Gone to See the River Man

A genre-blending novel by Kristopher Triana

5/5 Star Review

I will say it again, once more for the readers in the back: If you are a fan of the horror genre and haven’t yet read Triana, you are seriously missing out! With his latest release, Gone to See the River Man, Kris carves out an expertly crafted blend of extreme, cosmic, and folk horror.

Lori is a lady who has never been lucky in love. Her relationships never seem to flourish, or even come to fruition, due to familial challenges and trauma. As the novel opens, Lori is writing to an inmate named Edmund Cox, a notorious serial killer. She can’t explain exactly why, but she feels a kinship with him – a sameness – and wants him to divulge his secrets only to her. After a face-to-face visit with Edmund, Lori decides to take him up on a quest he asks her to undertake. The task is simple: Find his family’s cabin along the river, retrieve a key, and deliver it to the River Man – Edmund even draws a map. Lori, along with her handicapped sister, Abby, embarks on this seemingly simple journey that will finally prove her devotion to Edmund. Lori quickly realizes this may not be a simple journey after all and the sisters find far more than they ever could have bargained for.

I don’t believe the location of this novel is ever specified, but it has a distinctly Appalachian feel. When you veer off the beaten paths in this region, you will find it’s a completely different way of life and rich with its own folklore. Every bit of the River Man story sounds like it could have happened anywhere in the area. I hesitate to say any more because I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, but the blending of folk lore and cosmic horror in this story is just phenomenal. Triana’s use of colors as descriptions near the end of the sisters’ journey is Just. So. Good. A highly recommended read!

Please note that I did receive this title as a review copy in exchange for an honest review. I have also done a spotlight post on some of Triana’s other titles here.

End of the Road

Essays from The Farewell (But Not Really) Tour by Brian Keene

5/5 Star Review

When my pre-ordered copy arrived in the mail, I was only going to crack it open – just to take a peek. That peek lasted the rest of the night and into the next day. In less than 24 hours, I had completely consumed the book that I was intending to savor. C’est la vie. What can you do?

End of the Road is comprised of all of the essays that Keene wrote for Cemetery Dance Online during his Farewell (But Not Really) Tour in 2016. Cemetery Dance Press has collected all of the essays, plus a few extras – including a wonderful introduction from Gabino Iglesias – into a beautiful signed and numbered hardcover. As of this posting, it’s still in stock and limited to 750 copies. It’s a steal at only $40.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

These essays are raw, heart-felt, and honest. If you listen to Keene’s podcast, you’ll know that he often speaks of bleeding onto the page – and that’s exactly what he has done here. He channels Hunter S. Thompson in a whisky-fueled cross-country tour and discusses his thoughts on grief, loss, mortality, longing, familial bonds, fandom, horror, friendship, love, art, comics, the rise and fall of horror publishing, and the craft itself.

I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Keene and John Urbancik on this tour when they were in Oviedo, Florida. They were signing at the Barnes & Noble in the mall there. Kudos to Chris Kosarich for organizing this event – by the way! The signing was a blast and it was my first time meeting both of them. I picked up Stale Reality by Urbancik and the two books Brian was promoting on the tour- Pressure and The Complex. Both authors were incredibly gracious and Brian even signed all my backlist books that I brought with me. I mention this because it was a great experience and Brian was so jovial – it’s hard to imagine, looking back at that signing after reading these essays, how very much he was going through in his personal life at that time. Let it never be said Keene is not on for his fans.

I’ve enjoyed so many of Brian’s novels and this was my first foray – aside from his newsletters – into his non-fiction and I am hooked! I just bought The Triangle of Belief for my Kindle and can’t wait to get to it! A “memoir-styled treatise on faith, religion, the occult, atheism, agnosticism, science, and the supernatural…” Yes, please!!

In the Shadow of Spindrift House

A novella of cosmic horror by Mira Grant

4/5 Star Review

Have you ever wondered what an episode of Scooby Doo would look like if it was written by H.P. Lovecraft? Minus all of the racism and bigotry, of course? Well, look no further because that’s exactly what Mira Grant has done with this tightly written novella.

Our protagonist, Harlowe Upton-Jones, was raised by her paternal grandparents and foster family after her mother and father were murdered by a mysterious cult. During her formulative teen years, Harlowe, her foster brother, Kevin, and their two best friends, Addison and Andy, started solving mysteries in town and became rather well-known around the Chicago area. The problem? Teenagers don’t stay teenagers forever and the real world has real costs, like liability insurance, and there is not a lot of money in mystery solving. While the rest of the group is ready to move on from their former fame, Harlowe is still trying to keep the band together and proposes one last case: The Mystery of Spendrift House. A seemingly unsolvable mystery with a big payout.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House is a fun mix of cosmic horror, haunted house shenanigans, mystery, and unrequited love. It’s a big story for a small book. Grant makes it work, but I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want more of this tale – it would have made an excellent full-length novel.

One of my favorite things about Spindrift House is the atmosphere that surrounds it. Grant writes it as if it were another character in the story. The house is a living, breathing being and the foggy, wet New England air is the cloak that it wraps itself in. It’s just perfect!

In the Shadow of Spindrift House was published as a deluxe edition hardcover from Subterranean Press as well as an affordable ebook edition.

Paperbacks from Hell

The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix with Will Errickson

5/5 Star Review

What is there to possibly say about this glorious book that hasn’t already been said? I read this book last fall and keep going back to it over and over again. To those few of you who may be unfamiliar, Paperbacks from Hell is an ode to the bygone days of horror, broken down by the popular tropes of the ’70s and ’80s: Satanism, Creepy Kids, Killer Animals (of all kinds), and Science gone horribly, horribly wrong – just to name a few. This is an over-sized paperback book that is absolutely brimming with the tremendous cover art that graced these books back in the day. Let’s be honest – most of the time, the covers were far, far better than the actual books.

Click the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

I am a child of the early ’80s, so much of what I discovered here was brand new to me. That being said, there were still some fun moments of nostalgia to be had when I saw V.C. Andrews creep up in the opening of the Gothic and Romance chapter; old favorites R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike leaping from the section entitled, Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?; and unfortunately, the downfall, the Death Rattle, and the discussion of the Dell Abyss line – Poppy Z. Brite got me through high school, dear readers.

Like the many others who came before me, I finished Paperbacks from Hell and knew that I had to own these new-to-me books and seek out titles that I used to own 25 years ago. It’s been an expensive year, friends.

Paperbacks from Hell has made old fans nostalgic and new fans hungry for the horror that came before. Along with the thriving independent publishing scene, this resurgence has helped to bring horror back into the light and birth a whole new generation of fans.

I can’t recommend this book enough – whether you’re a fan of the genre, or the artwork, or just want to know more about pulp classics – this book is the bee’s knees.

Need more? I also recommend checking out the sites below:

Grady Hendrix – Check out the author’s page and subscribe to his free newsletter. It’s like receiving free mini-sequels to Paperbacks right in your own mailbox! Don’t forget to check out Book Reviews of the Damned and read Grady’s take on some of the trashiest, craziest books he can find!

Too Much Horror Fiction – Check out co-author Will Errickson’s review blog. This site is an absolute treasure chest of mainstream and obscure horror. You can get lost on here for days!

Valancourt Books – A small, independent press that specializes in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print titles. These excellent folks have teamed up with Hendrix and Errickson to resurrect some of the titles featured in Paperbacks from Hell and they have been reprinted with new introductions by either Grady or Will. Valancourt has done their best to retain the original cover art where possible and have already released the first wave of five titles. The second wave is just launching – be sure to check it out!

Cry Your Way Home

A hauntingly beautiful collection by Damien Angelica Walters

5/5 Star Review

It’s September and I am still reveling in the month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team is celebrating their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! If you would like to join in the festivities, there is a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month and it features five different reading challenges – check out this link for more details!

I read Cry Your Way Home for Challenge #1 – Read a Book by an Indie Author. This is my first “official” pick for the read-a-thon and what a way to kick it off! Damien Angelica Walters has some serious writing chops – this lovely lady can crawl under your skin, break your heart, cause you to look over your shoulder, and make you rethink your favorite childhood stories all in the breadth of less than a hundred pages. This book weighs in at 223, so you know you are in for a whirlwind of emotion and horror.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

While I enjoy many different sub-genres of horror, my bread-and-butter, the horror that truly resonates with me, is the horror that is born out of emotion. It is the horror that comes from loving someone so deeply and watching them unravel, as in In the Spaces Where You Once Lived; the regret in knowing that you could have made a difference for someone, as in The Floating Girls: A Documentary; and handling the abiding grief of losing a child, as in Falling Under, Through the Dark and Umbilicus.

That being said, the stories collected in Cry Your Way Home are not all riddled with grief and heartache – far from it! This book is a well-blended mix of cosmic horror, fairy tale retellings, magical realism, and science fiction – all spun in a literary style with a dash of some seriously empowering female characters.

Cry Your Way Home is a gorgeous and mature collection of stories. I do not say this about many collections, but there is not one story in this book I didn’t enjoy. They would all be 4 and 5 star ratings if I had to go through each individually. Since finishing this, I have gone on to order the other books Ms. Walters currently has out – Paper Tigers and Sing Me Your Scars. The Dead Girls Club will be released on December 10th of this year. I highly recommend you all give this lady a read!

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!

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

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.

Click on cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

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.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

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!