Posts Tagged ‘review’


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


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 ( or follow him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.




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


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.”


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


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.


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


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! 


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


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, 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


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


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.


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


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 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


Length: 325 Pages

Publisher: Villipede Publications

Release Date: October 31, 2016

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 5/5


J. Daniel Stone’s Amazon Page

J. Daniel Stone on Twitter

Villipede Publications Official Website

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

About J. Daniel Stone

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

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


Length: 284 Pages

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Release Date: May 23, 2017

Review copy provided as part of A Life Removed Blog Tour by Confessions Publicity

I first discovered Jason Parent’s work after he contacted me to review a copy of his then latest novel Seeing Evil. I remember hearing nothing but great things about his writing, so I jumped at the chance to feature him on The Horror Bookshelf. After I finished Seeing Evil, I knew I was going to be a long time fan. The story centered around Michael Turcotte, a teenager who has been in foster care since his parents death when he was just an infant. He has a close bond with Major Crimes Detective Samantha Reilly who was on the scene and rescued him after his parents murder-suicide. Despite the trauma of his past, Michael is your average kid trying to make it through the trials of high school. He is a target for bullies and tries to keep to himself, but he is viciously attacked one day and the attack changes his life forever. After the attack Michael has a vision. It seems like a random dream brought on by the aftermath of his savage attack, but it feels all to real to Michael. Although Samantha doesn’t believe Michael’s visions are real initially, once they come true, she has no choice but to believe him. Michael’s visions eventually lead him and Sam into a dangerous quest for answers that brings them face to face with a ruthless killer. In Seeing Evil, Parent created a terrifying antagonist that still sticks out in my mind years after reading it and holding nothing back as he takes readers on an action-packed journey.

I also loved reading Unseemly and his recent collection Wrathbone, with the novella of the same name being one of my favorite in recent years. Parent shows a lot of versatility as an author, dabbling in many different genres and often blending them together to create something entertaining and unique. That sort of genre-bending is also found on display with A Life Removed, a thriller that has smatterings of horror woven into its DNA.

A Life Removed focuses on a city being held hostage by a killer who leaves a path of brutal destruction in their wake and sets all of the residents on edge. Sure, the town can be a little rough, but no one expected this level of brutality to take over their small community. Detectives Bruce Marklin and Jocelyn Beaudette feel the pressure to bring this crazed killer to justice, but they are left with little to go on as the killer’s ritualistic killings have claimed victims from all walks of life, which makes the killer increasingly difficult to catch. While they are the lead investigators on the case, Officer Aaron Pimental is thrust into the center of the investigation as well after stumbling across one of the killer’s early victims. His personal life is in turmoil and he never viewed himself as much of a cop, so his sudden elevation to a key figure on the task force places a lot of strain on him and makes him question what type of person he really is. As the clues start to fall into place, Aaron realizes that he has a very important choice to make and he along with Marklin and Beaudette are racing against time to put an end to these horrific murders.

Parent wastes no time hooking the reader as the novel kicks off with a scene of what happened to one of the first victims. Readers are introduced to Eliza, a woman who once had a bright future, but had all of her dreams stripped away by an addiction to cocaine that led her to a life of prostitution. As she is walking the streets she hears a man calling to her from a van that idled up to the curb. Eliza sees him as an easy mark, someone who reminds her of a 1950s-era crooner, good-looking and seemingly harmless. His charming demeanor sets off warning alarms in her mind, but she is fixed on her next hit so she buries her reservations deep inside. She gets in the van and that is when her nightmare starts and we get our first glimpse of the bloodthirsty killer that has decided to set up shop in Fall River. I liked the fact that Parent started the novel off from the victim’s perspective because it places the reader right in the middle of the action and sets the tone for the rest of the novel. Parent utilizes this approach a few times throughout the A Life Removed and each time it ratchets up the tension and makes for some memorable and engaging scenes.

The character work is excellent and Parent does a good job of bringing these characters to life not just through their appearance but also by revealing anecdotes about them and their mannerisms. Aaron isn’t what you would expect, he has a lot of demons in his past that start to come back to haunt him after he stumbles across the first victim. I don’t want to get into his past too much, but the scenes about Aaron’s life that are sprinkled throughout the course of the novel help generate a bit of mystery and make him an interesting character. Parent does some interesting things with Aaron’s story throughout the course of the book which takes him from being just a good character to a great one.

Detective Marklin seems like an arrogant jerk by almost every person he works with, aside from his own partner. However, there are a few scenes that show there is more to him than just being the department jerk, but that he deeply cares about people and protecting the community. While he is a pretty well-rounded character, there was potential to dive a little deeper into his past that I think may have made him stronger. Detective Beaudette is a great detective too who worked her way up rather quickly and while she can handle the rigors of the job, working homicide does take its toll on her. She reflects often that she is called to the scene after the bodies are already dead and just once she would like to save someone when they are still alive. Both her and Marklin both care about the communities they are sworn to protect, but their lives are different. Jocelyn still clings to some of her optimism and has a family to go home to whereas Marklin is more cynical and a bit of a loner. Their differences in personality and the way they use that to interact with each other when going over evidence makes them a highly effective team and also makes their chemistry realistic.

Considering this is a thriller based on a ritualistic serial killer, I think it goes without saying that A Life Removed is pretty dark. The descriptions of the attacks that occur throughout the story are brutal and Parent doesn’t hold anything back in these scenes. Without venturing into spoiler territory, there are a few scenes that are definitely not for the squeamish and will make you cringe. Parent creates a memorable antagonist in A Life Removed, because the thing that makes him the most dangerous has nothing to do with violence, but rather his charisma. That trait plays a large role in the events of the novel and the scariest part about it is something that has played out in the real world time and time again.

A Life Removed is an engaging thriller that will undoubtedly appeal to a wide readership. There is an intriguing mystery, a great cast of characters and some great plot twists. At first, A Life Removed reads like a standard thriller, but there comes a point where Parent shifts gears and takes things in a totally unexpected direction which helps it stand out. For horror fans, there is a bit of the “weird” sprinkled throughout that adds another interesting element to the story. I also enjoyed that this novel loosely ties into the Seeing Evil, as a familiar name makes a cameo appearance at one point in the novel and is set in the same fictional town of Fall River, Massachusetts. Parent has a lot of great books in his catalog, but I think that A Life Removed may be his best yet. Highly Recommended!

Rating: 4/5


Jason Parent’s Official Website

Red Adept Publishing’s Official Website

Purchase A Life Removed: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,  Red Adept Publishing or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

A Life Removed Synopsis

Detectives Bruce Marklin and Jocelyn Beaudette have put plenty of criminals behind bars. But a new terror is stalking their city. The killer’s violent crimes are ritualistic but seemingly indiscriminate. As the death toll rises, the detectives must track a murderer without motive. The next kill could be anyone… maybe even one of their own.

Officer Aaron Pimental sees no hope for himself or humanity. His girlfriend is pulling away, and his best friend has found religion. When Aaron is thrust into the heart of the investigation, he must choose who he will become, the hero or the villain.

If Aaron doesn’t decide soon, the choice will be made for him.

About Jason Parent

In his head, Jason Parent lives in many places, but in the real world, he calls New England his home. The region offers an abundance of settings for his writing and many wonderful places in which to write them. He currently resides in Southeastern Massachusetts with his cuddly corgi named Calypso.

In a prior life, Jason spent most of his time in front of a judge . . . as a civil litigator. When he finally tired of Latin phrases no one knew how to pronounce and explaining to people that real lawsuits are not started, tried and finalized within the 60-minute timeframe they see on TV (it’s harassing the witness; no one throws vicious woodland creatures at them), he traded in his cheap suits for flip flops and designer stubble. The flops got repossessed the next day, and he’s back in the legal field . . . sorta. But that’s another story.

When he’s not working, Jason likes to kayak, catch a movie, travel any place that will let him enter, and play just about any sport (except that ball tied to the pole thing where you basically just whack the ball until it twists in a knot or takes somebody’s head off – he misses the appeal). And read and write, of course. He does that too sometimes.

Please visit the author on Facebook at , on Twitter, or at his website for information regarding upcoming events or releases, or if you have any questions or comments for him.



Length: 416 Pages

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Release Date: June 27, 2017

Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Back when I first started The Horror Bookshelf I remember reading a novel of J.D. Barker’s called Forsaken, which totally blew me away. It was one of the books I received through a direct author request and I remember reading the synopsis and feeling intrigued at the premise of a famous novelist that slowly loses his grip on reality as he works on his novel Rise of the Witch, which was inspired by an antique journal that is hundreds of years old. Once I finished Forsaken, it was even better than I could have imagined, striking the perfect balance between full-blown horror and a more tense, atmospheric approach. I was totally mesmerized by that novel, which was one of the scariest I had read in some time. So when the opportunity came around to review his latest novel The Fourth Monkey, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Fourth Monkey is more of a psychological thriller, but it mines the same dark depths of the human psyche for inspiration that Forsaken did, making it a must read for fans of both genres. The Fourth Monkey opens with Detective Sam Porter receiving an early morning text from his partner Nash about an accident downtown that he swears Porter is going to want to see for himself. When he arrives on the scene, he realizes the reason Nash was so anxious for him to visit the crime scene is that the man appears to be the infamous Four Monkey Killer. The Four Monkey Killer was a vicious serial killer who terrorized the city of Chicago for over five years, brutally torturing his victims before he killed them. While investigating the crime scene, Porter and his partners realize that the killer was on his way to mail one of his signature packages – a white box tied with a black string – when he was hit by the bus. This means that the Four Monkey Killer had one final victim who may or may not still be alive somewhere in the city.  The man only had harmless, every day items in his possession including a dry cleaner receipt, a pocket watch and .75 cents in change. However, closer inspection revealed he was also carrying a diary, one that details his story in his own words. Detective Porter finds himself drawn into the mind of this psychopath, hoping it will provide some insight into the Four Monkey Killer’s motive and help them locate his final victim before it’s too late.

The characterization of this novel is stellar. Early in the novel when Porter realizes his wife Heather went out to run errands, he dials her number and reaches her voicemail which paints a vivid picture of her as a carefree woman who has an excellent sense of humor and probably helps keep Sam grounded. It is these minor moments, that when placed in the context of the entire novel, really make these characters shine. While there are a number of people who make up the Four Monkey Killer task force, Porter is the clear-cut leader and primary character of the novel. Early on Barker hints that there is more to Porter than meets the eye as many of the characters keep asking him how he is holding up, indicating something has happened to Porter that puts his mental state into question. While The Four Monkey Killer always seems to be one step ahead and is extremely intelligent, Porter is possibly the killer’s closest equal. There is a scene that highlights this perfectly. The task force stumbles on a crime scene where Porter mentions the man was probably alive for two days before his death. His coworkers ask how he could possibly know that, and he states the man was well-groomed and probably shaved once or twice a day, yet he has a few days of beard stubble. It is small moments like that where it becomes clear that Porter is a special investigator. For all of his skill as a detective, it is clear he is a bit old school when he doesn’t know what Twitter is.

There is also great chemistry between Porter and Nash and it is evident they have been partners a long time considering the ease in which they bust on each other throughout the novel. Nash seems to be a bit more reckless and quick with jokes, but Porter is able to hold his own in their verbal sparring matches.

Then there is The Four Monkey Killer, an antagonist whose presence looms over the entire novel. What makes him such an interesting character is that he is like a ghost, never leaving behind any clues other than the ones he wanted the police to find, like the boxes that he mailed to taunt his victims. He was highly intelligent and skilled as evidenced by the fact that he was able to toy with the cops for over 5 years without them even remotely coming close to capturing him. Most of his character development comes from the diary portions of the novel. It seems he is playing a game with whoever is reading it, taunting them to listen to his story and agenda. His opening entries seem to portray a normal home life and you almost begin to connect with him until he hints at a depravity that demonstrates he was unhinged from an early age. Just like Porter, reader’s are thrust into the personal thoughts of a psychopath who details exactly how he transformed into the figure everyone refers to as the Four Monkey Killer.

I thought it was an interesting choice to have the Four Monkey Killer’s story largely play out through the scenes from his personal diary. Often with stories that focus on serial killers, whether they take place in novels or film, the events unfold after the person has already made the choice to unleash their darkness and violence on society. The Fourth Monkey takes a different approach and focuses largely on the events that shaped what could have been an ordinary kid into a savage killer. I don’t want to spoil any of the details, but let’s just say that the Four Monkey Killer’s formative years were anything but normal and it’s no surprise he turned out the way he did.

I also thought it was interesting to have the book pick up with the death of the Four Monkey Killer, which isn’t a spoiler considering it is part of the back copy. A lot of times thrillers work with the killer still on the loose and the cops slowly gathering clues and going through a variety of suspects before finally arriving to a final showdown of sorts. This story sort of works in reverse of that, the novel instead picks up with the killer already dead and the police trying to unravel his motives and get into his mind to try to save his final victim. That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of twists and turns involved in this novel, as Barker has plenty of surprises up his sleeve for readers. Just when you think you know where the story is going, Barker throws you a curve ball.

There are a lot of things to love about The Fourth Monkey, but one thing that stands out is something that also stood out with his debut novel Forsaken. Throughout the course of the novel, Barker shifts between chapters (mainly from Sam’s point of view, but sometimes other detectives) focusing on the police investigation and that of The Four Monkey Killer’s diary. A lot of times this can cause the entire pacing of a novel to fall apart if not done correctly, but Barker avoids these pitfalls by placing them at strategic points of the narrative and also by making each story line compelling in its own way. It’s almost like you get two novels for the price of one and honestly, the diary portions of the story could have made for a compelling novel in their own right. The result is perfect pacing that keeps the novel from hitting any lulls. Another minor yet highly effective structural choice is that near the end of the novel, Barker utilizes short, punchy chapters to help ratchet up the tension which snares the reader in a web of excitement.

Although it is only a small detail, I loved the casual mention of Thad McAlister from Forsaken throughout the novel. It could just be a casual nod to fans of his work, but a part of me wants to believe that it’s part of something larger at work, that perhaps the two stories take place in the same fictional universe.

The Fourth Monkey is being described as Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs and that is a pretty accurate comparison. The novel doesn’t necessarily borrow heavily from either of those works, but there are some similarities that fans of those works will appreciate. Make no mistake about it, there is some truly dark and disturbing moments in The Fourth Monkey. Without getting into spoiler territory, I will just mention that there are a few scenes featuring rats that may make your skin crawl. The Fourth Monkey is a chilling thriller that is compulsively readable and offers up plenty of twists and turns that make it an essential addition to your summer reading list.

Rating: 5/5


J.D. Barker’s Official Website

Find J.D. Barker on: Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads

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


To celebrate the release of The Fourth Monkey, J.D. Barker is holding two pretty cool contests for people who purchase a copy of the novel. The first is the chance to win one of three draft copies, featuring handwritten notes and different story elements from the finished novel. Here is the link to the contest which will give you the full details on what you need to do to win! Enter to win one of three draft copies of The Fourth Monkey!

The next is a chance to appear as a character in J.D. Barker’s next novel. Here is a link with details on how to enter that contest.

About J.D. Barker

J.D. Barker (Jonathan Dylan Barker) is an international bestselling American author who’s work has been broadly described as suspense thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction, and the supernatural. Barker splits his time between Englewood, FL, and Pittsburgh, PA, with his wife, Dayna.