After a botched raid in an attempt to apprehend Cheol Yu, high school student Sey-Mi is kidnapped and forced to join the Gwanlyo. The Gwanlyo Company acts as the governing body of vampires in South Korea. They create, monitor, discipline, and enforce all vampire activity in the country to maintain order and secrecy. Sey-Mi is Cheol Yu’s blood relative and will stop at nothing to get her back. He partners with Hyeri, a rogue agent, to track her down and free her. They end up finding an unexpected ally in Min Gun, a Gwanlyo agent, who develops feelings for Sey-Mi.
Butchers is a solid read and will scratch that itch if you’re looking for something a little fresh and a little different in a vampire story. Sullivan clearly draws from his experience living and teaching in Asia and paints a believable backdrop for the novella. While Butchers is touted as extreme horror, I would argue that it’s more straight horror with a few scenes of hyper violence and a sexual assault. If you’re not normally a reader of extreme horror, don’t let that description put you off because if you’re a horror reader, you can handle this. Then again, if SA is a trigger for you, you’ll want to avoid this read all together.
While I had a few nitpicks with this novella, I would recommend it to fans of the vampire genre who are looking for something a little more unique than your standard fare. Butchers ends on a bit of a cliff-hanger, but there is a follow-up novella available, The Gray Man of Smoke and Shadows.
I received a free copy of this novella in exchange for an honest review.
Jay Gardiner is diving alone in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Monastery Beach. He knows that it’s dangerous and that he shouldn’t be out there by himself, but he’s come here on a mission to find his dad’s remains from his suicide the previous year. He believes it is the only way to assuage his guilt and bring closure to his mom and two sisters who mourn at an empty grave. The dive begins well enough until Jay finds himself on the edge of the drop-off and a giant squid comes along. Following the giant squid up from the depths, a huge sperm whale appears to feed and draws both Jay and the squid into its mouth. Jay finds himself pulled into the whale’s stomach with only an hour’s worth of oxygen in his tank.
This book. Oh my goodness – this book! I walked in expecting a tense, survival story and left with that and so very much more. Kraus has crafted a tale that is both bleak and hopeful, claustrophic and mind-opening. I read it in one sitting – I absolutely could not put it down!
Let’s start at the surface – Whalefall is a survival story. It is intense and nerve-wracking. The chapters are short and counted down in PSI as Jay uses his oxygen. I am a diver and found this to be wildly clever as it’s a metric you keep a constant eye on. You want to start planning your ascent to end your dive with around 500 PSI in your tank. It added an extra layer of stress to this already claustrophobic and tense novel.
Let’s dig below the surface – Whalefall is a story of grief and a broken father-and-son relationship. It is heart-breaking and gutting. The chapters are short and counted in the years leading up to Jay’s father, Mitt’s, suicide. Jay is the youngest of the three children and the only boy. Mitt wanted a son to whom he could pass on all his knowledge and Jay wasn’t sure that Mitt was the kind of guy that Jay wanted to become. As Jay is caught in the literal belly of a beast, he is forced to remember all of the diving, nature, and survival knowledge that his dad imparted on him and with that knowledge, all of the memories that came with gaining it.
This novel is as much about relationships as it is about survival and I can’t recommend it highly enough. There’s so much more that I would love to say about this book, but I don’t want to drop any spoilers. Whalefall releases on August 8, 2023 and I hope you will pre-order it.
“Some girls are fearful, others are brave. One girl’s a princess, the next one, a slave. But all girls are equal, when they’re down in this cave, until just one is left standing – The Prettiest Girl in the Grave.”
In the small town of Greenwalk there is a forgotten cemetery in the woods. Every generation, a group of girls manages to find their way to it and become embroiled in a century old game – Who will become The Prettiest Girl in the Grave?
“Who do you love?”
Bella, Rose, Celeste, Aubrey, Savannah, and Marnie all sneak out at midnight to meet at the old cemetery. Aubrey has learned about a secret game that’s only played by local girls in this graveyard, at one specific crypt. As the girls begin to play, they open themselves up to a night which they may not survive.
“What happens when you die?”
When Bella’s mother, Holly, wakes up to find her daughter missing she has a horrible suspicion that she knows where her daughter and her friends are and what may be happening to them. Holly played the game when she was a teen and barely escaped with her life. Holly returns to the crypt and tries to save her daughter from the very fate she faced as a young girl.
Fans of Triana’s trangressive horror, rejoice! The Prettiest Girl in the Grave delivers a supernatural punch filled with all sorts of nasty little surprises. He has deftly crafted his own folklore and surrounding urban legend for the town of Greenwalk – think Bloody Mary, but amp it up to eleven. As the reader, more and more of the history is revealed to us as it is told through Bella’s point-of-view and in flashbacks from her mother, Holly. I couldn’t put this one down and blew through it in one day and I think you will too!
It’s worth a mention that if you’re a fan of Triana’s more extreme horror, you won’t find it here. While there is a good amount of violence and blood in this novel, it’s far more subtle compared to some of his other novels, like Body Art or Full Brutal. If you’re looking for a good place to start reading Triana, or to turn a new reader onto his work, The Prettiest Girl in the Grave is an excellent place to start.
The Prettiest Girl in the Grave releases on May 12, 2023 from Grindhouse Press. Pre-order the paperback or ebook now! OR Be one of the really cool kids and pre-order the limited edition hardcover bundle straight from Triana’s site here. It’s an absolute steal at only $45!
It’s Halloween night, 1984, in the small town of Coventry, Massachsetts. In the neighborhood surrounding Parmenter Road, the Barbosas are setting up their annual Haunted Woods spook walk for charity; The Koenigs are setting up for their big Halloween party; Barbara Sweeney is out looking for her drunken, philandering husband; and all the kids are getting ready for trick-or-treat. During the evening, four children show up who do not belong and beg the neighbors and neighborhood children to help them – to hide them from The Cunning Man. Tension and fear escalate as the night wears on and the mysterious children become more frantic and long-held neighborhood secrets come to light.
“Nothing in these woods could be more dreadful, more terrifying, than the selfish cruelty of ordinary people.”
All Hallows is part supernatural thriller and part suburban drama. We have a cast of characters that the reader feels very strongly about and can easily relate to. Love them, or hate them, you care what happens to them. Almost to the detriment of caring much about the supernatural element. The human monsters are the real stars of the show in this one, folks.
This novel breathes Halloween. You can smell the autumn leaves and crisp, cool air; you can taste the apple cider and the candy bars. All Hallows pulls all of the heartstrings to bring you back to the Halloweens of your youth where you used to race each other to houses and it was safe to go out with your friends. That sick feeling of sadness in your gut when you know it’s going to be your last year of trick-or-treat – Golden excels at giving life to the emotions surrounding the holiday.
If you’re looking for a slow-burn horror novel, chock full of character development – this read is for you. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, gory, supernatural monster book – you may want to take a pass on this one.
Here we are again, revisiting my favorite horror manga creator, Junji Ito. Click here for Part I and Part II. This time around we’re taking a look at four volumes – Deserter, Remina, Sensor, and The Liminal Zone.
Let’s start first with my favorite of the bunch, The Liminal Zone. This volume is made up of four stories – Weeping Woman Way, Madonna, The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara, and Slumber. Weeping Woman Way is the story of a young couple who stop in a small country town and encounter a weeping woman, a hired woman who cries and mourns the dead at funerals. The young girl is so saddened that she is unable to stop crying, even after they leave the town. They decide to return and uncover the truth of these weeping women. Madonna tells the story of a corrupt priest who falls in love with beautiful, young women and convinces them that they are the blessed virgin herself. A plan that works for him until he can no longer keep his affairs a secret from his jealous wife and she goes on a rampage. The Spirit Flow of Aokigahara follows a young couple into the suicide forest. Norio has been stricken with a fatal disease and his girlfriend, Mika, decides to join him in death. Their first night, they see a faint glow and decide to follow it the next day. They discover the mystical spirit flow of the forest and Norio becomes obsessed with riding it every night. The final story, Slumber, is about a man who falls asleep at night and wakes up each morning convinced he’s killed the night before. This was a 5/5 Star read for me. Ito excels in short story form and these are some of his best.
Deserter was another 5/5 Star collection. This bind-up contains twelve short stories – standouts for me included: Deserter, about a WWII soldier who went AWOL and hid away at a friend’s farmhouse; Where the Sandman Lives, a story about a man who can’t fall asleep for fear of his dream self coming out and taking over his daytime body; A Father’s Love, a story about a father who can possess his entire family; and The Long Hair in the Attic, a cautionary tale about being a playboy.
Sensor is the story of Kyoko Byakuya who is drawn into the mysterious village of Kiyokami, a town covered in volcanic hair. The shining golden fibers form a protective shell around her when a nearby volcano erupts. When she emerges, all of her hair has been replaced by the beautiful golden hair. What follows is a strange tale of cults and cosmic horror. Another 5/5 Star read.
The final volume was my least favorite of the lot, but it’s still worth a read at 4/5 Stars. Remina tells the story of a scientist and his daughter. Dr. Oguro discovers a new planet that’s emerged from a wormhole. He names the planet Remina, after his only daughter. His discovery is met with great fanfare and his daughter rises to popularity because of it. Everything is going great until they discover the planet is approaching earth and devouring everything in its wake. The population begins to fear Dr. Oguro and his daughter and become obsessed with the idea that by destroying them, they can save their planet.
If you haven’t caught on by now, you should absolutely be reading Junji Ito if you like horror.
I recently had the displeasure of suffering through a horrid cold and sinus infection. The one positive from the whole ordeal is that I had a few days of nearly uninterrupted reading time. During this time, I blew through both volumes of The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories.
The good folks at Valancourt Books recognize the lack of translated horror fiction in the U.S. market and are seeking to bring more to light. Nearly every story in both volumes is appearing for the first time in English. The stories range from over five continents and a multitude of languages, including the endanged Romansh in volume two.
Volume One features twenty-one contemporary horror stories published in thirteen different languages. Favorite stories in this collection for me were Uironda, from Italy, about an exit off the highway that sometimes appears to truckers; The Angle of Horror, from Spain, about seeing people from a new angle – fans of Junji Ito will see this as a stand-out story; Señor Ligotti, from Mexico, about a real estate deal that is just too good to be true; Pale Toes, from Finland, folk horror about cave dwelling creatures; and The House of Leuk Dawour, from Senegal, about the evil spirit, or rab, Leuk Dawour. Other standout stories were The Time Remaining, from Hungary; Menopause, from the Ivory Coast; The Bones in her Eyes, from the Netherlands; and Backstairs, from Sweden.
Volume Two features twenty contemporary stories published in sixteen different languages. Valancourt tried not to repeat stories from any of the countries previously published in Volume One and succeeded with the exception of Denmark. While I thoroughly enjoyed Volume One in this new series, Volume Two was my favorite. I felt Valancourt extended their reach a bit further and pulled in some extremely varied and different stories. Where the stories in Volume One felt safe and relatable for foreign readers, Volume Two felt edgier and not afraid to take risks.
It’s incredibly difficult to narrow down my favorites from Volume Two, as I flagged nearly every story for one reason or another. However, a few standouts for me were Whitebone Harp, from China, about a woman who gives herself entirely to her husband; The War, from Poland, about the truth of never-ending war; The Old Wound and the Sun, from Japan, about an interesting portal; The Bell, from Iceland, about a plague in a small town; The Grain Dryer of Tammõküla, from Estonia, about a ghost and family secrets; and Firstborn, from Greece, about the truth behind a family’s wealth.
If you’re a fan of short stories and a wide variety of horror, these are two collections that you don’t want to miss!
A blend of crime noir and extreme violence by Kristopher Triana
Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge Kristopher Triana fan. It doesn’t matter what genre he writes in, he always knocks it out of the park and leaves his own unique flavor behind. And the Devil Cried is no exception to that remark. This novel is as dark and gritty as crime fiction gets. It’s written in first person and our protagonist, Jackie, is the most detestable human being imaginable.
The story begins as Jackie is being let out of prison and set up for the illusion of a straight life by crime boss, Pino. He has an apartment, a job in a deli, and begins working small jobs for Pino on the side. It’s not long before Pino needs Jackie for a job that’s right in his wheelhouse because Jackie is known for doing the jobs that no one else will – jobs that involve women and children.
Jackie is one of the most detestable, unlikable, and vile characters you are going to come across in any genre. He is a complete sociopath. His actions are reprehensible and dare I say, triggering.
I’m not a proponent of trigger warnings in general. Simply put, what triggers me may not trigger you and in this genre it’s difficult to pinpoint all of the triggering subject matter. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but that’s how I feel about it. That being said, if you have a problem with extreme violence and/or abuse, this may not be the book for you and I would be happy to recommend another Triana book to start with.
While I loved the novel, I personally struggled with the abuse of Natalie. She is the counter girl at the deli where Jackie works. He chooses her to be his, for lack of a better word, beard. She represents the normal, straight life he maintains on the surface while still living a dirty, sleazy life just underneath. The mental, physical, and emotional abuse was borderline too much for me. As a victim of emotionally and mental abuse, I wanted a redemption for Natalie that never really happened.
And the Devil Cried is the first release from new publisher, Stygian Sky Media. SSM is the child of Death’s Head Press head-honcho, Jarod Barbee, and acclaimed author, Jeremy Wagner.
If you ask me, this was a great pick to launch the new press and I will be looking forward to future releases from both SSM and Kristopher Triana.
The Book of the Most Precious Substance is the latest release from Sara Gran. For those in the horror community, she is arguably best know for her possession novel, Come Closer. It deserves its own post, but for now let me assure you that it is one of the best modern novels of possession.
Her new novel, while completely different from her take on the demonic, still has its roots in the occult. Former novelist Lily Albrecht has become a rare book dealer out of necessity. It’s not what she wanted to do with her life, but she found she’s quite good at it and is able to support her husband, Abel, and his caregiver with her sales. One day at a book sale in New York, another dealer approaches her with an opportunity to make six figures if they can find a book for a buyer. He reveals the name, The Precious Substance, they make a deal, and he’s found dead the next day.
Lily needs the money and enlists the help of another dealer, Lucas, in order to find out about the book, how to find the buyer, and how to get their hands on it. Together they discover the book is considered the oldest and most powerful occult book on sex magic to ever exist. Only five, hand-written copies exist in the world. The quest and obsession with the book takes Lily and Lucas across the country and across Europe as they attempt to put their hands on a copy.
This book ticked a lot of boxes for me and I found it to be absolutely unputdownable. The underworld of rare book buying? Yes, please. The obsession to find a book that can grant you what you desire most in the world, if you’re only willing to perform the book’s five acts? More, please. The sordid, passionate lives of book people? Absolutely!
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, sex-filled, literary thriller – look no further and pick up this book right now. Highly recommended!
Chatting about the new podcast and a vintage YA book review
3.5/5 Star Review
Christopher Pike and L.J. Smith were my two absolute favorite YA horror writers in the mid-90’s. I couldn’t get enough of them and I waited impatiently for each new book to come out. They are the two authors whose work I have held on to since my middle school days. While I have reread a few of L.J. Smith’s series, I have been wanting to revisit my Pike collection for a long time and kept putting it on the back-burner – until now. Enter The Pike Cast!
Bear with me for one more bit of nostalgia before I get into the actual review of Die Softly… Once upon a time, in the early days of dial-up internet, there used to be an online Pike community called The Midnight Club. There was a website, but most of the communication was on ICQ and a listserv. It was so exciting to communicate with Pike fans from all over! Long before Facebook and Pike himself posting occasional updates there, he communicated with Scott and Shannon from The Midnight Club and we were able to get exclusive bits of news! (Fun fact – Pike’s long-awaited Execution of Innocence was dedicated to them!) You may be asking why I am bringing this up, aside from a trip down Pike memory lane. Simple – The Pike Cast has a Patreon and when you support the show for as little as $3/month, you get access to their private community on Discord. The community feels exactly like The Midnight Club used to feel – a warm, welcoming place for like-minded folks to discuss Christopher Pike. There are different channels for different chats and it is just a fun place to spend a little time every day. If you’re a fan, I highly recommend joining the group!
Ok! On to the review of the actual book – Die Softly by Christopher Pike. This will contain mild spoilers.
“Why did you two bake those cookies?” Herb asked.
“For money for drugs. I thought that was obvious?”
“I suppose. Did they have cocaine in them?”
“Just a tiny bit. Gave them a special flavor….”
The thing about Christopher Pike books was that they were always more mature than the other YA books out around that time. Reading them always felt like you were getting away with something. His teenagers drank, did drugs, had sex – they did things real teenagers did. That’s what I remember thinking at the time when I first started reading them.
I’m revisiting Die Softly about 25 years after reading it for the first time. Holy hell, friends! The amount of cocaine consumption in this book is insane! I’m sure that I understood it was an illegal drug when I first read this book, but reading it as an adult? Whoo boy! These cheerleaders have a serious habit! Fueled by the money from illicit school bake sales and a little B&E, Alexa and Lisa live a high-risk lifestyle. They bend boys to their will and make them into their personal slaves by addicting them to cocaine and sex. They are just trying to pass the time until they graduate high school and move out to L.A. where they dream of being famous. The All-American Dream, amiright?
Enter Herb, the self-proclaimed nerdy guy who will never get the girl. His passion is for photography and he just wants to get a few snapshots of the cheerleading squad naked in the showers after practice. After Lisa ends up dead and Herb develops the photos, he realizes he caught more on film than he ever bargained for!
The whole of Die Softy takes place over a couple of days and it is absolutely bonkers. It’s a whodunit fueled with cocaine, no sleep, drinking and driving, drinking and shooting, illegal weapons, and lots of teenagers getting murdered. Who even are these teenagers?! While Die Softly is certainly not one of Pike’s better books, it is so over-the-top that you can’t help but to appreciate it for what it is and chuckle at the absurdity of it.
There are some descriptions in here that are certainly signs of the times. Die Softy was first published in 1991 and it shows. We have an all white cast with the pretty popular girls holding all the power. Sammie, one of Herb’s best friends is an overweight girl who, “… didn’t have a body, her body had her. Somewhere inside, hidden beneath the rolls of fat, was the real Sammie.” Yikes. This description coming from the POV of her best friend – double yikes. Unfortunately though, that was typical in YA from this time period.
Overall, this is not one of Pike’s better books. It is notable, again, because it is so over-the-top, but it is also one of his few books with no supernatural element. It’s worth a read, but if you have never read Pike before I would not recommend this one as a jumping off point.
Next up – Whisper of Death! (A title that is a great jumping off point!)
A supernatural novel of heavy metal and small town secrets by Brandon McNulty
4/5 Star Review
What’s a guitarist to do when her hand gets crushed mere days before the show that could make her career? Why, head back to her home town and swap it out for a new one, of course!
Ash Hudson, guitarist for the heavy metal band, Bad Parts, finds herself in a horrific situation after an attack in a parking lot leaves her with a crushed hand. While this turn of events could be career-ending for most people, Ash knows a secret about her home town that could save her. Hiding her injury from her band mates, Ash returns to her childhood home to meet with Snare, a demon that lives in the local creek who can swap broken body parts for working ones. There are two catches:
1. Once you trade, you can never leave town.
2. You can’t trade for a part that’s already in use by someone else, until they die.
Bad Parts was a fun read – it’s fast-paced and has a pretty unique concept that fits great into the small town secrets/small town horror trope. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because I don’t want to give anything away. However, I will add if you are a reader who needs to be able to relate to a character, or have likable characters in order to enjoy the story – this may not be the book for you. This novel has a cast of prominent characters and a bevy of ancillary characters and all but two were completely unlikable. They are selfish, detestable, and utterly human.
I did have one small issue with the story – and that was the timeline. Without revealing any spoilers, the plot involves a tight time frame in which so much happens in such a very finite amount of time that it seems unrealistic. I had to forget the timeline to make it work in my head. Once I let that go, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. If you are looking for a fun, horror beach read – Bad Parts is a winner!
I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration.