones The String Diaries (July 1, 2014) from Mulholland Books

The String Diaries follows a woman named Hannah as she attempts to outrun a centuries-old man who has the horrifying ability to take on the persona of any person he wants, including Hannah’s loved ones. Throw in a pile of mysterious diaries that have been passed down for over 200 years within Hannah’s family that supposedly hold the clues to surviving this monster and this has all the makings of a book that will probably rule my life from the minute I start it.

The story is said to jump from present day all the way to Hungary at the turn of the 19th century and I love books that do that because in addition to being a huge horror fan, I am also a bit of a history nerd. I know very little about The String Diaries other than what is in the official synopsis, but it kind of reminds me of Elizabeth Kostova’s brilliant 2005 novel The Historian.

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Grey Matter Press announced today that a special Advance Edition of John F.D. Taff’s The End In All Beginnings, will be available at this year’s World Horror Convention which is set to take place May 8 through May 11 in Portland, Oregon. The collection contains five new novellas from Taff that “explore the painful, emotional horrors of life, love and loss through the ages”. They will be limited in number, so if you are attending the convention make sure you snag a copy, otherwise you will have to wait until July or August like the rest of us! Unfortunately I will not be able to attend the convention, so I guess this gives me another reason to be jealous of those who are going and/or people who get to live in an awesome city like Portland.

The titles of the novellas included are “What Becomes God,” “Object Permanence,” “Love in the Time of Zombies,” “The Long, Long Breakdown” and “Visitation”. Grey Matter Press has outdone themselves again with this one; the cover looks amazing and rumor has it each story was assigned a tarot card illustration, which is a pretty cool idea. Taff is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers (I only recently discovered his work, but so far everything I have read of his has been outstanding). I strongly encourage those who are attending to grab a copy of this, whether you are already a fan or not, because it is sure to be an outstanding collection!

Check out Grey Matter Press’ press release to learn more and see what Jonathan Mayberry(!) had to say about The End In All Beginnings.

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BOOK INFO

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Length: 331 Pages

Ominous Realities is the brand new anthology from the awesome people at Grey Matter Press and serves up 16 extraordinarily written tales that fall within the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. I must say when I was contacted by Anthony Rivera of Grey Matters with an offer to review the anthology, I jumped at the chance. These stories, despite their variety of styles and genre classifications, all have one thing in common – giving you a glimpse at unique post-apocalyptic scenarios.

While many of these stories may not be horror in the traditional sense, there is no doubt that the futures depicted in each one of these stories is quite horrifying in their own way. What makes these stories just as scary (or scarier) than your traditional horror fare is that in most cases, these scenarios could actually happen.

William Meikle’s “On The Threshold” is the first story that details such a possibility. Meikle’s story focuses on the trials of two scientists named John and Connon as they attempt to use a high-powered lab, a wealth of resources and their staggering scientific intellect to create their own universe from nothing. Their goal seems relatively harmless – an endeavor to study the origins of a universe and whether the rules of ours would apply – all in the name of science.  Do the aims of John and Connor sound familiar? Well they should, as we are currently conducting an experiment with the Large Hadron Collider built by CERN for startlingly similar purposes. After reading the frightening experiences contained within “On The Threshold”, it raises the question: Should we be manipulating forces we do not fully understand?

Ken Altabel’s story, “Doyoshota”, is another story that while not necessarily based in our reality, draws information from a puzzling real life phenomena. I have always been fascinated with unexplained phenomena of all kinds and can honestly admit to spending countless hours trawling Wikipedia pages and falling down the rabbit hole of links contained within each article. UFO’s, hauntings , “The Bloop” and countless other cases have all captured my interest. Altabel’s story draws inspiration from real-life reports of a phenomena known as “The Hum”. This phenomenon is categorized as a low-frequency sound that is often described as a persistent buzzing. What makes The Hum so unique is that it cannot be easily explained away since it is a constant occurrence and has been reported all over the world. Altabel’s story explores this mysterious phenomena through the eyes of a University of Rochester audiologist sent to the town of Doyoshota, Nevada to investigate the potential cause of the noise along with other scientists. At first, the noises are not taken seriously and the residents that report them are portrayed as eccentric, to put it mildly. However, as the character begins to hear the hum himself and witnesses the mental degradation of the biggest skeptic – Air Force psychologist Guy Patterson – it becomes clear that “The Hum” is real. The character slowly begins realizing the origins of The Hum, and not only is it absolutely terrifying, it offers a very logical theory for the origins of the phenomena.

Gregory L. Norris’ story “Third Offense” is set in a world that seems to have been spawned from the tendency of press outlets to create content more impressed with “clicks” and “reach” than actual substance and eye implants that resemble  a supercharged version of Google Glass. Hugh A.D. Spencer’s story, “John, Paul, Xavier, Ironside and George (But Not Vincent)” is a surreal take on an apocalyptic scenario in which roving clouds of nanobots lay waste to civilization.

Although most of the stories contained in Ominous Realities fall outside of the traditional horror genre, there are a few tales that come directly from the genre. “Angie” by John F.D. Taff  focuses on the lives of Dennis and Angie, a divorced couple who are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse together. I absolutely loved this story and it was a unique take on the zombie genre that offers frightening and grim look at the realities of the walking dead roaming the streets with an emotional dynamic that is every bit as interesting. It is obvious to see they still care about each other and that love is proved in a final twist ending that was both sweet and incredibly horrifying.

My favorite story from the anthology has to be Bracken MacLeod’s stellar contribution, “Pure Blood and Evergreen”. MacLeod tells the story of Pyotr cel Tinar, a youth who is held in a prison camp after the New Republic rises to power and destroys his village as part of a cleansing process. It is not clear until later in the story that Pytor may not be what he seems, but even then you can’t help but feel horrified by the nightmarish conditions he was forced to endure. This was the first story I have read from MacLeod, but I think it is safe to say I am now a fan for life!

Grey Matter Press has done a phenomenal job with Ominous Realities and in my opinion, they are putting out some of the best anthologies in the genre. While you may not be a fan of every story, there is enough variety here to ensure that you will find something to enjoy and may introduce you to some new and extremely talented authors. This is a “must purchase” anthology for any dark fiction fan!

Rating: 5/5

Links

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

List of stories and authors featured in Ominous Realities

Purchase Ominous Realities on Amazon