Chad Lutzke Delivers Another Authentic Tale with Slow Burn on Riverside

Chad Lutzke is a master at writing heartfelt stories, especially in the realm of coming-of-age tales. Slow Burn on Riverside is his latest to fit this category.

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Technically a prequel to The Same Deep Water as You, this novella provides more background on the character named Jex. If you’re new to Lutzke’s work, I’d recommend reading these in order for the full effect, but it’s not a requirement. They both work as standalone stories too.

Lutzke’s stories are tough to put down, and this was no exception. It’s a quick read, and once I started, I knew I’d finish this in one or two sittings. The wild ride that is Jex’s summer goes by in a blur, but it’s packed full of human struggle and emotion. The story is told from Jex’s point of view, so we see his experiences and his feelings firsthand.

I loved that I found certain parts relatable, despite not sharing the exact same interests and life experience of the main character. The dialogue and the storyline are realistic enough to draw readers into the story and carry them along to the end. This one started out feeling like I was just along for the ride in the characters’ crazy summer, but ended with a creep factor I didn’t see coming. I love that it left me with questions regarding what truly happened.

I’ll say no more for fear of spoilers, but just know that if you’re into stories with heart and authenticity, Chad Lutzke’s writing should be on your shelf.

Book Review: THE HEADLESS BOY by Kelli Owen

While each experience is unique, all of us have dealt with grief at some point in life. It’s an inevitable, painful part of our existence, and lays a seriously effective foundation for a horror story.

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Because grief is a universal aspect of the human condition, it’s easy to empathize with the characters in The Headless Boy. Most readers can relate to the main characters on some level. We all know how grief can make people behave differently, and understand its impact on relationships. Even the most sensible people can become unhinged by the emotions within the grief process, especially in the beginning stages.

This novel gripped me from the beginning, when Maggie and Jake are introduced in the midst of emotional turmoil. The feeling quickly switches from joy to sorrow, and draws the reader in with empathy for their situation. Despite never suffering the loss of a child, I was able to relate to the emotions that were part of their grief process. Aside from the sad moments, the happier moments still shared between the couple in the midst of the depression were very realistic. Owen does an amazing job depicting the grief process and all of its peaks and valleys.

This book was a great read for me due to many factors—the first of which is that it’s a story with heart. Without that authenticity and emotion, it just wouldn’t be as gripping. Also, I love stories about haunted houses, especially when they start out as a quiet type of horror. The dread slowly grows until suddenly you’re hit with major unease and fright. That’s what happens in The Headless Boy.  I love how there are subtle creepy things happening to Maggie in the beginning. Jake is unable to fully understand, as he is not able to see the boy’s ghost at the start. However, he witnesses the changes in Maggie and leaves it alone for the time being, in fear of causing more grief. Eventually as the events grow more sinister, Maggie’s mental health deteriorates further, and this takes a toll on their relationship. At this point, Jake can no longer deny that the evil within the house has a firm grip on his wife.

I never want to give away too many details, so let me just say that there are some truly creeptastic moments in this one. I don’t need those scary moments to make it a horror story, but I welcome being frightened with open arms. It happens so rarely for me that I get a huge thrill when I’m scared by a book or film. I love how the supernatural aspects gradually build and intensify throughout the story. I also enjoy how we’re able to see things from the viewpoint of both characters, thanks to strong descriptions of their inner thoughts and actions.

Can I also go off on a little (related) tangent and mention my love/hate relationship with evil children in books and on film? They make for some of the most memorable and sinister villains in my opinion. In this story, Bobby gives me the absolute creeps, pisses me off, and yet I also feel sorry for him. There’s something about manipulative, vindictive children (in ghost form or alive) that’s just not right. It’s probably because of the idea that kids are all innocent and often charming. To see them capable of malice is absolutely chilling.

After this read, I can say that grief horror is one of my favorite subgenres. It’s so relatable and effective when done right. The Headless Boy now ranks among some of my favorites in this category, alongside Pet Sematary and Remains. It has everything I look for in a well-developed story. Excellent pacing, dialogue, and character development. Can I also mention THAT COVER? It’s reminiscent of the vintage horror paperbacks we all covet, but the quality extends beyond the surface. Trust me when I say that this is more than just a cover buy.

Book Review: THE HORROR ANTHOLOGY HANDBOOK by Keith Hopkins

I was recently given the chance to step outside of my comfort zone and interview a filmmaker and author for the Wicked Horror site. I enjoyed the opportunity and the book, so I thought I’d talk about it here on the blog and bring it to the attention of a wider audience. The Horror Anthology Handbook is a bit outside the range of my typical book selection, as it’s a non-fiction piece centered on filmmaking. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I connected with the topic, and I’d recommend this read to fans of both horror fiction and film alike.

Filmmaker Keith Hopkins spent the better part of two years interviewing a number of people involved in the making of horror anthology films. His knowledge of horror anthology films and what he learned about the filmmaking process really shows in this book, and it’s written in a manner that draws the reader in and holds their attention from beginning to end. I enjoyed the setup, as the book is broken into sections. It begins with a great introduction that draws on the author’s beginnings with regards to storytelling and an interest in horror. Following the introduction, Hopkins presents his interviews with filmmakers, which I found to be very informative just as a fan. For those who like to view horror films, you’ll enjoy the background behind the making of the movies, and for those who aspire to make a horror anthology film, you’ll gain valuable insight to inspire you on this journey. The interviews are set up to include a background on the film, the question/answer section, and a takeaway. They are structured well and feature not only directors, but a wide variety of roles within the field, including editors, writers, producers, and actors.

Following the interviews, there is an extensive history of horror anthology films from the Silent Era to modern day. As a horror fan, this was probably my favorite part. The author first discusses different wraparound styles used in horror anthology films, and then goes in depth for each film listed, noting the wraparound style, notable cast and crew, and descriptions of each piece in the anthology. I walked away from this section with a long list of films that I still need to watch, and feel like I’ll view them in a new light after reading this book.

Overall, this is a fun read for horror fans. I think there’s something here for everyone—readers, moviegoers, writers, and filmmakers. This anthology is packed full of insight into the creation of a horror anthology film, and its focus on storytelling will appeal to a variety of readers.

Book Review: CIRQUE BERSERK by Jessica Guess

Cirque Berserk was my first read from Unnerving’s “Rewind or Die” novella series. It certainly won’t be my last from this series or from author Jessica Guess. I was initially drawn into this story by the 80’s vibes, but I stuck around for so much more. 

There are a lot of things to love about this book, starting with the 80’s pop culture references, which I adored. I loved all of the song mentions throughout the story, and how each section of the book was titled with an 80’s track (especially how the first and last section tied together). The musical mentions and the setting, in an abandoned carnival, both add a lot to the atmosphere of the story. 

This book read like a movie to me. It’s like a teen horror film that I would’ve selected on VHS during my high school days. I was drawn in fast, and carried along by a great combination of suspense and character development. I really enjoyed the format for this story. As we follow a group of modern day teens into the carnival, we’re then introduced to a group of murderous teens who’ve haunted the place for 30 years. The chapters each focus on a specific character’s background as we’re still carried through current affairs. It was nice getting a glimpse into each of the main characters’ past. This allowed for a lot of depth to my understanding and connection with the story, as I was able to empathize not only with the protagonists, but with the antagonists as well. 

The kills in this tale are cinematic and memorable. There’s a nice balance of gore and substance within the story, which I appreciated. I’m fairly certain I’ll never hear a few specific 80’s songs in the same way again, and I’m now even more creeped out by carnival attractions like the Funhouse. By the end I wanted to transport myself back to my local roller rink in the late 80’s. There was never a better time to don a pair of roller skates, snap some bubble gum, and drop a song request in the deejay’s bucket (which they lowered down on a string). What a fun and nostalgic read!

Weekly Reads Roundup: Week of May 4

If you’ve read my posts on social media today, you already know that I’m making some minor changes in order to maximize the time that I have for reading and reviewing. On top of the stress we’re all dealing with related to Coronavirus lately, I’ve been struggling with the fact that I’m not moving through my reads as fast as I’d like. The fact is that my workload has increased despite working from home, and as much as I’d like to dedicate my time to all things bookish, that’s not possible right now. In order to ensure I get my day job done and also dedicate as much time as I can to promoting horror, I’ll be making these changes:

For the next 2 months or so, I’m going to prioritize my stack of review copies, as well as Latinx horror for the month of May. These books will still have a full review post dedicated to each individual piece.

During this time, any other reads that don’t fall into those categories will be featured in a Sunday “Weekly Reads Roundup” post on my blog. Each book will still have an individual review, but they’ll be grouped in one post and the reviews will be slightly abbreviated.

This does not mean I won’t be shouting out other books and authors that I read and love during this time. I’ll still be posting the reviews from the roundup individually on GoodReads and Amazon, and plan to continue social media posts highlighting each read.

Now that I’ve got the informative bit out of the way, let’s get to this week’s roundup…

CREEP HOUSE by Andersen Prunty:

This was my first read from Prunty and I really enjoyed it. This is a collection of short fiction, and each story is linked by the fact that they take place in the same town. There were several standouts for me in this collection that I’m not going to forget any time soon. My Top 3 stories were: The Calming Wood, Candy Heart, and The Existential Dread of Complacency. I’ve got several other titles from this author lined up and I’m looking forward to it.

4/5 Stars

 

BURNT OFFERINGS by Robert Marasco:

I’d seen the movie but never read the book, and figured it was time to remedy that situation. I like both, but the book was better, of course—there’s much more detail to the story. This book got under my skin. It’s a slow burn but it creeps into your mind, and I found it hard to put the book down. This is quiet, atmospheric horror at its best. I don’t think I quite realized how much I love a good haunted house story until recently. This book definitely brought it to the forefront of my mind, and I think I’ll be fixating on the haunted house trope for non-review books on my June TBR list. Also, I just love 70s horror and music. This one has an intro by Stephen Graham Jones, and in it he mentions how this was Marasco’s one true horror novel, and it’s a shame he didn’t release more later on when there was a bigger boom in horror fiction. I definitely agree and I think this one has been overlooked and underrated. I’d recommend to read the book and watch the movie.

5/5 Stars

May 2020 TBR Talk

I missed a TBR Talk post for April, but I’m back on track for May. I have a hard time sticking with a TBR list each month, as I’m a mood reader, but I still like to have the guidance to keep me on track. So, I’ve created a designated pile for this month, but it doesn’t include review copies or anything on my Kindle.

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I recently finished a great vampire story (Vampyrrhic by Simon Clark), and this sparked a desire to dig deeper into more of this particular genre niche. I’ve always loved vampires, but there are still so many books I’ve yet to read. This month, I’m planning to focus on the following vintage/classic vampire reads:

Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson

Live Girls by Ray Garton

The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

This will also be my introduction to all of the authors listed above, aside from a short story that I’ve read from Ray Garton. Aside from vampire fiction, I’m also planning to start in on my pile of books from Valancourt. My first selection is Burnt Offerings, which I’ve seen as a movie, and absolutely loved. I figured it’s time to read the actual book, and I’ve heard great things about it. I’ve been working my way through some of J.F. Gonzalez’s work recently, and I’m ready to take the plunge into Survivor, so that’s on my list this month as well.

There will also be several books I’ll be pulling from my review copy shelf this month. I’m way behind on reviews, as my workload has actually increased during this lockdown, and I was also struggling to read for a bit. I’m back on track with reading now, but it’s just finding the time to do it outside of work and other obligations that’s been slowing me down.

Watch for reviews coming for these and other books in the near future. I’m also hoping to branch out a bit more with variety on the blog—posting something other than reviews, TBR lists, and wrap-ups. Thanks again to everyone who stops by to read my posts!

April 2020 Reading Wrap-up

While March seemed to drag on forever, April passed by in a blur. Due to all of the chaos we’ve been dealing with since mid-March, my blog posts suffered, and I failed to post a March wrap-up as well as an April TBR Talk. Things are still crazy, and I feel like I’ve been working even more now despite doing all of my appointments from home. My reading time has suffered a bit, but I managed to squeeze in a decent number of books for the month of April, so I’m not too disappointed in the outcome.

Here’s my April reading wrap-up:

Title Author Rating Recap
Bad People Craig Wallwork 5 One of the best thrillers I’ve read in a while—can’t wait for the sequel!
Husk Rachel Autumn Deering 5 I adored this novella and am patiently waiting for the author to release something new.
Monsters and Animals J.F. Gonzalez and Wrath James White 4 I think this counts as my first true extreme horror experience, and I won’t forget it. Ever.
Dead Daughters Tim Meyer 5 Meyer’s work moved higher up on my TBR list after another stellar read.
Saint Sadist Lucas Mangum 5 This novella was a binge read. I ordered 4 more of the author’s books immediately after I finished reading it.
Normal People Sally Rooney 5 The only read on my list with no elements of horror this month. I binged this in less than 24 hours. It’s one of my favorite books. Currently watching the new adaptation on Hulu and I’m obsessed.
Broken Angels Graham Masterton 4 Another thriller in the Katie Maguire series from this author. I’ve always loved stories set in Ireland, and that’s what originally drew me in to this series. I’ve grown attached to some characters and will continue to make my way through these.
Shock Rock Volume 1 Various; edited by Jeff Gelb 3.5 An early 90’s anthology of rock-themed horror fiction. There were several standouts in this collection, and I’ll definitely be seeking out more of those authors’ work.
Jedi Summer with the Magnetic Kid John Boden 5 I treasure John Boden’s words. Everyone should be reading his work. I’d been saving this, but once I saw that there’d be a new edition coming from Poltergeist Press this summer, I knew I had to read it. Loved it, as expected. I’ll write a proper review for it soon!
Vampyrrhic Simon Clark 4 This is what I’d call a creeptastic vampire novel. There are a couple of scenes in particular that I’ll never forget. Between this one and BLOOD CRAZY, I’ve been convinced to read more from this author.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s May TBR Talk post…

Book Review: SAINT SADIST by Lucas Mangum

Are you a horror junkie like me? Do you like books that make your jaw drop and give you a book hangover? If so, you might want to add this one to your list. When it comes to obtaining a true adrenaline fix, good horror does it for me. Well-written horror fiction is what gets me jazzed. Whether I’m scared, or just left stunned and speechless, it’s a serious rush. These type of reads make me want to get to work promoting horror and singing the author’s praises, and SAINT SADIST was that type of book for me.

If you read the synopsis, you’ll know that this story contains some heavy stuff. Right from the first page, I could sense it was going to be a difficult read at times. It was, but I simply could not pull myself away from this one. I was immediately drawn into the story, and propelled along by both the short chapters and the style of the prose. The author has a great ability to tackle some heartbreaking topics while injecting the story with stunning language and hints of hope for the characters’ redemption.

I really enjoyed the insight given into the main character’s mental state. The look into her thoughts and motivation behind her actions made the reading experience more immersive for me. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of her ambivalence about where she belonged, and the visions that she experiences throughout her journey. These scenes were visceral and they intensify as the story progresses. I’ve always been fascinated by cults, so I enjoyed that aspect of this tale, as well as the exploration of other themes, including religion and the effects of abuse. I’m also a fan of well-done figurative language, and this book contains some gorgeous and emotionally effective phrases that I found myself reading more than once.

I feel like giving any more detail would spoil the story, so I’ll end by saying this: I totally understand why this book was nominated for a Splatterpunk award. It pushes the envelope and takes the reader to uncomfortable places, while providing an exploration of some touchy subjects. This read truly packs a punch. Mangum’s writing explores some of the worst horrors of humanity with a touch of grace, and I’m excited to experience more of his work.

5/5 Stars

Book Review: DEAD DAUGHTERS by Tim Meyer

I’ve been on a roll with reading some solid 5-star thrillers lately, and DEAD DAUGHTERS is no exception. This is only my second read from Tim Meyer, and while I never had doubts I’d be seeking out more, reading this novel just confirmed that fact and bumped his other books higher on my TBR pile.

It’s always great to discover authors who can write across genres, and I’ve definitely noticed that is one of Meyer’s strengths. His novel THE SWITCH HOUSE was a heart-pounding story with my favorite triple threat—horror, humor, and heart. I was pleased to discover that DEAD DAUGHTERS offers up the same experience in a slightly different package. It’s a dark thriller with elements of horror, full of disturbing images that I won’t forget any time soon.

I was gripped by this story from the beginning, fully invested as I learned more about the characters and watched their experience unfold. This author does an excellent job creating characters that the reader comes to care about. The empathy came easy for me—it never felt like I was searching for relatable or redeemable elements about these characters. I even found myself conflicted about my feelings for the antagonists later on in the story. The dialogue, details, and insight into the characters’ experience all work together to gain investment from the reader.

I mentioned that this story had a hold on me from its early pages, and this only intensified as I moved further into the book. I felt a slow, creeping dread from the moment things begin to go south for Drew and his family, and this continued to build throughout the novel. By the time I reached the last 100 pages or so, I had to force myself to put the book down. Once I picked it back up, I couldn’t flip through fast enough—I just had to know what was coming next. There are many twists and turns in this story—I thought the mystery and the anticipation of what was coming were so well done. Meyer kept me on my toes the whole time I was reading this, and just when I thought I had it figured out, I was wrong.

It’s tough to say more about this one for fear of giving away too much—no spoilers here! I’ll just sum this up by sharing that I am excited to see what Tim Meyer writes next, and to catch up on his previous work that’s on my shelf. I’m starting to see a pattern here. Not only does Meyer’s work contain the elements I’ve listed above, but it also exudes authenticity, and that’s something I’ll always show up for as a reader.

5/5 Stars

Publisher: Poltergeist Press

Release Date: April 16, 2020

Book Review: HUSK by Rachel Autumn Deering

“She reminded him of no one, and he loved her for it.”

That’s just one of many quotable lines from this book, and it sums up how I feel about this story. It’s unique and the author has a gift with words. I caught myself re-reading many of the lines and I could easily make a list of my favorites here. I won’t do that, because it would give away too much, and this story needs to be experienced individually by each reader. Instead, I’ll just sum up some general thoughts while doing my best to avoid spoilers.

I recently picked up a copy of HUSK for a buddy read, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to this novella sooner. Prior to this, I’d only read one of the author’s short stories, which I enjoyed. I absolutely adored the writing in this novella. It starts off rather intense, and I (not surprisingly to most of you) teared up a couple of times within the first two chapters.

I immediately felt empathy for the protagonist, Kevin, and this carried on throughout the entire story. I’ve never been to war and experienced the related trauma, and my family experience was different than that of this character, but I was still able to connect with the story. This was mostly due to the author’s excellent character development and descriptions of Kevin’s relationships and his inner thoughts and feelings. My favorite parts were the descriptions of his love of Halloween—this really struck a chord with me and was so relatable.

There’s a bit of everything I enjoy about a good story within these pages—most of all, it feels authentic and has a lot of heart. There are moments of heart-pounding terror, both human and supernatural in origin. It’s a fast-paced read and was a real page-turner for me. Yes, I had some questions that went unanswered, and in some stories this doesn’t work for me. However, with this one I felt ok that I was left to wonder about some aspects. I thought it worked well as a shorter story with a bit of mystery lingering by the end.

I went to bed shortly after reading this in one sitting, and I could not turn off my brain. The story swirled around in my mind for days, and left its mark on me. At this point I’ve read enough from this author to know that I’m a fan. I’ll be on the lookout for any of her previously published work that I haven’t read, and I hope that there are more stories to come in the near future.

5/5 Stars