Book Review: HOUSE OF BLOOD by Bryan Smith

My first introduction to Bryan Smith’s writing was his short story “Pilgrimage” in the Welcome to the Show anthology. After reading that, I knew I wanted to check out his novels. I’ve had House of Blood on my shelf for a while, and I couldn’t have picked a better time to read this one. I was wallowing in my emotional wreckage during the holidays, listening to and reading stories that made me cry. Everyone knows that I love to experience “all the feels” when I read, but sometimes one just needs a break. I decided that I’d read at least one book that might not make me cry, and this was that selection.

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I was not disappointed by this story—it had all the makings of an entertaining piece of horror fiction. I’ll admit, when I read the synopsis, I was intrigued, but it had me thinking the story might be similar to those I’ve experienced in movies such as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Wrong Turn”. While I would’ve been happy reading a common tale of backwoods terror, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this story had a unique premise and a lot more substance than expected.

House of Blood is not just a slasher story about friends who wander into the wrong place at the wrong time—there is a lot more to the story than what’s at the surface. I really felt like I was watching a great horror film while I was reading this. I thought that the pacing was well done, as there are minimal lulls in the action. While I didn’t personally connect with any of the characters, I definitely found myself rooting for some of them to make it out alive, and I enjoyed the dialogue. Overall I thought this novel had great balance—there’s plenty of sex, violence, and gore, but it’s not all thrown in the reader’s face at once. The author also gives just enough detail—it’s straight to the point without bogging down the story or boring the reader.

This was just the type of book I needed to shake up my reading, and at this point, there’s a lot more room on my shelf to explore the splatterpunk and extreme horror subgenres. I am excited to read more from Bryan Smith in the near future!

4/5 stars

TOP 25: My Favorite Reads for 2019

This year has flown by in a blur—I can’t believe it’s nearly over. As most of you know, I’ve dealt with personal tragedy this year. I don’t want that to be the focus of this post, but it has overshadowed most of the last six months of my life, and leads me to what I want to mention next. Through the darkness there have been some moments of light along the way, and many of those moments have come from the horror community. The friendships that I’ve developed, and the books that I’ve read along the way have provided moments of happiness despite my disposition. Consider this my official “shout-out” to the friends and the books who have brightened my days in 2019.

I know you can all relate when I speak of books I want to hug. The following books are on my “2019 Favorites” list for that reason and much more. When I was narrowing down this list, I asked myself “Which books am I still thinking about to this day?”. These are the Top 25 that are still on my mind, listed in no particular order. All of these books were 4 or 5 star ratings for me. Some of them were published prior to 2019. If you’re curious to know more on my thoughts, you can check back on this blog or my GoodReads page for the full reviews.

 

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  • WALK THE DARKNESS DOWN by John Boden
  • OUT BEHIND THE BARN by John Boden and Chad Lutzke
  • THE SAME DEEP WATER AS YOU by Chad Lutzke
  • CATTYWAMPUS by Robert Ford and John Boden
  • RATTLESNAKE KISSES by Robert Ford and John Boden
  • MASS HYSTERIA by Michael Patrick Hicks
  • WHAT DO MONSTERS FEAR? by Matt Hayward
  • BRAIN DEAD BLUES by Matt Hayward
  • VARIOUS STATES OF DECAY by Matt Hayward
  • A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS by Robert Ford and Matt Hayward
  • WELCOME TO THE SHOW (various authors; curated by Matt Hayward, edited by Matt Hayward and Doug Murano)
  • BLOOD CRAZY by Simon Clark
  • CLICKERS by J.F. Gonzalez
  • INNER DEMONS by Robert Ford
  • THE GOD BENEATH MY GARDEN by Robert Ford
  • EXORCIST FALLS by Jonathan Janz
  • THE DARK GAME by Jonathan Janz
  • COYOTE SONGS by Gabino Iglesias
  • AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE by Gwendolyn Kiste
  • IN THE SCRAPE by James Newman and Mark Steensland
  • REMAINS by Andrew Cull
  • LULLABIES FOR SUFFERING (various authors; edited by Mark Matthews)
  • GRIND YOUR BONES TO DUST by Nicholas Day
  • LITTLE PARANOIAS by Sonora Taylor
  • ON THIS, THE DAY OF THE PIG by Josh Malerman

 

 

 

Book Review: RESISTING MADNESS by Wesley Southard

A few months ago, I read and enjoyed Wesley Southard’s novella One for the Road, so I was excited when I heard about the release of his current collection, Resisting Madness. Let’s start with discussing the cover of this book—it’s an eye-catching piece of work, made to look like an 80’s era VHS. The cover immediately drew me in and set the tone for the stories inside.

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This collection contains a solid mix of writing, with pieces ranging from flash fiction to novella-length. I liked all of the stories in this mix, but there were definitely some standouts for me among the bunch. My favorites varied in length and topics, and I think that Southard does a great job of entertaining the reader no matter how many words are contained in the story. Some of the flash fiction pieces really packed a punch in a few pages.

My Top 5 in this collection are:

CONFUSION IN SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: I had the pleasure of reading this story in the “Midnight Rituals” chapbook, and I really enjoyed it. It was another favorite among this bunch. It’s one that left me surprised and it’s hard to forget. I think this qualifies as flash fiction, and it’s a great example of a short story that leaves an impression on the reader within just a few pages.

HOME INVASION: this was a novelette co-authored with Nikki McKenzie, and I really enjoyed it. This one delivers a solid sense of dread and creepiness.

ARREARAGES: a memorable little tale of revenge; it’s cringe-worthy in the best way, and I won’t say more because it’s a short one and I don’t want to ruin it.

HE LOVES ME NOT: a flash fiction story and just a fun, creeptastic read—this one is unique.

RESISTING MADNESS: the title piece is a novella, and I thought it was great placement to finish out the collection with this story. I think this was my favorite story in the collection. I found myself steadily flipping the pages, eager to read what was coming next.

Wesley Southard has a unique voice and does a great job creating memorable stories. The characters and dialogue stand out and allow for these tales to stick in the reader’s mind. Even if you can’t find a relatable character or one to connect with in this collection, you won’t easily forget them. I also enjoyed the little bits of humor sprinkled into some of the stories. I’ve got another of this author’s books on my shelf and I look forward to reading that one soon, along with whatever else comes next.

4/5 Stars

Publisher: Death’s Head Press

 

Note: I received an advance copy of this title for review consideration.

Book Review: BEAUTIFUL SORROWS by Mercedes M. Yardley

I absolutely loved Mercedes M. Yardley’s novella featured in the Lullabies for Suffering anthology. I found it so beautiful and heart wrenching that I immediately wanted more. Lucky for me, I had a copy of her collection Beautiful Sorrows already on my TBR cart.

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The stories in this collection cover a wide range of topics and the writing is truly unique. Some stories made me laugh, others made me smile, and a few brought a tear to my eye. I love when a novel or short fiction collection can take me through a whole range of emotions. My top 5 stories in this collection were:

-BIG MAN BEN (overall favorite and one of the longest in the bunch. This story made me feel things.)

-HEARTLESS

-WINGS

-AXES

-THE BOY WHO HANGS THE STARS

I’d like to note that I was book-hopping a bit too much while reading this collection, rather than reading it straight through. This made it a bit tougher for me to recollect my thoughts on each of my favorites, or else I’d have notes for all of my top 5. Perhaps it might be best not to have many notes, as these stories speak for themselves, and some really pack a punch in just a few pages—I’d rather other readers discover firsthand what makes them special.

If you like stories that give you “feels” and bring out the beauty that is often overlooked in horror, I recommend this collection. There’s something in here for everyone. I’m excited to read some longer pieces from this author, as her short fiction was amazing—I have no doubts I’ll be impressed with more.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Publisher: Apex Book Company

Book Review: GRIND YOUR BONES TO DUST by Nicholas Day

Grind Your Bones to Dust gave me a book hangover of the best kind. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s the kind of story that leaves you breathless and dazed at the end, unsure of what to read next. I wanted to simultaneously hug and set this novel aside, and I mean that in the best way possible. I’m not sure I can articulate all of my thoughts on this book outside of a full-on conversation, but I will try my best.

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The language in this book is out of this world. Day’s prose has a poetic quality, and there were lines so well-written that I had to read the words several times over before I could move on. You’ve all heard me gush about John Boden’s writing style, and the writing in this novel reminded me of his work at times. There are lines here that need to be savored and read at a slow pace. With regards to the characters, I haven’t encountered a villain as intense as James since I met “The Judge” in McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The supporting characters here are relatable and memorable, and they all come with enough backstory for the reader to empathize and feel the pain of their plight.

The setting plays a large role in this story—it’s bleak and brutal, just like the events that take place along the way. The author’s descriptions of the landscape and the characters’ travels really add to the atmosphere of the story. I also thought that the pacing was spot-on. I was initially thrown off by the fact that there are no chapters within each section, but this did not affect the quality of the story for me. If anything, it propelled the story on, making it even more difficult for me to stop reading along the way. I enjoyed that each of the four parts brought different characters into focus, yet the others remain woven into the story in the background. It all came together perfectly at the end.

I could share even more thoughts on this novel, but I don’t want to give too much away. This is a book that you need to read for yourself and experience without spoilers. I teared-up several times while reading it—not only because of the brutality but due to the beauty in the writing. Each time I wanted to turn away, the words reached out like a hand on my chin, forcing my gaze back upon the story unfolding before me. I can’t imagine I’ll ever forget this one, nor do I want to.

 

5/5 Stars

 

Publisher: Excession Press

Book Review: A VOICE SO SOFT by Patrick Lacey

By now you know that I love music as much as reading, so when I saw the cover art and synopsis for this novel, I knew I had to read it. So far, I’ve never been disappointed in horror featuring bands or musical artists, and this story was no exception. When I read, I typically see the story play out like a movie in my mind. A Voice So Soft is one that I can totally picture as an actual film or television adaptation. The premise of the story is really creative, and I was entertained from start to finish. The beginning grabbed my attention immediately, and the ending was satisfying, yet left me wanting to read even more (this is a good thing).

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This novel has several elements that made it a solid read for me—characters, setting, great pacing, and a dash of humor in the right places. The characters are memorable and relatable. I felt a lot of empathy for Shawna, and in general I really enjoyed following all of the characters’ story arcs. The story takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, during the Halloween season, which added the perfect element of spookiness, and I also liked the backstory that we got on events from Angie and Shawna’s childhood. There were some great pop culture/musical references sprinkled in (I always enjoy these) and I thought that the author did a great job portraying the insanity of pop star fandom (especially with an evil element added to the mix).

I’ve actually been hoarding several of Patrick Lacey’s novels for a bit, but hadn’t had a chance to read them yet. I think that A Voice So Soft was a great place for me to start. I’d love to know what happens next for the main characters in this story, although I’m not sure if there are plans for a sequel. If so, I’ll be in line to read it. I’m definitely moving Lacey’s other work up on my TBR list. Like the song in the story, this one will linger in your mind long after you’ve closed the pages.

4/5 Stars

Publisher: Grindhouse Press

 

 

Book Review: SHADES by Geoff Cooper and Brian Keene

Stick with me as I begin this review with a tidbit on my bookish interests. Coming-of-age tales have truly been hit or miss for me. I think this is because I can’t always connect with the characters or relate to elements of the story. When I do find it relatable, then the story definitely hits the mark and sticks with me long after I’ve finished reading. So, when I tell you that Shades is a great story, and a solid coming-of-age tale, I really mean it.

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I had a great time reading this novella—I finished it in one sitting, eager to discover what was next. There were many elements of this story that worked for me. One was the fact that it’s set in the 1980s, so that automatically drew me in. I really enjoyed the references to that frame of time. I also loved the characters. I’ve got a soft spot for stories about kids with a troubled home life, so I was immediately interested in the protagonist, Danny, and where his story would lead. Gustav was another favorite character. He has some of the best lines in the book, ranging from insults and jokes to well-intentioned nuggets of wisdom. There were several times I laughed out loud, mostly due to the dialogue. I loved the developing relationship between these two characters. There are heartfelt moments sprinkled throughout the story, and the authors have a way with words that gave me warm feelings and nostalgia. There are specific lines I’d love to point out, but I won’t give away any spoilers regarding these bits of the story—it’s best for the reader to experience it firsthand.

I thought the premise of the story was very creative. I liked the concept of the shadows or “shades” of the dead, and what happens with them as part of Michael’s plan. Michael is the villain of this story, and his actions were very unnerving and sinister. There are plenty of supernatural and magical elements to this tale, and we also get glimpses of real life horror. The reader watches Danny struggle through not only the typical discomfort of adolescence, but also family issues and his search for a role model.

With Shades, Cooper and Keene deliver a well-rounded story, complete with solid characters, setting, and dialogue. It was my first introduction to Cooper’s town of Brackard’s Point, and to Keene’s Labyrinth mythos, and I’m eager for more of both. This one left me wishing for a sequel, and while I’m not sure that’s in the cards, I can guarantee I’ll be adding more books from both authors to my TBR list.

4/5 Stars

Published by: Poltergeist Press

Publication Date: January 9, 2020

 

Book Review: Obliquatur Voluptas (A.K.A. Rope Burns)

Obliquatur Voluptas. The anthology formerly known as Rope Burns. I ordered a paperback copy, and soon afterward, I read that the book had been taken down on the amazon.com website. Just when I thought they wouldn’t be shipping it, the banned version showed up on my doorstep. Perhaps there was an employee feeling feisty, and they sent it my way. We’ll never know.

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Aside from that, I was immediately intrigued when I saw the initial post about this book. I haven’t seen much erotic horror floating around, and it sounded like a great mix of genres. The two often go hand-in-hand in horror films and books already, so it’s not all that shocking to see an anthology in this realm. The collected stories cover a wide range of horror tropes and sexual interests. There are some unique ideas at play, and several standout stories in this bunch.

My top five from this collection are:

-MINISTRATIONS by Michael Patrick Hicks

-TO BE FED by Shaun Avery

-MARKS by Sommer Marsden

-FOUR HEADS ARE BETTER THAN TWO by Jeremy Wagner

-MY DOLL LIKES TO EAT by Ralph Robert Moore

It’s sometimes difficult for me to rate anthologies due to the variety of writing style and skill that may be involved. For this one, I did go through and rate each story individually, and then based my overall rating on the average. The stories listed as my top five were all 4 or 5 stars for me. There were a few stories that just didn’t grab my interest, and I DNF two of them because of that.

Overall, this was an entertaining bunch of stories. I would be on board to read another volume of this anthology (and can think of some authors I’d love to see featured) or one similar to it in the future.

3.5/5 Stars