Stirring the Sheets

A novella of grief and loss by Chad Lutzke

4/5 Star Review

For those of you who’ve read some of my reviews, you will have likely noticed that I am brief – both with the description of the book and my thoughts on it. I prefer writing in this format as these are the types of reviews that I like to read. I enjoy going into books relatively blind, without the opinions of others clouding my perspectives on the story. With that being said, it is difficult for me to review Stirring the Sheets without going into the plot to tell you why this wasn’t a full 5 Star read for me. If you’ve not yet read this novella, proceed at your own risk – thar be spoilers ahead!

Emmett, an elderly mortician, has unexpectedly lost his wife of 49 years in a terrible car accident. It’s been a year, and to his neighbors and co-workers, Emmett seems to be doing well. Except he really isn’t. He hasn’t slept in his bed since his wife died so as not to disturb the impression her body left in the sheets. He sleeps on the couch, surrounded by her photos; he will not eat food offered to him by the kind widow on his street because he thinks of it as cheating; in short, Emmett is a man still wrought with grief. One day, Emmett is sent to pick up a body that looks so much like his wife when she was younger, that he decides to bring her home.

Lutzke understands emotions – he is exceptionally skilled at conveying them in a way that really packs a punch. You feel every bit of Emmett’s grief in this story. It broke my heart to see him lean over the side of their bed where his wife slept to look at the impression left in the sheets and to smell her pillow. I have known loss and Lutzke gets it.

The story loses me when Emmett decides to bring the body of the woman home. He has been established as a man who respects the dead and the grieving, he considers this skill a service to his community. He takes meticulous care for the dead and the grounds of the funeral home. The mere fact that he would embalm a body without the permission of the family, steal it, take it home, and then cremate it earlier than he normally would have to cover it up – it is so mind-boggling wrong that I can’t get behind it. Everything we know about Emmett does not support this.

It should be said that there is nothing overtly sexual about the night Emmett spends with the dead woman. He wants the last night with his wife that he never got to have. This act is his catharsis. In the morning he is ashamed of what he has done and is finally able to begin the process of healing and moving on with his life.

This was a polarizing read for me. The story ran the gamut from 2 to 5 stars. I ultimately decided on the 4/5 Star rating due to how much this novella made me think about the story, human behavior, grief, and how I would handle losing a spouse of 49 years. I read this book weeks ago, but haven’t really been able to articulate my thoughts and feelings until now.

If you have read this, please comment! I would love to hear other perspectives on this book – whether you agree with me or not. This was a complicated read for me and I would love to have a discussion about it.

Splatter Spotlight: Kristopher Triana

Full Brutal, Body Art, & The Detained

UPDATE – Full Brutal won the Splatterpunk Award for Best Novel!

It’s Saturday, August 17th 2019 which means it’s KillerCon time in Austin, Texas. It also means that the 2nd Annual Splatterpunk Awards will be taking place tonight, honoring the best splatterpunk and extreme horror works of 2018. What better time to highlight one of the top up-and-coming novelists of our new generation of horror?

Full Brutal has been nominated for a Splatterpunk Award in the Best Novel categoy. Published in June 2018 from Grindhouse Press, Full Brutal tells the story of Kim White, all-American cheerleader and all-around It girl. She is pretty, she is popular, she is wealthy with a barely-present father – she is truly living the high school dream. At least that is what everyone thinks. In reality, Kim has had enough – she is sick to death of it all. After a conversation with her friend, Amy, she reluctantly decides to lose her virginity. Amy tells her it is a life-changing event, that she will gain a whole new perspective on life… And boy, does she ever! Kim quickly decides that a high school boy will never do and aims to seduce her sex education teacher, Mr. Blakley. What starts off as a little bit “Heathers” with a heaping side of “The Crush,” Full Brutal descends into an insane tale of lust, cannibalism, bullying, rape, and necrophilia.

Full Brutal was a 5/5 Star read for me. It is an absolute nonstop whirlwind of chaos and brutality. I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t look away because I had to know what Kim was going to do next. If you are looking for an all-out gore fest – this is the book for you!

Next up – The Detained, published in March 2018 from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, a novella of supernatural and extreme horror.

What happens when you take a former jock hoping to reclaim some of his faded stardom; a former cheerleader attempting to relive her glory days; a former bad boy looking to shirk his old reputation; a good girl – still a good girl – trying to assuage her guilt; and a former gym coach hoping to get his due from a school that has, in his mind, slighted him for decades? You get “The Breakfast Club” – blended with a substantial dose of supernatural revenge.

I feel like any more of a description would start to give away the plot – so I will stop there. The Detained was a 4/5 Star read filled with a solid cast of characters and a healthy measure of violence. The tale evolves quickly, without feeling rushed, and organically weaves enough backstory in to bring the reader up to speed and without pulling away from the main plot. In this era of commonplace school violence and bullying, it is a very timely read.

The last novel that I am going to feature in this post is Body Art, published in December 2016 by Blood Bound Books. I happen to have a signed copy of this book, and as the inscription says, “… now grab some lube and a barf bag, It’s time to film!” You may want to go ahead and lay down some plastic sheeting and don a poncho as well for this one. With Body Art, Triana has successfully written one of the most depraved novels that I have read to date. I mean this in the most complimentary way, of course! I am proud to say that it takes a lot to get under my skin and there were a few scenes in this book that got there.

Kandi Hart is an aging porn star who doesn’t want to disappear into the annals of AVN history. Rutger Malone is a director who wants to make artistic films again. Harold is a mortician who takes a special sort of pride in his work. Toby is a high school football star who’s looking for love in the wild and crazy Jessica, who just wants Toby to treat her like a porn star and take her to Nashville with him when he leaves for school. All of these characters are brought together by a sequence of events coated in a supernatural dust that ups the ante at every turn.

If you like extreme horror, and I am talking really extreme, horrifically gore-filled, then Body Art is definitely for you. Whatever depraved sexual act that you can imagine, I guarantee that Triana tops it in his novel. If you have a strong will and a strong stomach – I can’t recommend this book enough! 5/5 Star read!

For those fans of Body Art, or extreme horror in general, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention Body Art: The Coloring Book published in March 2019 by Blood Bound Books.

The 35 coloring pages were drawn by horror pulp artist, CorlenScope and inspired by scenes from the novel.

If you have ever wanted to take adult coloring books to a new level – now is your chance!

It is worth mentioning that I will feature Kristopher Triana on another upcoming spotlight post. If extreme horror is not your cup of tea, Triana writes tamer fare. His short story collection, Growing Dark, is a brilliant collection of modern horror. His novel, The Ruin Season, is a Southern noir akin to the works of Daniel Woodrell. His most recent, Shepherd of the Black Sheep, I have yet to read but you can bet a review will come once I have!

Sour Candy

A cosmic horror novella by Kealan Patrick Burke

5/5 Star Review

This year has been full of new-to-me authors discovered through Twitter and BookTube. Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke is another one of those finds. Many of his books are spoken of highly, including Sour Candy, but I chose this one solely based on its cover – it’s gorgeous!

One of the first things that I love to do when I buy a new book is to read the first sentence – it often will determine where the book ends up on my TBR pile. Sour Candy made it to the top of the heap: “Four months to the day he first encountered the boy at Walmart, the last of Phil Pendleton’s teeth fell out.” Tell me that doesn’t drag you right in?!

I don’t really want to say too much about the plot, as this is only a novella, but the story is essentially this: Phil Pendleton is a childless divorcé whose life is forever changed after accepting a piece of sour candy from a child at Walmart.

I went in expecting this to be solely creepy kid horror, but was absolutely delighted to discover the strong cosmic horror elements contained within. Although, don’t get me wrong – there is definitely enough of the creepy kid element to go around! Burke manages to craft a complete, spooky story with a well-developed plot and characters in only 75 pages – quite a feat! This is the type of novella that keeps bringing me back to the medium. Highly recommended!!

Of Foster Homes and Flies

A coming-of-age novella by Chad Lutzke

5/5 Star Review

Of Foster Homes and Flies is the first title that I have read from Chad Lutzke and it will certainly become the first of many. I have been collecting Mr. Lutzke’s titles here and there after seeing so many positive reviews of his work from BookTubers and on Twitter. I bought this title as an ebook, but finally took the leap into Lutzke Land this past week when I won a giveaway for the audio version.

This novella is a Southern Gothic coming-of-age tale set in the sweltering heat of an early New Orleans summer. Denny is a 12-year-old boy preparing for his end of the school year spelling bee. He lives alone with his abusive, alcoholic mother and wakes one morning to discover that she’s died during the night. Denny decides not to report her death until after the spelling bee and this is the story of the days leading up to it.

I know this sounds dark, and it is – but it is also filled with so much hope. Denny, for all his understanding of his mother, her abuse, and her addiction, still has an endearing naivety that he holds on to. Of Foster Homes and Flies is extremely well-written and the story and characters are so very well-developed for a novella. I found Lutzke’s writing akin to Daniel Woodrell’s, but far more optimistic.

I highly recommend this title for any fan of coming-of-age horror, Southern Gothics, or horror with heart.

Junji Ito: Master of Horror Manga

Gyo (volumes 1-2) & Shiver

As I begin to dip my toes into the horror community on Twitter and BookTube, I have been seeing one name pop up over and over again in conversations about horror comics: Junji Ito. Uzumaki is the title that tends to pop up the most frequently, but as I was strolling through my local library, I happened upon these two titles and decided to check them out.

Gyo is a 2-volume series about a virus developed during WWII that was intended to become weaponized. Tadashi and Kaori are taking a little getaway in Okinawa when fish with crab-like legs begin walking out of the ocean after a mysterious object shoots into the water. I don’t want to give too much away, but Gyo is, in truth, far funnier than it is scary. The body horror and the violence is so over-the-top that it becomes ridiculous, and if you are a horror veteran, you will find yourself laughing much more often than you will be getting any chills.

Overall, Gyo was a 4/5 Star Read for me – not because it was scary, but because it was so excessive and exaggerated. I had a fun time reading both volumes and was entertained for a few hours – that’s really what this is about in the end, right?

Shiver, on the other hand, is a large collection of short stories, almost all of which are quite creepy. Junji Ito provides commentary, story development notes, and sketches for every piece in this collection. It was amazing to me to read how an abstract thought, a portion of a childhood memory, or a dream could produce these tales. While there are different horror elements present in this collection, body horror is the most prevalent.

Standout stories for me were Honored Ancestors, about a girl with amnesia and a boy whose family tree never truly dies; Hanging Blimp; about a phenomenon that seems to start with a pop idol committing suicide; Marionette Mansion; about a family of performers and their marionettes; and Shiver; the only story to truly creep me out because of my trypophobia – I simply cannot handle small holes.

5/5 Star Review for this anthology – Shiver was an enjoyable and sometimes a truly terrifying read.

I know body horror, and even comics, are not for everyone – but if these don’t get under your skin – I highly recommend you check out Juni Ito . I will be reading everything that I can get my hands on!

Corpse Cold

New American Folklore written by John Brhel & Joe Sullivan and illustrated by Chad Wehrle

5/5 Star Review

I first found out about this collection from a bookmark that was included in my January (I think…) Night Worms subscription box. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon Cameron Chaney’s BookTube channel and saw a great review for it (here). I knew I had to have it.

If you were a child in the 90’s and a fan of all things creepy, chances are you read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. I sure was and can remember checking these books out from the school library over and over again. I loved them – and they terrified me. The illustrations alone were solid nightmare fuel.

Why am I waxing nostalgic about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Let me tell you – Corpse Cold is a gorgeous homage to these childhood classics. Brhel & Sullivan have written a brilliant new collection amassing classic folklore tropes, local legends, and personal experience and packaging it all into this little book that is most definitely not for children.

Standout stories for me were Czarny Lud, a story of the Polish boogeyman and misbehaving children; Autoplay ‘On’, a cautionary tale of the dark web; Moss Lake Island, on why you should never trust witches; It That Decays, body horror that is not for the faint of heart; and Jesup, a tale of a boy and his pets.

Special recognition goes to Chad Wehrle for his illustrations in this collection. He truly captured the grotesque beauty that Stephen Gammell was known for and brought these stories to life with his artwork in Corpse Cold.

If you are jonesing for some scary stories and wishing to recapture that campfire nostalgia, look no further – you need Corpse Cold in your life. Brhel & Sullivan own and publish under their own imprint, Cemetery Gates Media. They have several other story collections that you can guarantee I will be ordering soon!

My Sister, The Serial Killer

A novel by Oyinkan Braithwaite

5/5 Star Review

My final read for February, and for Women in Horror Month, was the darkly humorous and enjoyable My Sister, The Serial Killer.

Oyinkan Braithwaite is an author from Nigeria and this is her first novel published in the United States. She is yet another international author that I hope to read more from in the future.

My Sister, The Serial Killer follows older sister, Korede, and her younger sister, Ayoola. Korede is a respected nurse in a local hospital and her sister designs clothing and has a habit of killing her boyfriends in “self-defense.” Korede always gets the call and helps Ayoola clean up. Korede begins to question her loyalty to her sister when Ayoola starts to date the handsome, young doctor that Korede is secretly in love with. What’s a girl to do when your serial killer sister is moving in on the man you love?

Korede and Ayoola both share different naivetes when it comes to men and social graces. Ayoola understands what men want – even seemingly good-hearted men and tries to make Korede understand. Korede tries to make Ayoola understand that it’s poor form to SnapChat days after your boyfriend has gone missing.

Braithwaite’s use of political and culture satire is masterful and makes this novel work in a way that makes you sympathetic to these otherwise unlikable characters.

Highly recommend this quick read to horror and thriller fans – especially for those who enjoyed the early Dexter books.