Posts Tagged ‘review’

Length: 384 Pages

Publisher: Del Rey Books

Release Date: April 10, 2018

Like a lot of people, the first time I read Malerman’s work was when I stumbled across his debut novel Bird Box. Bird Box is a unique story that follows a woman named Malorie as she attempts to find a safe place to take her two children, five years after the arrival of the mysterious creatures who can drive people to madness with just one glimpse. Reading Bird Box, I was drawn in immediately by his unique take on the post-apocalyptic story and the world building that went into the story. After I finished that, I was sold on Malerman’s talent and knew I was going to be a longtime fan. I’ve read everything Malerman has released since Bird Box, and while each book has its own style, the one constant is Malerman’s storytelling ability and imagination. When I first about his latest release, Unbury Carol, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy and see what sort of adventure Malerman conjured up this time around.

Carol Evers has a secret that she has only shared with three people – her best friend John Bowie, her husband Dwight and her ex, the famed outlaw James Moxie. Carol has died many times throughout her life, although her deaths are a bit different from the one everyone else experiences. She doesn’t actually die, but instead falls into a long-lasting coma that makes it appear as if she is dead to those who are unaware of her condition. It’s easy to think she has actually died – her heartbeat is faint, her pulse becomes barely detectable and she shows no sign of breathing – which poses a very grave threat to Carol’s life. Carol guards her secret because she fears it will frighten people and cause them to leave her. However, this proves to be a deadly mistake because her husband, who many thought only married her for her money, plans to use her condition to steal her fortune and bury her alive so that he can live a life of luxury. Although Carol and Moxie have not seen or spoken to one another in 20 years, the news of her death causes him to saddle up again and take to the Trail for the first time in a decade. After the untimely death of Carol’s friend John, Moxie is the only one who knows Carol’s not dead and the only one who will be able to save her. The question is, will he reach her in time? Because there are other people who have an interest in seeing Carol buried alive and they will do whatever it takes to keep Moxie from ruining their plans.

Unbury Carol into a single genre, I would label it a Weird Western, which is a genre I haven’t been too big on in recent years. I don’t have anything against Westerns, but for some reason I could never get hooked on one, at least in terms of novels. That wasn’t the case with Unbury Carol, which immediately hooked me with rich world-building, memorable characters and an engaging plot.

I loved the way Malerman crafted Carol’s affliction, which appears to draw inspiration from the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. However, Malerman is able to make it his own by not only making Carol’s comas more frightening, but by also giving reader’s a glimpse of it through her eyes. The doctors that Carol saw early in life were never able to give her condition a scientific name as it seems to be an affliction unique to Carol. While it was frightening at first, Carol crafts an identity around her condition in an attempt to normalize it and take some of the fear from it. She started calling it “Howltown”, which is more of a name for the state she occupies in one of her comas and less the condition itself. Despite the fact that it’s a desolate place that only she can visit, she thinks of it as a town. There is no light in Howltown and it got its name from the howling wind that never stops and is the only noticeable stimulus that cuts through the absolute darkness. She always knows when the comas are coming as it is preceded by a falling sensation and distorted vision. She sometimes sees ripples and it’s like her world is slowly bleeding into Howltown.

This is one of the most horrifying aspects of Unbury Carol. Don’t get me wrong, Unbury Carol has many moments that are laced with evil and brutality, but imagine the horror that Carol is faced with every time she has an attack. Her own body acts like a prison and she is unable to move or communicate with anyone in the real world while she is in Howltown. Sometimes she can make out bits and pieces of what is happening around her, but she’s powerless to do anything about it. Imagine facing the betrayal of someone who was supposed to love you and that you trusted as they plot your death and taunt you at every step of the way. It’s absolutely bone-chilling.

Another strength of Unbury Carol is the characters. Malerman brings the towns that litter the Trail to life by crafting interesting characters. Listing all of them would be near impossible, but I decided to highlight a few. Carol’s friend John Bowie, who has already passed away by the opening of the novel, leaves a lasting impression even in death. He was a good man who often made himself the life of the party due to his penchant for magic tricks. However his importance comes into play due to his relationship with Carol. He was her closest friend, and the intimate nature of their relationship is shown through the fact that he was the only person outside of her family and significant others who ever learned of her secret. Rather than get freaked out like many others would have, Bowie listens to her with care and respect, wanting to understand his friends affliction. He is the only one outside of her mother Hattie to try to understand Carol’s illness and help her develop ways to cope with it. Everyone else wanted to exploit her or simply ran from the challenges they thought it posed.

I also loved following Moxie’s part of the story. James Moxie’s notoriety comes from the event largely known as “The Trick in Abberstown”, where Moxie won a duel against a man named Daniel Prouds without ever drawing his gun. While the event happened many years ago, it is still talked about by anyone who comes into contact with Moxie. While Moxie used that reputation to carve out a life on the Trail, he’s no longer the same man he once was. When Moxie drops everything to race to Harrows to try to save Carol, he had been off the Trail for nine years. As I loved the decision to have these events take place in the twilight of his career because it makes him a more interesting character. Moxie is no longer full of the bravado you would expect from his younger days, but instead battles the demons of his past and feelings of self-doubt.

There are supernatural elements throughout Unbury Carol, but the most frightening moments of the novel come from the interactions between the human characters and the evil they are capable of. The character responsible for causing the most mayhem is easily the feared outlaw Smoke. Smoke is one of the most terrifying antagonists I have come across in recent memory. None of it has to do with supernatural powers, but rather his propensity for evil and the atrocities he is able to carry out without any remorse. Every scene he is in is unpredictable because he is just as likely to let people go as he is to kill them. He has a unique and brutal calling card and it’s the reason he is the most feared person on the Trail. He is tasked with hunting Moxie and their relationship is interesting because Moxie’s legend grew in the wake of Smoke’s own personal tragedy. Smoke is fascinated by Moxie’s legend, but loathes him and dreams about what will happen if he finally catches up to him on the Trail. Then there is Rot, another terrifying villain that plays a large part in the novel. I won’t go into too much detail about his story, but his scenes are among the creepiest in the novel.

Malerman’s world building is excellent and while I already talked a bit about Howltown, the other big set piece of Unbury Carol is the Trail. The Trail is a passage that connects all of the neighboring towns and has a rich history and legends of its own. It is a hard and unforgiving place that many of the residents avoid traveling if they can help it. Men who feel lost or aimless often can’t resist the pull of the Trail. Sure, there is darkness and evil lurking along the Trail, but what Malerman has done is craft a beautiful setting full of mystery and intrigue and it is that mystique that lures people like Moxie and Smoke to it. It’s a chance for them to make names for themselves and leave a lasting legacy.

Structurally, Malerman jumps around between various points of view and isn’t afraid to use fluid timelines. While the story does have a linear narrative, he occasionally uses flashbacks at various points of the story. This approach may not work for every reader, but I enjoyed how he worked in minor plot threads throughout the story before circling back and wrapping them up later. The best example of this would be the various mentions of “The Trick in Abberstown”. I love how the story is told in anecdotes sprinkled throughout the novel and from various perspectives, but that the narrative still maintains a cohesive structure.

While there are moments of dread and horror throughout Unbury Carol, readers looking for a straight-up horror novel may come away a bit disappointed. In my opinion, the core of Malerman’s story revolves around love and the lengths people will go to in order to protect the ones they love. Malerman is one of those authors whose work I’m always interested in because I know that no matter what the basis of the story is, I know it will be something special. Malerman is like some kind of mad horror alchemist, unafraid of blending genres and using his unique creativity to push horror into some interesting places. There is something magical about Unbury Carol that kept me glued to the pages and that magic is one of the reasons this is on my shortlist for my favorite novel of the year.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Josh Malerman’s Official Website

Random House Books’ Official Website

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

About Josh Malerman

Josh Malerman is an internationally bestselling, Bram Stoker Award–nominated American author and one of two singer/songwriters for the rock band The High Strung. His debut novel, Bird Box, was published in the United Kingdom and the United States in 2014 to much critical acclaim. He lives in Ferndale, Michigan, with his best friend/soulmate Allison Laakko and their pets Frankie, Valo, Dewey, Marty, and the fish.

 

Advertisements

Length: 100 Pages

Publisher: Parallel Universe Publications

Release Date: November 12, 2017

The Crabian Heart follows 13-year-old Aleš and his mother Irena, who are on their own after Ales’ father was locked up in prison shortly after arriving in Dover, England after fleeing the Czech Republic. They are staying at The East Cliff Hotel temporarily while they wait for a decision on their asylum application. There they run into Zsofia, who is the owner of the hotel. She tells them that everything is taken care of for the duration of their application process and they receive a small weekly allowance for necessities. Zsofia tries to calm their fears about the father by telling him that they always detain the men of any families who come over.

Almost right away Irena doesn’t trust Zsofia, a character whose motivations remain murky for most of the novella. When Aleš tries to disagree because she appeared to be smiling, Irena said her smile was “thinner than a razorblade. And her eyes. It’s all in the eyes. They never lie, no matter how pleasant you pretend to be.” Aleš isn’t excited about his new home – the hotel lobby reeks of mothballs and the room has no VCR – but when he hears the screeching of seagulls, the prospect of living near the sea fills him with excitement.

All he wants to do is to take his mind off of the turmoil surrounding his life, so while his mother is running appointments, he convinces her to allow him to visit the beach by himself. While that seems like a small victory, it is a decision that will alter his life forever. It’s at the beach that he meets a frail girl named Enola, who answers Aleš’ questions with strange observations that hint that she is anything but an ordinary girl. They begin walking together and Ales sees a small, purple crab and Enola gives him the ominous warning to stay away from them because they are not what they seem. After his initial discovery of the strange crabs and an ocean that seems to shift colors at will, Aleš begins seeing weird things all over Dover.

Despite the fact that he thinks Enola is strange initially, it doesn’t take long for him to fall in love with her. He begins to use any excuse he think of to sneak out of his new apartment and spend the day with her. However, as Aleš begins to learn more about the town he is in and his mysterious new friend Enola, he learns that not everything is as it seems and that the new life he is trying to build is in grave danger.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Crabian Heart. There is plenty of horror and fantastical elements throughout, but at its core, The Crabian Heart is a story that almost everyone can relate to. It’s the story of two outsiders dealing with love, heartbreak, and the desire for acceptance. These are topics that touch everyone’s life in one way or another and I think that is what makes this story so engaging. I loved the dynamic that Hofstatter develops between Aleš and Enola. While there is numerous scenes that makes their story compelling, there are two short moments that perfectly capture their relationship. The first is when Aleš and Enola meet for the first time. There is a great line when she asks Aleš if he’s scared of her and he says no, wondering what would prompt her to ask him that question. She says “Because I’m different. People are scared of what they don’t know…or understand.” The other is when Zsofia is telling Aleš the heartbreaking story about her husband’s betrayal. He listens to her story and warnings about love, but tells Zsofia that Enola inspires him not to be afraid of the world and that when you invest your heart and soul into someone it changes you.

However, I did have a minor issue with parts of the story. Hofstatter never mentions why the family has decided to flee their home country and while it doesn’t significantly detract from the story, it feels like the story could have been enhanced if we had a little information on the Aleš’ family. It’s a short piece so I understand not wanting to bog it down with too much back story, but just a paragraph or two at most could have added another layer to this piece. Were they simply just seeking a better financial future? Were they involved in some kind of legal trouble? There is a small mention of their troubles in an exchange between Aleš and his mother where he asks if they will be safe and if “they” will be able to find them, and his mother reassures him by saying everything will be fine. That helps to a degree, but it still feels like something is missing.

Despite my wish for a little more development of the family dynamic, I loved the vibe of The Crabian Heart. It’s a coming-of-age tale mashed-up with some of the best parts of weird fiction. This story isn’t overly scary, in fact it’s more rooted in those feelings of love and the risks that come with it. But while The Crabian Heart may not have a heavy focus on outright scares, there are some pretty vivid and creepy scenes of body horror in the later half of the novella that are extremely well done.

While I thoroughly enjoyed The Crabian Heart, I think I felt more of a connection to the second story contained within called Fountain of Drowned Memories. This story opens with a man named Lorcan studying these amorphous stains that are on the ceiling in a room that he has been trapped in for some time. His thoughts are slowly eroding from his memory as he can’t remember when he first arrived in the room or the changes that happened to his body. The one thing that brings him any sort of relief from his waking nightmare is the fountain in his room. He submerges his head in the waters and it removes all negative thoughts from his mind. He feels he is being tortured in this place, but he doesn’t understand why he has been brought to this place. While the fountain brings him his only sense of relief in this hellish prison, he gets the sense that the fountain is stealing his memories. To make matters worse, he begins having frightening visions that seem to get worse with every passing day.

I don’t want to talk about too much of the plot of this story because it might spoil it for new readers, but I love the way Hofstatter manipulates reality in this story. He is able to keep the reader off-balance by forcing them to decide what is real. This is a heartbreaking story and a perfect complement to The Crabian Heart, creating a one-two punch of what I feel are Hofstatter’s strongest stories to date. This was an engaging collection that whips by at a frantic pace and is easily read in one sitting. Hofstatter has a new book coming out this year from Sinister Grin Press called TOROA and I’m looking forward to reading it and seeing what kind of dark visions he has cooked up.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Erik Hofstatter’s Official Website

Parallel Universe Publications’ Official Website

Purchase The Crabian Heart: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Parallel Universe Publications, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Erik Hofstatter

Erik Hofstatter is a dark fiction writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association. Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic, he roamed Europe before subsequently settling on English shores, studying creative writing at the London School of Journalism. He now dwells in Kent, where he can be encountered consuming copious amounts of mead and tyrannizing local peasantry. His work appeared in various magazines and podcasts around the world such as Morpheus Tales, Crystal Lake Publishing, The Literary Hatchet, Sanitarium Magazine, Wicked Library, Tales to Terrify and Manor House Show. Other works include The Pariahs, Amaranthine and Other Stories, Katerina, Moribund Tales and Rare Breeds.

BOOK INFO

Length: 112 Pages

Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing

Release Date: March 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Kristopher Triana’s Official Website

Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing’s Official Website

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

About Kristopher Triana

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

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

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

BOOK INFO

Length: 254 Pages

Publisher: Unnerving

Release Date: November 21, 2017

One of the best things about running a blog dedicated to horror fiction – and hell, just being a reader in general – is discovering new writers. One of the best and most rewarding feelings as a horror fan is reading a new author’s work and being blown away by their talent and the awe of discovering something cool. That is the exact feeling I got when I first sat down to crack open Mike Thorn’s debut story collection, Darkest Hours. I may have been a newcomer to Mike’s fiction, but I have long admired his “Thorn’s Thoughts” feature for Unnerving Magazine. So, when Mike reached out and asked me to check out Darkest Hours, I jumped at the chance.

Thorn’s Darkest Hours is a collection is a collection of 16 stories that run the gamut of the various horror sub-genres from bizarro to splatterpunk and everything in between. Just a few of the things you will find in Darkest Hours is alternate dimensions, deadly cults, ghosts, manipulations of reality, human monsters and so much more. I don’t want to spoil the unique journey Thorn has in store for readers with Darkest Hours, so rather than pinpoint every story, I selected some of my favorites.

“Mictian Diabolus” is one of the first stories in Darkest Hours and the one that really grabbed me and let me know I was in for one hell of a ride. A group of college-aged friends are enjoying their weekend partying and they decide to break into an old school that has a sinister past and urban legends surrounding it. Most of the group is excited and try to scare each other recounting spooky stories about “The Peeler”, the school’s old principal who was convicted of being a serial killer and committing horrible atrocities on students. but it doesn’t take long for them to realize that there is something very, very wrong with the school. “Mictian Diabolus” is a gore-soaked fright-fest that contains inspiration from 80’s style slasher movies with a dash of cosmic horror. Not only does Thorn come up with some seriously frightening scenes, I also love the atmosphere he crafts with this story, using the darkness and silence of the abandoned school to create a sense of tension and dread that doesn’t let up until the story is over. There are a lot of stories in Darkest Hours that were in the running for my favorite of the collection, but I have to go with my initial reaction of “Mictian Diabolus” being my personal favorite.

“The Auteur” – This story focuses on Cate and Simon. Cate is a woman who is filled with an encyclopedic knowledge of horror films who is constantly pushing Simon to stretch his boundaries and check out new films. While he loves her recommendations of classic horror films, but what he really wants to watch is the movies she has been working on. Cate says he isn’t ready, but Simon is persistent and eventually wears her down, getting her to agree to show him one of her films. However, Simon could never have imagined his request would have dangerous repercussions.

I have a feeling this story will resonate with a lot of horror fans who long for the nostalgia of VHS stores and the sort of conversations that would lead to some awesome discoveries. I also love the dynamic of Cate and Simon’s relationship, which is strictly platonic. It would have been easy to have Simon pine after Cate, but instead, their relationship is driven by their mutual love of all things horror. I also love the build-up in this story. I don’t want to spoil the contents of Cate’s film, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the reveal that Thorn unleashes. The scenes in Cate’s movies are wildly imaginative and chilling, slowly sneaking under your skin, just like they did to Simon. I also like how this is a very extreme example of the joy of watching horror films. Have you ever had that one movie that just scared the hell out of you or unsettled you to your core, and yet you couldn’t wait to watch another one? That’s the sort of tone this story carries. If you enjoyed J Daniel Stone’s brilliant “Vision II” from I Can Taste the Blood, you’ll definitely dig this story.

“Long Man” is an interesting story of a man who was haunted by this terrifying entity who lived in his mirror for most of his childhood on a fairly regular basis. The first sighting was when he was around six-years-old and the sightings began to occur like clockwork. Unable to sleep, the character’s life began to slowly descend into shambles. He tries telling his parents, who try to put his mind at ease at first, but eventually they think his obsession with the “Long Man” has gone too far. As an adult, he gathers the courage to tell his friend about his vision and that is when he makes a startling discovery – maybe the “Long Man” isn’t just a figment of his imagination. What I loved about this story was the unique slant on childhood fears and how those fears potentially translate into adulthood. I’m sure most of us had recurring nightmares as kids and imaginary monsters that frightened the living hell out of us before leaving them behind as we got older. What if these monsters were real? If they are real, where do they go once we have forgotten them? This story explores those questions with chilling results.

I also enjoyed the Fight Club-esque “Economy These Days”, the terrifying creature feature style tale “Fusion” and Thorn’s unique spin on the ghost story “Remembering Absence”. Thorn’s writing is excellent from beginning to end, but there were a few stories that didn’t quite work for me. One of those is the gross-out story “Hair”, which leads off the collection. “Hair” is the tale of Theodore, a manager of a metal T-shirt shop who has a very peculiar fetish that he does his best to keep secret. Throughout the story, Theodore’s obsession escalates until he reaches a point of no return. “Hair” is very effective in that it makes the reader squirm and has some very cool body horror scenes, but ultimately, it didn’t leave as much of an impression as some of the other stories in the collection. I had a similar experience with “Mired”, where Randolph discovers a strange blob in the storage area where he keeps all of his research and books. Like “Hair” I didn’t have any issue with the writing, the story just didn’t really fit my tastes.

The stories in Darkest Hours are outstanding, but I also feel like I should mention the awesome design work that Unnerving put together for this collection. While reading through Darkest Hours, it’s impossible not to notice the love and enthusiasm Thorn has for the horror genre whether it be films or books. That is wonderfully represented in Darkest Hours cover art, which is designed to look like a battered VHS tape from a store called”Verne’s Video”. I can’t stress enough how much I love this callback to the glory days of horror when discovery of movies and novels was passed down from one fan to another or through endlessly browsing shelves and snatching up whatever looked interesting. Sure, that still occurs to some degree, but it doesn’t quite feel the same. All I know is I definitely need to grab a physical copy!

Reading Thorn’s Darkest Hours was a real treat and considering the variety of styles on display, there is sure to be something for all horror fans in this collection. Thorn is an exciting new talent in the genre and I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Darkest Hours. I know I’m a fan and whether it’s more short stories, a novella or a novel, I can’t wait to see what Thorn comes up with next!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Mike Thorn’s Official Website

Unnerving Magazine’s Official Website

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

About Mike Thorn

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. He completed his B.A. with honors at Mount Royal University and his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Dark Moon Digest, Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id and Straylight Literary Arts Magazine. He co-authors the horror-themed series “Devious Dialogues” with A.M. Stanley for Vague Visages. Visit his website (mikethornwrites.com) or follow him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.

 

BOOK INFO

Length: 260 Pages

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Release Date: July 24, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Seeing Double is Karen Runge’s debut novel, coming from one of the best horror publishers around Grey Matter Press. This was one of the novels I was really looking forward to this year as I have been impressed with Runge’s writing ever since I read her story “Hope is Here” in the outstanding anthology Suspended in Dusk, which was edited by Simon Dewar. After that I was hooked, looking out for her short stories whenever they appeared in an anthology and then being blown away when I read her brilliant debut collection Seven Sins. While her talent is on evident display in her standalone stories, this collection is incredibly impressive and showcases her willingness to take risks with her stories. There were a few that utilized interesting structures that only added more power to her words. Needless to say when I caught wind of her debut novel Seeing Double, I could barely contain my excitement.

Seeing Double focuses on Ada and Daniel, a married expat couple living in Asia. They compliment each other perfectly and while many who encounter them would dismiss them as an average, run-of-the-mill couple, there is more to their relationship that meets the eye. Ada and Daniel harbor a dark secret, one that only they know of and they never share with anyone else. However, that all changes when Daniel meets Neven, a mysterious stranger that seems to share similarities with Daniel and Ada. The trio form a relationship built around mutual attraction and it isn’t long until Ada and Daniel share their secret with Neven. As their relationship grows and they push each other into increasingly extreme situations, their boundaries are put to the test and the only possible outcome is that their lives will never be the same.

Seeing Double is a character driven piece focusing almost exclusively on the three primary characters – Ada, Daniel, and Neven. Their lust and feeling of power and control are brutal to witness in that they have no regard for those that get trapped in their orbit. Runge breathes life into these characters by giving them rich personalities that are shaped by the trauma they experienced at various points in their lives. This is important because there is a heavy psychological element to this story and the tension that arises throughout the novel is dependent on the author’s ability to create realistic characters and Runge accomplishes that with ease. Ada and Daniel work well together, like a well-oiled machine. They are predators in every sense of the word, and the fact they have spent so much time together allows them to read each others cues and send each other messages non-verbally as to not alert their targets. While there is a section of the novel where a character mentions that past trauma did not necessarily get them to this point, there is no denying that each of these characters have been through some rough situations that certainly played a role in their current situations.

Ada had to deal with a lot of abuse and had a rough home life as well. Her father had met a new woman and Ada never felt comfortable around them, often catching looks exchanging between the two of them that seemed to indicate they tried to tolerate her in as few visits as possible. Ada never felt like her relationship with her parents were built on love, but rather a sense of disconnection and obligation. However, Ada’s parents would take her with them to bars, which was a pivotal moment in her life. Runge brings these scenes to life by showing a teenage Ada in the midst of adult situations that she should not be in and the creep factor of older men trying to take advantage of her. It’s these sort of encounters that led to Ada being fascinated with the combination of pain and love. She mentions that she had to battle her own will to become the woman she is now, altering herself in sometimes horrific and extreme ways.

Daniel’s transformation is a little harder to follow as his story comes together later, but he went through his own trauma and I’m sure that he became the person he is as a result of that. He exerts a level of control that portrays him as the alpha of their group.

Daniel is clearly more experienced than Ada and Neven. When he talks about what they do and begins to initiate Neven into their dangerous lifestyle, it’s clear that he views their actions with a sense of detachment. We see aspects of Ada’s life that indicate she was on a similar path to Daniel, but it was almost like Daniel was grooming her, leading her down the paths that he chose and not necessarily ones she would have traveled down alone. The same pattern shows up in Daniel’s relationship with Neven, but over time, Neven becomes even more extreme than any of them (including Neven himself) could have predicted.

A bulk of characters in fiction seem to fall neatly into a set framework of traditional relationships, wants, and desires, but Runge’s characters form a polyamourous relationship which sets the stage for some interesting character conflicts throughout the novel.

Ada is a confident, independent woman, but there is a scene early on when she first meets Neven that we see Daniel’s internal thoughts and it is like he is claiming her by saying “she’s still mine” as he watches them interact for the first time. Originally Neven wasn’t seen as an addition to their relationship, but the more they spend time together, the more Neven begins to become a fixture in the relationship dynamic between Ada and Daniel. While it seems there is love there, there are more than a few scenes where you get the sense that the men view Ada as almost secondary. Without going into spoilers, there is a scene where the three interact and it is like they are making decisions for her, without asking her what she is thinking. That dynamic isn’t always readily apperant, but continues through a bulk of the novel.

In between the straightforward narrative chapters, there are also sequences from the characters individual perspectives. What is interesting about these sections is that it appears the characters are at their most vulnerable and open up a lot more. Despite their seemingly normal outside appearances, this is where we learn some of their darkest secrets and desires and events that shaped them into the people they really are. Another interesting thing about these chapters is that at times, they are stripped of any sort of indicator on who exactly the person is talking to at that particular instance. As Ada, Daniel and Neven get closer together, they almost congeal into one person, dependent on each other to satisfy their needs and desires. You are able to piece together who is speaking at any given moment through context clues, but I thought it was interesting that the perspective was blurred and I wonder if it was an intentional choice to show their dependence on one another.

There is something captivating about Runge’s prose and some of that is on her display when she is talking about the country Daniel and Ada have chosen to call home. It seems that Daniel and Ada’s decision to live in a foreign country, away from those that they know places them in an almost sort of isolation. I get the sense that they love living there due to their activities, but that it also makes them feel sort of trapped. This is a great description: “The city as a whole was vast and ugly, its long history razed to a whisper as most of the older building were torn down, replaced with cheap mock-ups or garish modern structures. Even in the calm centre, it was a city insane with contradictions. Rickshaws and Lamborghinis. Neon lights and dusty lanterns. Prada shoes and broken feet. It’s beauty, when revealed, seemed sometimes almost accidental.”

Without spoiling too much of the novel, I have to applaud Runge for the rich layers and complexity of her narrative. There is no denying that these people commit evil acts with no remorse, but there is a definite arc to their story and they undergo radical transformations throughout the course of the novel.

Make no mistake about it, there are some really tough scenes in this book, and I think that is part of why it leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Runge doesn’t flinch at showing these damaged characters and the enormity of their actions. Runge not only explores the psychology of relationships, but also the devastating scars that abuse in all of its forms leaves behind.

I honestly struggled with how to tackle a review of this book. I realize that for various reasons, it may not be for everyone. There is a subtle supernatural element that slowly trickles into the novel until the end when it all comes to a head rather quickly, but that is not where the horror in this story originates. Seeing Double peers into the darkest depths of the human psyche and that can be pretty uncomfortable. That is what really drives this novel. I can’t point to one specific thing that made me fall in love with this book, but it definitely consumed me while I was reading it.

There is no denying that Runge is an exceptionally talented writer and reading her debut was a truly special experience. I love her writing style and the way she was able to truly dive into the psyche of her characters. Never once did I feel the story was dragging in any way and her skill to be able to hone in on three characters and make the reader lose themselves is admirable. If you’re not reading Runge’s work, as a dark fiction fan, you are doing yourself an extreme disservice. Runge has a powerful voice and there is no doubt in my mind that she is going to be a force in the genre. I was absolutely blown away by Seeing Double and I’m definitely going to be a life-long fan of her work. I have a feeling most of you reading this will be as well.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Karen Runge’s Official Website

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

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

About Karen Runge

Karen Runge is a horror writer, sometimes an artist, and teaches adults English as a second language. Several of her short stories have been published in her collection Seven Sins. And two of her short stories appear in Grey Matter Press anthologies Savage Beasts and Death’s Realm. Jack Ketchum once told her: “Karen, you scare me.”

BOOK INFO

Length: 105 Pages

Publisher: High Fever Books

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Review for the Broken Shells Blog Tour hosted by Confessions Publicity

Broken Shells is the latest novella from Michael Patrick Hicks and it follows Antoine DeWitt, a man who just lost his job as an auto mechanic and was already struggling to make ends meet. This is just the most recent of many blows life has dealt Antoine over the past few years. Anytime something good comes along in his life, it’s only a matter of time before it gets ruined. This was the only job he was able to get after being released from prison two years ago on a trumped-up possessions charge and the fresh start he was slowly building was washed away in one moment of anger. As Antoine trudges home to face his wife Chanelle, he is dreading her reaction to the news.

Antoine’s mailbox is always either junk or past due bills, so he grabs the latest stack mindlessly and makes his way up the stairs, where he can hear his son Helix crying before he even makes it to the door. When Chanelle sees the Money Carlo flier, Antoine immediately tells her its junk and to throw it away but she is already picking at the tabs. She begs Antoine to call the number when she sees a $5,000 prize staring back at her. Even though he knows deep down it is too good to be true, the fact that past due bills are piling up, he’s staring down the barrel unemployment and a delayed WIC check allow him to believe in the fantasy for one brief moment. Not to mention the only thing that saves him from being ripped limb from limb by his wife is the prospect of this magical money arriving on their doorsteps.

When Antoine steps onto Jon Dangle’s Chevy lot to redeem his ticket, he is hesitant to believe he is actually a winner, but slowly begins to muster up some hope. Against all odds, maybe, just maybe, the winning Money Carlo ticket isn’t a scam at all, but the first step towards turning things around for his family. What Antoine doesn’t know is that Dangle is a man of secrets and that the Money Carlo ticket is indeed a scam. Just not the sort of scam Antoine was expecting. That fateful afternoon finds Antoine in a world of trouble and sets the stage for Broken Shells and the wild, intense ride that plays out through the course of the story.

What really grabbed me about this novella was Hicks’ characters, particularly Antoine. Through anecdotes about his history and glimpses of his home-life struggles early in Broken Shells, Hicks effortlessly gets readers to establish a connection with Antoine. While my situation was not quite as dire as Antoine’s, I know I have been in situations where it seemed like nothing was going right and the only way out seemed to be some sort of miracle. Who hasn’t at times felt beat down, hopeless, or worried about finances? That’s why I think readers will connect with Antoine and picture themselves as being in that situation and what they would do to try to climb out of that cycle of desperation. Antoine is put through the wringer throughout Broken Shells and every time he finds himself in a hopeless situation, he thinks of Helix and Chanelle, and his love for them drives him forward. He realizes how much he loves them both, despite the frustration that plagued him due to their situation and all of that stress piling up. It only took going through hell to realize that maybe his life wasn’t as bad as he had originally thought. Even facing unimaginable horror, he vows that instead of allowing life to beat him down, he is going to do whatever he can to survive and make it back home and try to be a better man. Antoine isn’t without his faults as he did contemplate walking away from his family, but while some may not like that side of Antoine, it makes him a more vivid and life-like character. Overall, I thought his character arc was pretty satisfying.

Jon Dangle is an interesting antagonist because while he is someone you definitely grow to despise, his motivations and actions are more complex than simply being some deranged killer. While there is no denying that he is responsible for tons of horrific things in Broken Shells, in Dangle’s mind, he genuinely believes in the purpose of his actions and feels he is doing the right thing. He is also intelligent in the way he carries out his “responsibilities”, but his strength is in his ability to interact with people. As a car salesman, Dangle trained himself to be an expert at reading body language and making people feel comfortable. Using those techniques, Dangle knows that he has found an easy mark in Antoine, or so he thinks. Dangle is calm and collected under pressure. Even when he notices Antoine is cautious and waiting for the catch, Dangle’s expertise allows him to navigate the situation and lure him into a sense of security.

Hicks also does a great job with the various settings throughout his novella. Antoine’s neighborhood doesn’t have any streetlights as the kids busted them out with rocks or they were shot out by gang members. Fires were a regular occurrence as a past time as well, and as Antoine is walking home from the bus stop the night he was fired, he passes the burnt out husks of houses in his neighborhood. These scenes paint a vivid picture and serve to accentuate of hardships Antoine and his wife Chanelle face on a daily basis. Then there is Dangle’s lot, where a bulk of the story takes place and is a very interesting location. It is situated out in the middle of nowhere Michigan, off M-72, in an area that is mostly woods and farm land. The isolation of Dangle’s lot serves as an ominous warning that will instantly resonate with horror fanatics who know nothing good ever comes from a secluded location. Without venturing too much into spoilers, the details Hicks gives of the subterranean parts of Dangle’s property are terrifying and one of the strongest parts of the novella.

The hardest thing about reviewing Broken Shells is there is so much to dive into about why this novella is so good, but to do so would ruin the story for readers. What I can say is that there is some truly impressive set pieces in this about what lies beneath Dangle’s car dealership and the horrors that Antoine faces are pretty unique. There are some bone-chilling scenes in this one that I absolutely loved and Hicks does a great job of using numerous sensory details to paint a vivid, hellish picture in the reader’s mind. Trust me, you will know what scenes I’m talking about when you get to them!

I also have to give kudos to Hicks for the ingenious way he set up the plot for this story. I’m not sure if this is how he got the story idea, but how many times have you gotten those sort of giveaway cards in the mail only to throw them in the trash without a second thought? Hicks manages to take a harmless item that barely registers on our radar on a daily basis and use it as catalyst for an unimaginable horror. It may seem like a small detail, but the set-up provided an impressive originality to the story.

Broken Shells is a blood-soaked, tense novella that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of horror fans, especially those that dig an old-school feel in their novels. Hicks does a great job of building tension throughout the course of Broken Shells and that helps keep the story moving at a blistering pace that kept me riveted until the final page. I read this one in one reading session and I came away very impressed with this story. This was my first work from Hicks, but it definitely won’t be my last. I look forward to digging into some of his other works and highly recommend picking up a copy of Broken Shells.

Rating: 4.5/5

LINKS

Michael Patrick Hick’s Official Website

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

About Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of a number of speculative fiction titles. His debut novel, Convergence, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist. His most recent work is the horror novel, Mass Hysteria.

He has written for the Audiobook Reviewer and Graphic Novel Reporter websites, in addition to working as a freelance journalist and news photographer.

In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

BOOK INFO

Length: 256 Pages

Publisher: Quirk Books

Release Date: September 19, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Paperbacks from Hell is a nonfiction book from author Grady Hendrix and Will Errickson – who runs the excellent blog Too Much Horror Fiction – that tells the history of ’70s and ’80s horror fiction. When Quirk contacted me asking if I would be interested in reviewing this, I jumped at the chance. Besides having one of the coolest names for this sort of book, I was hooked by the cover which features vintage horror covers and an embossed title design that gives a nod to the paperbacks this book highlights. I have always been impressed with the quality of books that Quirk puts out, and between the design elements and the well-researched history from Hendrix, Paperbacks from Hell is another excellent addition to their catalog.

My introduction to the horror genre was through R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark which featured the unsettling, yet utterly terrific illustrations of Stephen Gammell. I remember when we would have free reading periods at school and we got to choose any book the teacher had available, kids would practically trample each other trying to get their hands on those books. I would spend as much money as my parents would give me to buy these books by the armful at the Scholastic Book Fairs that used to come once a year and that was what sparked my horror fiction obsession. Around that same time, I also found myself drawn to the weird, the unexplained and anything considered scary. I was diving into books about aliens, cryptids, hauntings, you name it. I was hooked and that love for horror and weird stuff also mirrored my love for reading, something that I think people should keep in mind when looking down on horror – or any genre – for that matter.

Paperbacks from Hell is sort of structured chronologically, but it’s mainly broken up into sections about the prevalent themes in horror at that time like satanism, creepy kids, animals, and serial killers just to name a few. The section that really surprised me the most was “When Animals Attack”. Sure, I knew of some of the big hitters like Cujo and Jaws and the animals that were most likely to make for prime horror antagonists – vicious dogs, massive bears, and other animals capable of inflicting large amounts of damage. What surprised me the most was the variety of some of these novels and the willingness to take just about any animal or insect and use them as the centerpiece of a horror novel. There were towering mantises, slugs, ants, or even moths. I mean, how exactly could moths be scary? Well, Hendrix is happy to let readers know.

I also enjoyed the section on V.C. Andrews because I grew up around her books. I had never read any of them, but my mom has just about every V.C. Andrews paperback available and I always saw her reading them. I never in a million years would have thought she was connected to the horror genre and it was interesting to learn not just about how her books fit into the genre’s history, but her life too. Had I known that I was sitting on a potential goldmine of gothic novels, I probably would have gotten into horror even sooner then I did.

Besides the incredibly entertaining take on horror fiction from Hendrix, one of the highlights of this book is the cover art that is included throughout. Many of the covers come from Errickson’s own personal collection, but the scans are extremely vivid and high quality and are given as much emphasis as the text which makes for a visually stunning and engaging book. Besides highlighting some of the noteworthy cover styles of the era, there is also some special treats in their for horror fiction fans that appreciate the cover art. This includes cover art that has never before been published (it was either scrapped or altered) and also previously unpublished sketches of horror covers. In edition to chronicling the books and writers that left their imprint on the genre, there are also sections that highlight some of the most prominent cover artists of the time with interesting nuggets of information throughout.

I’ll be honest, I’m young enough that a lot of these authors are completely new to me. I have heard of most of them, but have only read books from a select few. However, that is exactly why a book like Paperbacks from Hell is such an important book. Not only does it serve as an interesting look back at books that more experienced horror fans may know and love, it serves as an excellent primer for those who may not know of all the great and talented writers of past decades. I know from reading this book, it has ignited something inside me much like the first time I read the Goosebumps series. My eyes were opened to a variety of writers and now I am determined to go back and discover some of these authors. I’m also pretty obsessed at seeking out original copies of some of the novels mentioned within.

While the book is highly informative, make no mistake, this is not just a dry, blow by blow account of horror fiction’s history. Instead of reading like a rigid textbook, Hendrix imbues every page with interesting facts and humor that make this book highly entertaining. If you’re a horror fiction fan or someone who is looking to explore the genre for the first time, Paperbacks from Hell is an absolutely essential addition to your library. This is definitely one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year and if you know someone who is a horror fan, this would make a great gift for the holidays!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Grady Hendrix – Official Website

Too Much Horror Fiction

Quirk Books – Official Website

Purchase Paperbacks from Hell: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite local bookstore! 

BOOK INFO

Length: 73 Pages

Publisher: Self-published

Release Date: September 12, 2017

Review for the Blanky Blog Tour hosted by Confessions Publicity

I have been a huge fan of Kealan Patrick Burke’s work ever since I stumbled upon his original and haunting novel Kin. If you haven’t read that one yet, definitely check it out as I feel it is essential reading for any horror fan. That novel takes the well-worn horror idea – a family of cannibalistic killers –  and comes at it from the fresh, exciting angle of looking at what happens in the aftermath. I remember being completely blown away by Burke’s realistic characters and his exploration of their feelings of grief and revenge throughout the course of the novel. Despite focusing on the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, there is still plenty of scares found throughout Kin. Without spoiling it for those of you who haven’t read it, there is one scene in particular that has become pretty infamous among horror fans and is all but guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

While I could spend hours fawning over Kin, the reason I’m writing is the release of Burke’s latest novella BlankyThis novella focuses on Steve Brannigan, who is struggling to keep his life together after the tragic death of his infant daughter. He is estranged from his wife after the grief they both felt in the aftermath placed a strain on their marriage that drove them apart. Burke holds nothing back and starts Blanky with Steve giving a heartbreaking account of what it’s like to lose a child. Then Burke throws readers right into the story with one simple line, “That was the beginning of the end of my world. This is the rest of it.”

In the three months after his daughter’s death, Steve attempts to find comfort in the banality of every day life. Sewing on loose or missing buttons to all of his coats and watching old sitcoms to combat the isolation he has imposed on himself. Overdue bill notices begin piling up, but Steve just keeps pushing them off, unable to face the ever-growing pressure that threatens to crush him even further. He numbs his pain with whiskey and one day while he is in the middle of his usual routine, he hears a noise upstairs. He initially chalks it up to the changing seasons and the house’s age. As he continues to drown his grief with the bottle of whiskey, the noises continue, only this time it’s louder and sounds like something is being dragged. The noise fills Steve with fear as the sound seems to be emanating from what used to be Robin’s room and obviously he is the only one left in the house. Eventually his curiosity gets the better of him and he enters his daughter’s room for the first time since he and his wife packed everything up. What he sees turns his world upside down and brings all the grief he was feeling rushing back to the surface.

As the story progresses, Steve begins to have chilling nightmares that show his sanity is reaching its breaking point. I won’t get into those too much for fear of spoilers, but Burke conjures up some frightening images that steadily build a sense of dread throughout the rest of the novella. Make no mistake, there are some truly frightening moments throughout Blanky and plenty of weirdness, but the truly horrific moments of this novella come from the psychological elements that Steve and Lex battle throughout the story. Burke does an incredible job of exploring the crushing sense of loss that Lex and Steve feel after losing their daughter and all of the emotions that bubble to the surface throughout the course of Blanky as they attempt to cope with their grief. There are a ton of excellent scenes that illustrate this, but one of my favorites is early on when Steve calls his wife when he feels lonely, even though he feels their chances at getting back together diminishing with every passing day. The pain and awkwardness of suddenly being separated after many years together is shown through awkward phone calls, uncomfortable pauses and Steve’s internal monologues.

I have always loved the way Burke builds the atmosphere of his stories and in Blanky, the weather matches the gloomy mood that hangs over Blanky like a shroud. The first time Steve steps foot outside of his home, he is greeted by rain-slicked streets, dead leaves, jack-o-lanterns and a swirling, gray sky. Burke also cultivates a sense of isolation by sending his characters through the ringer. Aside from a few brief appearances from other characters, the bulk of the novella focuses on Steve and Lex and by keeping the focus of the story contained, it allows that sense of isolation to transfer to the reader, fully immersing them in the story.

Burke manages to take an ordinary item and attach an overwhelming sense of dread to it with the titular Blanky. Robin’s baby blanket is seemingly harmless, but leaves a path of devastation in its wake. It’s difficult to discuss Blanky without spoiling the adventure for other readers, but I will say that while it looks non-threatening, Blanky holds sinister secrets that are guaranteed to send shivers up and down your spine. Burke handles the twists and turns of this novella beautifully, leading readers down a path strewn with mystery and surprises and even when you think you finally get some concrete answers, there are little reveals that make you question your own view of the story.

Blanky is a devastating novella that utilizes emotion, atmosphere and outstanding characterization to create a truly haunting story. I remember when I read the synopsis, I knew this story was going to hit me hard. I’m a new parent and I couldn’t imagine a more terrifying scenario than the one Steve and Lex face in Blanky. Burke did not disappoint as Blanky messed with my emotions and kept me glued to the pages, reading it in a single sitting and feeling like I took a sucker punch to the gut. There are a lot of similarities that can be made to his previous release Sour Candy, which was something that I thought was kind of cool. Without delving into spoilers, there are a few scenes in Blanky that seem connected to Sour Candy, but I’m not sure if that was Burke’s intent or just my wishful thinking. Blanky is an excellent addition to your Halloween reading lists and is definitely one of my favorite novellas of the year.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Kealan Patrick Burke’s Official Website

Elderlemon Design (Kealan’s design company for book covers, banners, etc)

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

 

About Kealan Patrick Burke

Born and raised in a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke knew from an early age that he was going to be a writer. The combination of an ancient locale, a horror-loving mother, and a family of storytellers, made it inevitable that he would end up telling stories for a living. Since those formative years, he has written five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and edited four acclaimed anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella The Turtle Boy.

Kealan has worked as a waiter, a drama teacher, a mapmaker, a security guard, an assembly-line worker, a salesman (for a day), a bartender, landscape gardener, vocalist in a grunge band, curriculum content editor, fiction editor at Gothic.net, and, most recently, a fraud investigator.

When not writing, Kealan designs book covers through his company Elderlemon Design.

A number of his books have been optioned for film. You can find him at www.kealanpatrickburke.com.

BOOK INFO

Length: 306 Pages

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review 

Grey Matter Press has been one of my favorite independent publishers of dark fiction since the founding of The Horror Bookshelf. They were one of the first publishers I discovered since diving back into the world of horror fiction headfirst and it was around the time of the release of their debut anthologies Dark Visions – Volume 1 and Dark Visions – Volume 2. The thing that impressed me the most about those two anthologies was their eye for great talent as their first two anthologies were filled with recognizable names, but also one’s that were relatively new to me. It was clear they put a lot of work and love into their projects as these works were of extremely high quality in both the stories they contained and the design elements. Grey Matter Press has since branched out into the world of novels, their first being John C. Foster’s chilling and original Mister White. The good news for Grey Matter Press fans and fans of dark fiction in general, is the Chicago-based publisher has at least three novels coming out this year.

The first one to hit the streets is Chad Stroup’s Secrets of The Weird, a novel that has drawn comparisons to Clive Barker’s darker fantasy work, but honestly, defies easy description. Secrets of the Weird doesn’t exactly follow a linear approach in terms of the narrative of the story, but it works extremely well and enhances the story and allows for a vivid and personal look into the life of the main character Trixie. It alternates between the present (which if I remember correctly, is like 1991 or 1992 in the novel) and Trixie’s Diary entries from the late ’80s. Not only does the timeline remain fluid throughout much of the story, the point of view often switches between Trixie, members of the Civilized Cannibals, the Angelghoul and a few others.

At the opening of the novel it is the two-year anniversary of the death of Dr, Dorian Wylde, a former plastic surgeon who has developed a bit of a cult following after creating the “miracle” diet drug Witherix. This cult has been taking to the street looking for converts to follow their strict rules regarding weekly fasting and abstaining from the drug Sweet Candy that has been sweeping through the streets of Sweetville.  While sitting at home watching the news reports, Trixie notices a curious man who has somehow got into her apartment undetected and is sitting on her couch. He introduces himself as Kast, a self-made surgeon. He is short and despite the fact he broke into her home, seems eerily calm, making himself at home and even asking her for some wine. He has an accent and a rasp to his voice between a whistle and a gargle. Stroup comes up with a funny, accurate portrayal of Kast by saying he looks like a low-rent Augustus Gloop. This man knows a shocking amount about her life, which sets Trixie on edge. He says he is there solely to offer her a proposition, a deal from his business partners in Lower Sweetville. While Kast and Trixie don’t have many interactions throughout the novel, this initial meeting kickstarts the events of Secrets of the Weird and lurks in the background of Trixie’s journey throughout the novel.

This is also the scene that introduces the Withering Wyldes, people who are abnormally thin and almost indistinguishable from one another as they have transitioned into something entirely new. They are tall at six feet and have emaciated frames and although they are almost insectile in appearance, there is also a small resemblance to vampires as well. There is another scene where they are filming a commercial that is sort of bizarre. While filming, we are introduced to a young man named William Ekkert, who has a knack for languages and is able to understand the Wyldes. It also seems they are bent on converting the world to follow their beliefs.

Entries from Trixie’s diary break up the main narrative of the novel, but they offer important and illuminating insights into Trixie’s life and what has shaped her into the person she is in Secrets of the Weird. The first one finds her at 15 where she first realizes that she needs to abandon the name Thomas. It also chronicles her first relationship with a boy named Aron, who goes to Sweetville West. She hasn’t told him The Truth, but suspect he knows as at this stage in her life, she isn’t far into her transition as a woman. This relationship makes your heart ache for Trixie as she just wants to be loved but it is clear she has to deal with prejudice every step of the way. In one simple line, Stroup is able to give reader’s a glimpse into the sadness that Trixie faces in her relationships. “I’m not super passable yet, but as long as no one’s really paying attention to us he doesn’t mind hanging out with me in public.” Aron will show her affection and take her on dates, but makes it clear it needs to be somewhere where his friends will not recognize him. When she decides to surprise him at school one day when he is with his friends, he disowns Trixie and says hurtful things to her and abuses her to protect his own pride. This is just one of many entries in Trixie’s diary that are emotionally raw and serves as a brilliant way for Stroup to make Trixie’s character come to life. The further you get in the novel, reader’s will undoubtedly feel a connection with Trixie and be rooting for her to find the happiness that she not only desires, but deserves.

While Stroup’s concept and creation of the Withering Wyldes is interesting and is what initially caught my attention and made me want to read this book, the real strength is the characters that he has created. There is a pretty well-rounded cast of characters, but the stars of the novel – and by far the strongest characters that readers will be attracted to the most – are Trixie and Christopher. It’s important for literature and other media to offer representation for everyone and often there are few main characters in any popular media that represent anyone who isn’t straight. Stroup’s portrayal of Trixie is phenomenal and though I could never truly know what it feels like to be trapped in the wrong body, I think Stroup’s depiction is probably pretty spot on. Trixie is incredibly strong and confident in her daily life, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel insecure at times or unhappy about her body. However, that all changes when she meets Christopher and the sections that focus on their relationship are the best part of this novel in my opinion. As I mentioned before, I was initially attracted to this book for the “weird” elements, as I started reading my main focus was on their relationship. Stroup paints a very realistic portrayal of their relationship and without spoiling it for anyone, I think the issues they face and the course of their relationship is pretty close to what would happen if they were real people.

Christopher was seeing a woman named Cypress Glades, a Nazi sympathizer, earlier in the novel. Christopher Faith knows being with her goes against everything he stands for, but he can’t help himself. Cypress is far from a wannabe, and is unabashed about her brutality. While it is easy to see her as an extreme caricature, the sad reality is that these sort of people exist. When Christopher said he met someone else, this sends Cypress over the edge, as she has to be the one in control, the one to end things and the power that comes with it. She also is enthralled with Dr. Wylde’s work, particularly his views that certain people could take full control of their body – skin color, complexion, etc. She is able to get it to work for her, using it to attract any man she desires. She is so obsessed with her appearance and the Aryan lifestyle, that she even applies caustic bleach to her face.

Then there is Samuel, who is portrayed as a crusty punk figure, but it is all an act. He uses his outfit to disarm people and infiltrate the underground scene of Sweetville. Despite the fact that he is just acting, he is obsessed with authenticity, ripping up his posters and dirtying up his stuff to appear that this is who he really is. He infiltrate the local hardcore scene as a way to earn respect and also find new customers and to pray on those who were searching for anything to solve the issues in their lives. Samuel also has a secret – He is The Angelghoul. He has body issues as he is uncomfortable letting people see him without clothes as his nubs growing on his back serve as a reminder that he is not yet the person he wants to be. He works with Kast, who supplies him with Sweet Candy, and begins giving him some laced with Witherix. He was bestowed the nickname Angelghoul when he was 25 and leads a cult of sorts known as the Eaters. He eats flesh and encourages others to do the same, promising it will lead to enlightenment and allows him to reach a meditative state that allows him to understand the world. He is also able to peer into the minds of those he feasts off of and can learn their true selves and secrets.

I love how Stroup introduces these characters to each other and the subtle ways he links them to one another without explicitly mentioning their connection. I’m not sure if this is just a factor of them all running in similar circles or a conscious decision on Stroup’s part, but it adds another level of enjoyment to the overall story as readers discover these clues sprinkled throughout the story. Stroup also does a great job in bringing the city of Sweetville to life. Trixie lives in the heart of the city and a few simple sentences bring the city’s vibrancy to life. Fluorescent lights from bustling night clubs and small shops that are open all night that anyone who has lived in or near a city can conjure up in their minds. It is also bustling with an eclectic group of people and seems to focus on the gritty, uninhibited subculture of the city’s hardcore scene which comes to life thanks to Stroup’s musical background. I also think it was interesting how the story is set in the 90s, but it doesn’t feel like it is set in the past. It’s little details like a scene of Bill Clinton’s inaugural address playing on TV that help anchor the story in this time period, but without making it feel dated.

Besides the great story that makes up the heart of Secrets of the Weird, I thought the extra touches Stroup added into the novel itself and associated with the novel really helped elevate this novel into something special. Throughout there are advertisements, letter excerpts, set lists and other ephemera scattered throughout that are all well done and add a level of reality for the reader that brings them into the strange city of Sweetville that Stroup has created. I have also always been a huge fan of DIY music whether it be indie rock, punk rock, hardcore or any other genre of music, so I thought it was awesome that Stroup recorded an actual demo tape for the Civilized Cannibals. It’s a brilliant way to add another element to the story and on top of that the songs are pretty damn good! I actually ordered one of the limited cassettes, which were put together really well. If you would like to check out the music and get acquainted with the Civilized Cannibals either before you read the novel or after, you can check them out on Bandcamp.

The only complaint I have with Secrets of the Weird is that I felt the storyline that revolved around the Withering Wyldes didn’t really go anywhere. As I was reading, I got the impression that there was something ominous about their presence and that their agenda would be a focal point of the novel. While they do show up quite a bit, I just felt like their purpose in the novel was a little unclear and they just kind of faded into the background as the story progressed. Despite this, Stroup’s Secrets of the Weird is a wildly imaginative novel that is a must read for any dark fiction fan that is looking for something a little different. There is no denying Stroup is a talented new voice and his outstanding character development and willingness to experiment within the horror and fantasy genres have definitely made me a fan. I look forward to following Stroup’s future work and highly recommend grabbing a copy of this brilliant debut novel.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Chad Stroup’s Blog

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

Website for Secrets of the Weird

Purchase Secrets of the Weird: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Grey Matter Bookstore or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore! 

About Chad Stroup

Chad Stroup’s dark short stories and poetry have been featured in various publications. Secrets of the Weird is his first novel.

Stroup received his MFA in Fiction from San Diego State University. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association and the San Diego Horror Professionals, and he dearly misses playing music.

BOOK INFO

Length: 279 Pages

Publisher: Sinister Grin Press

Release Date: March 15, 2017

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the Exorcist Falls Blog Tour

Exorcist Falls is the sequel to Janz’s novella Exorcist Road, which was originally released through Samhain Horror and appears in print again in this Sinister Grin edition. Exorcist Falls kicks off with the original novella, which is great for people like me that missed Exorcist Road the first time around or those who wish to re-read it to experience the story as a whole. Exorcist Falls draws inspiration from the towering classics that started America’s fascination with possession stories William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist and Legion and starts with a quote from The Exorcist. 

Exorcist Falls opens with a priest detailing the history of a heinous killer known as the Sweet Sixteen Killer. He was never captured, but his murders were legendary, the damage inflicted on his victims indicated someone who possessed a lot of strength. The killer’s brutality and the fact that he is still prowling the streets has plunged the city into chaos. The priest almost seems to be unburdening himself of a terrible trauma and tells his story confessional style. He is Jason Crowder, a 29-year-old priest who is worried about people discovering that he is a coward. He became a priest not because of a great calling from God or to seek redemption for past sins, but because he was afraid of the world. He mentions he fell in love with a married woman named Liz, but first he must tell readers about a storm-swept night, when officer Danny Hartman showed up on his doorstep and asked for his help with a situation that proved to be the greatest test of both of their careers.

He tells Father Crowder to bring a Bible and anything else he may use in an emergency, which gives him pause. The emergency takes place on Rosemary Road, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Chicago. As they are driving to the scene, it becomes clear to Crowder that something is greatly upsetting office Hartman. He learns the emergency is at his brother Ron’s house and that they had to lock up their 14-year-old son Casey in his room. He is one of the nicest kids you will meet, but there is something off about him. He attacked his own family, all of them looking beat up and sporting injuries that seem out of proportion for a young teenagers strength. He learns that his mentor Peter Sutherland has also been summoned to the home, which puts Crowder on edge. Danny’s partner Jack thinks that Casey is the Sweet Sixteen killer. Casey seems to have intimate knowledge of the Sweet Sixteen Killer’s crimes, but how could someone so young and seemingly innocent have this kind of first hand knowledge? While Crowder and Sutherland try to figure out a way to save Casey, they also contend with the mystery of the Sweet Sixteen Killer and are plunged into a horrific scenario that will test their faith.

By far the best scenes in this novel occur when Crowder and Sutherland are trying to exorcise the demon from Casey. Janz crafts vivid scenes that place readers right in the room and it isn’t a stretch to imagine the horrors that Crowder and Sutherland had to deal with. I could literally quote entire pages of these scenes to illustrate how great they are, but here’s a short one that describes Casey’s appearance: “The bones as malleable as a serpent’s. Black ichor has begun to seep from the thing’s mouth. It’s rapier teeth grin savagely through the viscous liquid, which reeks like boiling sewage.”  The demonic presence in this story is pretty damn frightening and even when it appears to have been subdued, it is able to slowly turn the characters against one another and attempts to use intimate knowledge it gleans from each of them to try to divide their ranks. While they went in as a united force, it doesn’t take long for cracks to appear and those scenes offer a change for Janz’s characters to stand out.

Exorcist Falls definitely puts a unique and new spin on the possession story genre, particularly in the second half. The way Janz chooses to continue the story is something I haven’t really seen done before. There is also a tense scene early on in this portion of the story that could have easily boxed the story into a corner, but Janz finds a clever way to continue the narrative and also somehow up the stakes of the last novel. Janz creates a cast of believable characters and does a great job especially with his portrayal of Ron. Right away, Ron comes across as arrogant, egotistical, and not very likable. Janz does a great job of conveying that through numerous scenes and that is where his character work shines. You can’t help but feel this guy’s arrogance ooze from the pages. Sutherland comes across as very authoritative and it is clear why Crowder is so impressed by him. Danny is an excellent character and without giving a lot away, he was the one I was the most impressed with. Janz does an incredible job making this character well-rounded and more than meets the eye. Janz also does a stellar job with Crowder’s character and throughout the course of these two novellas, he is put through the wringer but he never gives up. He struggles with doubts and his own abilities, but in the face of unimaginable horror and overwhelming odds, he is able to remain strong. However he does undergo a drastic change in Exorcist Falls, one that he struggles to reconcile with his personal beliefs.

While possession stories are a staple of the horror genre and have woven themselves into the fabric of society, I was never big on them. Sure, I can appreciate The Exorcist and other great stories that have used possession as a focal point of their plot, but they never really scared me or left any sort of lasting impression. However, that has changed with Janz’s Exorcist Falls. As a whole, it is a very strong work. While Exorcist Falls does have a few minor issues, I believe that Exorcist Road is a stone cold horror classic, worthy of stacking up among many of the greats. I remember when I first sat down to read Exorcist Falls and multiple times once the action really started picking up, I found myself stopping where I was and shaking my head because I couldn’t  believe the diabolical evil that Janz was able to conjure up. I kept telling my wife she needed to read it and knowing she probably wouldn’t get around to it, couldn’t help but describe the scenes I was reading. This is a book that I still can’t stop talking about and recommending to people, months after I first read it.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention that the demon occupying Casey Hartman’s body is beyond evil and Janz does not hold back in the slightest with his portrayal of the demon that has taken up residence inside the boy. He says some truly vile things to rile up those present, and I honestly didn’t see that level of savagery coming. The highest compliment I can give this book considering my lukewarm reaction to most possession stories is that it provided me with enough nightmare fuel to last ten lifetimes. I am relatively new to Janz’s work and I’m still working my way through his back catalog, so I could be way off base, but in my opinion this is his most brutal work to date. I usually don’t comment on endings in my reviews, but this is one that needs to be read to be believed, I was left stunned!

Exorcist Falls is definitely one of my favorite works from Janz and in my opinion is an essential addition to your horror library. This story is packed with plenty of horrifying scenes, deliberate character work and a relentless pace that doesn’t let up until the last sentence. Exorcist Falls is another brilliant work from Janz, who is hands down one of my favorite horror authors and there is no doubt in my mind this will be near the top of my year-end list.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Jonathan Janz’s Official Website

Sinister Grin Press Official Website

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

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Exorcist Falls! – #ExorcistFalls #ExorcistRoad #SweetSixteenKiller
#JonathanJanz #SinisterGrinPress

Exorcist Falls Synopsis

Chicago is gripped by terror. The Sweet Sixteen Killer is brutally murdering young women, and the authorities are baffled.

When the police are called to an affluent home in the middle of the night, they learn that a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy has attacked his family. The boy exhibits signs of demonic possession, and even more troublingly, he knows too much about the Sweet Sixteen killings. Father Jason Crowder, a young priest assigned to the case, must marshal his courage in order to save the boy and the entire city from the forces of evil.

But this is a darkness mankind has never encountered before. It craves more than blood. And it won’t rest until it possesses Father Crowder’s soul.

Jonathan Janz’s brand new release brings the original novella that started it all—Exorcist Road—and a brand-new full-length novel (Exorcist Falls) together for a shattering experience in supernatural terror.

Praise for Jonathan Janz

“A perfect choice for those missing old-school Stephen King.”The Library Journal on Children of the Dark

“A horror storyteller on the rise.” —Booklist

“One of the best writers in modern horror to come along in the last decade. Janz is one of my new favorites.” —Brian Keene

“Jonathan Janz is one of the rare horror novelists who can touch your heart while chilling your spine. His work offers incisive characters, sharp dialogue, and more scares than a deserted graveyard after midnight. If you haven’t read his fiction, you’re missing out on one the best new voices in the genre.” –Tim Waggoner, multi-published author

“Fans of old-school splatterpunk horror–Janz cites Richard Laymon as an influence, and it shows–will find much to relish.” – Publishers Weekly on Savage Species

About Jonathan Janz

Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, which explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows “the best horror novel of 2012.” The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, “reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story.”

Since then Jonathan’s work has been lauded by writers like Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Edward Lee, Tim Waggoner, Ronald Kelly, and Bryan Smith; additionally, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal have sung his praises. Novels like The Nightmare Girl, Wolf Land, Savage Species, and Dust Devils prompted Thunderstorm Books to sign Jonathan to an eleven-book deal and to give him his own imprint, “Jonathan Janz’s Shadow Side.”

His most recent novel, Children of the Dark, received a starred review in Booklist and was chosen by their board as one of the “Top Ten Horror Books of the Year” (September 2015-August 2016). Children of the Dark will soon be translated into German.

Jonathan’s primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author’s wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true.

You can learn more about Jonathan at www.jonathanjanz.comYou can learn more about Jonathan at www.jonathanjanz.com. You can also find him on Facebook, via @jonathanjanz on Twitter, or on his Goodreads and Amazon author pages.

Want to Feature?

If you’d like to feature Jonathan Janz or review Exorcist Falls, contact Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com.