Book Review: BAD PEOPLE by Craig Wallwork

I’m fairly certain I can count on one hand how many thrillers I’ve read in the past year or so. I’ve been so caught up in the world of horror fiction that I haven’t strayed much with my reading choices for a while, but I do enjoy a good crime thriller here and there, especially when the story contains elements of horror. Recently I discovered such a book, when I began reading BAD PEOPLE.

First off, I have to say that while I “see” most stories in my mind as I’m reading, there are certain books that just beg to be adapted to film or television, and this is one of them. Reading this story was like watching a great movie—there are certain scenes burned onto my brain because the descriptions were so vivid. The story starts out rather calm as we’re introduced to some key characters, and I’d say that the first half is a slow burn, but in the best way possible. The author did a great job laying the groundwork with the main character’s background, and the setting itself played a strong role in the dark and moody atmosphere. For the first half of the book, it felt like there were storm clouds hanging overhead, slowly brewing something ominous—and then the downpour was unleashed in the second half. At this point I felt the tension and terror intensify, and I couldn’t put it down.

The character development in this story is well-done. I felt like I had a good sense of who the main players were (despite some surprises), and I got to know them without ever feeling like there was too much information. I grew attached to a couple of the characters and felt a lot of empathy for them. In my opinion, this is one of those books in which there are no wasted words. There were moments in which I actually felt frightened (which doesn’t happen to me often), and just some very cinematic and gruesome scenes that I won’t ever forget. I’d like to keep this spoiler free, so I’ll limit myself to a few other thoughts.

When I thought I knew what was happening earlier on in the story, this one kept me guessing. I loved that it kept me on my toes as a reader, and I appreciated the dark and moody vibe that I felt throughout this book. It’s very much a unique story, but as I watched it play out in my mind, it reminded me of how I felt watching some favorite crime thrillers on television (Season One of True Detective came to mind, as did The Killing). There are some supernatural and religious/cultish themes in this story, and I really enjoyed that aspect as well.

Like I mentioned before, it’s been awhile since I’ve read a thriller, and this one was a perfect selection. I did have a few questions at the end, and I just found out today that there will be a sequel coming in the near future. I’ll be on the lookout for the continuation of this story, while also keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll someday see a screen adaptation. This one ranks fairly high for me—I’d gladly place a hard copy on my shelf next to the likes of some other favorite thrillers, by authors such as Gillian Flynn, Dennis Lehane, and Graham Masterton. While I await the sequel, I’ll be seeking out more of Craig Wallwork’s stories to add to my shelf.

5/5 Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: COLERIDGE by Tom Deady

COLERIDGE is my second read from Tom Deady, and like the first novella I read from this author (WEEKEND GETAWAY), this was another solid story that I enjoyed. I loved the gothic feel of this tale, and it brought something to my attention that I’ve somehow missed—I really love a good haunted house story. This one is a modern-day tale with ties to the past, and I’d definitely recommend it.

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This novella is another that I would’ve finished in one sitting, had I not been preoccupied and anxious about the state of the world right now. I hope in the days to come that I can say I devoured a book without letting my mind drift, but I’m not there yet. However, while I was reading this, I was fully engrossed in the story. I liked the characters, and also enjoyed how the chapters alternate between the recent past and present. We’re given different perspectives from the two main characters, which I thought added to the depth of the story.

Overall, a fast-paced read, with nice quick chapters (I love that). It has some heartwarming moments showcasing the main characters’ relationship, as well as tension and creepiness. I loved the atmosphere that the author created, and now that I’ve got two short fiction reads under my belt from Tom Deady, it’s probably time that I tackle his novel, HAVEN. Yet another book that’s been on my shelf for too long. COLERIDGE is also the first of many titles on my shelf published by Silver Shamrock. They are putting out some amazing books, and I can’t wait to dig into more.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Publisher: Silver Shamrock

Release Date: March 24, 2020

Book Review: THE MONGREL by Seán O’ Connor

THE MONGREL was a fast-paced read that drew me in rather quickly. Once I started reading it, I found myself flipping the pages continuously to find out what came next. (Had I not been interrupted by the anxiety and stress surrounding current events, it’s likely I’d have finished this book in one sitting). Prior to this novella, I’d only read one of Seán’s short stories. After reading two pieces now, I can tell you that I enjoy his storytelling style and look forward to reading more.

There were several aspects of this tale that stood out for me as I was reading. Like I said, I was drawn into the story rather fast, which is always a good thing, especially when there’s a smaller amount of words to work with. I thought that the character development was strong, and while I didn’t find a personal connection to the characters or their experiences, I felt empathy for Erin. The descriptions of her anxiety and inner turmoil over her situation were well done. I liked that there was a bit of background and deeper look at Phil and Erin’s relationship instead of just what was on the surface of the story. This provided more insight into Erin’s mental state and her motivations for staying with him.

There was a slow but steady build of tension throughout the story that kept me interested along the way, and a couple of times I thought I had things figured out, but I was wrong. I thought this was a unique spin on a werewolf tale—different from others I’ve read. There are some unforgettable scenes in this story, and I imagine I might have flashbacks of those the next time I’m caught up in some heavy snowfall. I struggled a bit during the third section of the book. I felt like I needed a bit more story or background on some of the characters before reaching the end point—it felt a bit rushed to me.

I have a copy of the author’s novel, WEEPING SEASON, on my shelf, and I’m looking forward to that one. I’ve heard great things about that one, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of his work so far. I will definitely be interested in reading more from Seán O’ Connor in the future.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

 

 

Recommendations from My Favorites Shelf: For the Horror “Newbies”

I’ve recently had some friends who are new to horror ask me where to start. This thrills me to no end, because I’ve been telling people that the horror genre is more than what it seems for some time. Many people assume that horror is one-dimensional, and nothing but blood and gore. Some people tell me it’s all “too scary”. While there are stories that do contain these elements, those of us who love the genre know that there’s so much more. I believe that there’s a horror story out there for everyone and that people just need to find the right fit.

My excitement at being asked this question led me to writing this post. I’m sure it’s been done before, but my list is likely to be different from others. I decided to go to my “Favorites” shelf to get started, which leads me to this disclaimer: This list is only based on books that I have read. It’s mostly books from my favorite authors, so this is not an all-inclusive list showcasing the full range of diverse authors and topics across the genre. It’s just a start. What I’ve done here is to try and showcase a range of horror among books that I personally love– books that I think would be a good introduction to horror. Whether you’re looking for horror with heart, or something a bit more intense, I hope you find it here and develop a new love for the genre.

Without further ado, here are 20 novels/collections/anthologies and 5 novellas (in no particular order) that I highly recommend:

  1. THE SIREN AND THE SPECTER by Jonathan Janz
  2. BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman
  3. CLICKERS by J.F. Gonzalez & Mark Williams
  4. A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay
  5. WALK THE DARKNESS DOWN by John Boden (technically a novella, but I’m leaving it on this list)
  6. INNER DEMONS by Robert Ford *
  7. BRAIN DEAD BLUES by Matt Hayward *
  8. REMAINS by Andrew Cull
  9. A VOICE SO SOFT by Patrick Lacey
  10. KIN by Kealan Patrick Burke
  11. CHILDREN OF THE DARK by Jonathan Janz
  12. THE GOD BENEATH MY GARDEN by Robert Ford *
  13. THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty
  14. WHAT DO MONSTERS FEAR? by Matt Hayward
  15. THE DEMONOLOGIST by Andrew Pyper
  16. CONSEQUENCES by John Quick
  17. BLOOD CRAZY by Simon Clark
  18. WELCOME TO THE SHOW (Various Authors) Edited by Matt Hayward and Doug Murano *
  19. LULLABIES FOR SUFFERING (Various Authors) Edited by Mark Matthews *
  20. AND HER SMILE WILL UNTETHER THE UNIVERSE by Gwendolyn Kiste *

*indicates an anthology or collection of short fiction

 

 

Looking for a quick read to get your feet wet? Try these:

  1. A HOUSE AT THE BOTTOM OF A LAKE by Josh Malerman
  2. OUT BEHIND THE BARN by John Boden and Chad Lutzke
  3. SOUR CANDY by Kealan Patrick Burke
  4. IN THE SCRAPE by James Newman and Mark Steensland
  5. STIRRING THE SHEETS by Chad Lutzke

If you’re new to the genre, I hope that you find something you enjoy from this list, and I’d love to hear your thoughts once you’re done reading.

 

Book Review: MALORIE by Josh Malerman

A few years ago while browsing the “Staff Recommendations” section at my local bookstore, one of the employees approached me and asked about my interests. When I mentioned I loved to be scared, he asked, “Have you read Bird Box?” I was sold after a quick synopsis and mention of Josh Malerman being from Michigan. Looking back, I’m so grateful for that encounter, as it led to a new favorite author and many more fantastic reads.

Why am I starting this review by telling you about Bird Box first? For a couple of reasons:

  1. I discovered “Bookstagram” around the time that I read the book. At that point, I’d yet to write a book review, and I don’t think I ever went back to write one for that novel. So, I’m giving it some extra love here and now.
  2. Without Bird Box, it’s likely we wouldn’t have Malorie. Now that I’ve read both, I can’t imagine one book existing without the other.

Bird Box was unlike any horror novel I’d read at the time. I devoured it, and loved every minute. Everything that makes it a great novel is also present within the pages of this sequel. In both of these novels, Malerman provides the perfect combination—colorful characters, tension that snowballs, and settings that come to life. I’ve come to expect nothing less from this author. Each story that he writes shares these features while also being insanely creative and original. Here’s where I begin to tell you just how Malorie fits the Malerman mold and stands out as one of my favorites…

Let’s start with the characters, as that’s what will make or break a story for me. Malorie provides us with a closer connection to the woman herself, as well as her two children. We jump ahead in time and have a chance to further explore the minds of Malorie, Tom, and Olympia along their journey. I enjoyed the opportunity to observe these characters twelve years after the events in Bird Box. It added a completely new element to the continuation of this saga, considering that Tom and Olympia are now teenagers. This novel continues their story of survival, but now there’s a coming-of-age aspect that works so well. It was exciting to watch the two kids become more independent and also to see how Malorie changes over time. There’s a somewhat smaller cast of characters in this one, and it works so well.

Being from Michigan, the setting in this story has always held strong importance to me and I’ve probably raved about it one too many times. I can’t help it. Reading about places that I love and have been to makes the story a bit more near and dear to my heart. Imagine my delight when I realized that some of the events in Malorie take place right next door to where I live. I’ll stop raving about that, and tell you that while it adds something special for me, I’d love this story no matter where it was set. The descriptions of place in this story are excellent; the settings come to life, and you feel like you’re there throughout the entire experience.

I mentioned tension earlier, and this story has a ton of it. It starts off in the midst of some action, and then the reader is given a slight reprieve to catch their breath before the tension and dread begin to build again. The pacing is spot-on and it all builds to a wonderful ending.

I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible, so I think I should leave the rest to the readers’ imagination and allow others to discover the amazing aspects of this story on their own. I have a few final thoughts and experiences from this read that I’d like to add before I go:

  • Bird Box still stands on its own without a sequel, but Malorie takes this experience to another level, continuing the journey and bringing forth that additional closure that many of us wanted at the end of the first story.
  • After only a few pages into this book, I wanted to be blindfolded to the rest of my life so that I could feast my eyeballs on nothing but Malerman’s words. I only put this book down when I was forced to sleep and go to work.
  • Malerman is a master of words and a creative genius. There were some really beautiful lines in this story—some figurative language that had me re-reading, but also descriptive language here and there which made me pause. I was moved to tears several times while reading this book, and it wasn’t always when you’d expect.
  • The inclusion of little nuggets from the characters’ experience in Bird Box (and from Malorie’s old life prior to the events) add another element to this novel, making it even more special.

I can’t say enough good things about this one. I had high expectations, and it truly lived up to every one of them. Malermaniacs are going to fall in love with this book, and I hope it prompts new readers to grab a copy of Bird Box and begin their journey to the satisfying conclusion that is Malorie.

 

5/5 Stars

Publisher: Del Rey

Release Date: July 21, 2020

Thank you to the publisher and author for providing an advance copy of this novel for review consideration.

Book Review: BY BIZARRE HANDS by Joe R. Lansdale

Well, it finally happened. After countless mentions of his name and talk of his immense talent, I took the plunge and read my first book by Joe R. Lansdale. As you know, I believe that short fiction collections are a great place to begin a new (to me) author’s work. Because of this, I decided to start my trip into the land of Lansdale with BY BIZARRE HANDS. The edition I have is a 2016 republication of the original, which was released in 1991. It now contains both a foreword (by Lewis Shiner) and an afterword (by Ramsey Campbell). I love these additions to a book, and in this case, each was a perfect bookend to the stories found in between.

If you’re already a fan of Lansdale, you won’t learn anything new from my review, but I hope you’ll keep reading as I further validate the praise you’ve given this author. If you’re waiting to take the plunge into Lansdale’s writing, what I tell you here might be similar to what you’ve already heard, but I hope this time it prompts you to jump in. Better late to the party than never, right?

Lansdale’s writing is everything I was told it would be. BY BIZARRE HANDS is a horror collection, but the stories within span so many genres that they can’t be confined to just one. Together, they form a perfect example of how versatile and limitless the genre can be—a full display of how “horror” cannot be narrowly defined or fit into a box. Here you’ve got a wide range of story types: western, post-apocalyptic, alternate history, and coming-of-age are just a few. They are all horror stories in the sense that they force the reader to look fear in its face and leave feeling unsettled, shaken, or even flat out frightened. I love that these stories are so versatile, and believe that more readers would take a chance on horror if they knew it could be like this.

The stories in this collection are memorable. The writing is unapologetic, and a perfect blend of great storytelling elements. The dialogue and setting are often characters in their own right, and the human characters themselves are what seal the deal in each of these tales. Most of the stories in this book have no hint of the supernatural, and are further proof that it’s not a necessity in order for horror to be effective. In this collection, Lansdale has written some of the most frightening stories I’ve ever read, with the majority of them based on human monsters. The characters are real, raw, and often downright vile. In these tales, I’ve come across some of the most memorable antagonists I’ve ever encountered. As I was reading, I often felt like I was watching crime unfold from the sidelines—like I couldn’t stop watching in horror, and I was helpless to stop it. This is some highly effective writing, friends.

My Top 5 in this collection are:

-BY BIZARRE HANDS

-BOYS WILL BE BOYS

-NIGHT THEY MISSED THE HORROR SHOW

-DOWN BY THE SEA NEAR THE GREAT BIG ROCK

-ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADILLAC DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS

After reading just this one collection, I understand why Joe R. Lansdale’s work is treasured by so many. Many of my favorite authors have been influenced by him, and now that I’ve read it for myself, I can see hints of his fingerprints on the work of those he has inspired. I have no doubts that he can write in any genre and the end results will be spectacular. These stories won’t be leaving my memory any time soon, if ever. I’m thankful I’ve got more of this author’s work waiting on my shelves. From this day forward, you can count me in as a member of the chorus singing Lansdale’s praises.

5/5 Stars

Book Review: GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION by Matthew M. Bartlett

When one of my favorites recommends another author, I listen. So, when I saw John Boden post about Matthew M. Bartlett’s work, I immediately ordered his short fiction collection, Gateways to Abomination. It took me awhile to get to this one, but it was worth the wait.

After I finished reading this book, I had to set it aside and allow myself to think on it for a few days before I could write this review. It’s hard to categorize this type of book into a subgenre of horror. Bartlett has a unique writing style that shines in this collection and there are no wasted words. The stories are all connected by a common link—transmissions from a sinister radio station called WXXT. But don’t go into this book expecting each story to read like a radio broadcast. That was my initial expectation upon reading the synopsis, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that’s not the case. These stories tie together through mention of WXXT at times, but they are also linked by some recurring locations and characters.

I set this one down a couple of times in between stories, but now that I’ve finished it, I highly recommend reading the stories in order, and in one sitting (if possible) for full effect. I’d actually like to go back and re-read this again in that fashion. I think I’d take even more from the writing in that way. I am not sure I can select “favorites” from this collection because the stories just work so well together, and I feel like one without the others would not be the same.

The horror in this collection is subtle at times, and strong and visceral in other moments. There’s an underlying and sinister hum of the occult that you can feel pulsing throughout the pages as you read. These stories gave me the creeps and left me disturbed, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for with this read. This book won’t be for everyone—I guess you could describe it as “weird” fiction. If it were a film it would be that hidden indie gem that’s often overlooked in a sea of Hollywood blockbusters. Gateways to Abomination is weird and wonderful, and the kind of content that would make for a great live reading. I’ll be picking up more of Bartlett’s work soon, and recommend this is if you’re looking for something to refresh your horror collection.

4.5/5 stars

March 2020 “TBR Talk”

I’m struggling to believe that it’s already March. This month I’ll be hosting my first book challenge on Instagram and tackling this overly ambitious TBR stack, all while starting another round of Whole 30. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m up for it.

For my March reads, I tried to mix it up a bit, but not overthink it as I was plucking books from the shelves. Here’s what I’m planning to read this month…

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SHOCK ROCK, edited by Jeff Gelb (various authors)I’ve been holding onto this one for a few months, and I think it’s a perfect book to go along with my “Musical March” challenge. It’s packed with short stories by authors including Stephen King, Graham Masterton, and David J. Schow, among others. Plus, there’s a foreword by Alice Cooper. Does it get any cooler? 

THE MIDNIGHT EXHIBIT VOL. 1 by Stephen Graham Jones, Philip Fracassi & Renee Miller: This is the first book in Unnerving’s 2020 “Rewind or Die” series of novellas. These books all have the coolest covers and are reminiscent of 80’s/90’s horror. I’m here for it, and I’ve purchased paperbacks of the first 5 books or so at this point. Can’t wait to read them all! The books in this series don’t need to be read in order, but I’m weird about that and will be reading them sequentially. 

THE FIRST ONE YOU EXPECT by Adam Cesare: I  picked this one up at STC Weekend last summer, and had the pleasure of meeting Adam. Sorry to say that due to my book hoarding, I haven’t read his work yet, so I have decided to change that this month. 

THE MONGREL by Seán O’ Connor: Another book that I’ve wanted to read for ages– finally making it happen this month. I’ve heard nothing but great reviews for this one!

COCKSUCKER by Lucas Milliron: Ah, the book that I likely can’t post on Facebook for fear of offending someone with the title (insert laughing emoji here)…this sounds like a wild and hilarious story. Can’t wait to see what it’s about. 

MONSTERS AND ANIMALS by J.F. Gonzalez and Wrath James White: This book features two novellas, both prequels to Gonzalez’s novel, SURVIVOR. I’m planning to read this and then add SURVIVOR to my April TBR. 

SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD- various authors: a novel in which each chapter is written by a different author– includes names such as Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, J.F. Gonzalez, Bryan Smith, and more. Had to have it. 

SOFT APOCALYPSES by Lucy A. Snyder: After reading Snyder’s short fiction in the MISCREATIONS anthology, I remembered that I had this on my shelf. It’s a collection of her short fiction, and I’m anticipating some great stories in the bunch. 

ATOMIC LOVE by Jessie Rose: another rock n’ roll themed novel for this month. The author was kind to send this to me for review consideration, and it sounds great! 

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That’s my designated list for this month, but there will also be spur-of-the-moment mood reads, a couple other ARCS, and a possible beta read in March. As always, I’m grateful to you all for reading my posts/reviews and interacting. Now, it’s time for me to get reading…

February 2020 Wrap-Up

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While January seemed to last forever, February seemed to pass in a blur. I’m a bit disappointed that I didn’t get through my entire TBR pile, but this is no surprise, as I    always tend to stray due to mood reads. Between work being crazy busy, illness, and travel, my reading time was decreased this month. Despite all of the distractions, I managed to read 7 books, which isn’t bad.

I  have to say, the highlight of my month was the opportunity to beta read again. I had the privilege of reading two novellas early on, and I can’t wait to write a proper review for the release of those books.

In March, I’ll be hosting my first book challenge on Instagram. It’s a 60s/70s classic rock-theme, and I’ll be joined by a couple other music lovers as co-hosts. There will be weekly book giveaways for those who participate. I’m excited for this, and hope that a lot of readers will join in!

You can see my monthly wrap-up on the chart below. Stay tuned for my March “TBR Talk” post tomorrow!

Title Author Rating Recap
Miscreations Various (Edited by Doug Murano & Michael Bailey) 4 Discovered several new authors while reading this collection; solid mix of stories
Forest Underground Lydian Faust 5 I loved this story—looking forward to reading this author’s new poetry collection next
Mandibles Jeff Strand 4 This was a fun read! Hilarious and creeptastic at the same time; I didn’t know what to expect, and I’m definitely interested in reading more from Strand
Lucid Screams Red Lagoe 4 Solid short fiction collection- every story was unique. Atmospheric and haunting.
The Switch House Tim Meyer 5 A unique story; really creeped me out (which is rare) and I read it in one sitting
Communion (Beta Read) Steve Stred 4 Really enjoyed this follow up to RITUAL; left me in suspense for the next installment and there were many creepy moments.
Calamity (Beta Read) Matt Hayward 5 Proof that Matt Hayward can write anything in any genre and it will be awesome. Can’t wait to have a hard copy of this and to post a review as the release date is closer.

Book Review: THE SWITCH HOUSE by Tim Meyer

As I was selecting my February TBR reads, I could no longer ignore the stack of Tim Meyer’s work calling to me from across the room. I decided to make The Switch House my first read from this author, and I think it was a great place to start.

I have to mention that the cover is cool and creepy, and that influenced my choice a bit. But the content inside the book is what counts, and this story surely matches the cover vibe—it met all of my expectations for a great horror tale. While I enjoy most of the classic horror tropes, there’s nothing I love more than a fresh spin on those tales, and I think that’s what the author has done here.

Tim Meyer has certainly created a unique story in this novel. To me, The Switch House is ultimately about haunting, but it’s not limited to one entity. In this short novel, the reader experiences haunted happenings not only in the house, but also through the characters. Angela, Terry, and Rosalyn are all haunted by their past choices, and their pain is enhanced by the supernatural elements at play. Strong character development is important to me as a reader, as it weighs heavy on my connection to the story. I thought the characters in this novel were relatable, and found myself empathizing with them all at different points in the story.

The pacing is spot on, and I just loved the overall creepiness I felt while reading this one. As I ventured through the story, I couldn’t help but think of some of my favorite horror films (Poltergeist, Insidious, and Drag Me to Hell, just to name a few). I’m not sure if the author was influenced by these, but there were certain scenes that created an atmosphere or a feeling similar to what I experienced while watching those films. I think this was because of the supernatural and occult elements to the story, and some of the visual images that came to mind for me. This really enhanced my reading experience.

As I always mention, I love author notes. This novel closes with an afterword, which gave a bit more insight into the creation of this story. I enjoyed having this information, and was  pleasantly surprised to find a few short stories at the end of the book. The short stories were also great, and those combined with the main story in this novel are enough to guide me toward more of Meyer’s writing. I loved that this novel was unlike any other horror stories that I’ve read. It’s unique, creeped me out (which doesn’t always happen), and I read it in one sitting. Everyone knows I love a mix of humor, horror, and heart, and this story has a bit of each. I’ll definitely be adding more of Tim Meyer’s work to my reading list soon.

5/5 Stars