In A Dark Place

The “true” story behind The Haunting in Connecticut by Ray Garton

4/5 Star Review

I’m wrapping up reviews for books read in the last week of April and you know what that means – we are halfway to Halloween! Over on the Spine Breakers YouTube channel, Sue and Megan have been hosting Halfaweenathon 2020. You can find the the original video and the reading challenges here.

I read In A Dark Place for challenge #3 – Read a book that involves something supernatural.

I am endlessly fascinated with the supernatural and the paranormal. It’s something that I would like to believe in, but thus far have not experienced anything that could not be rationally explained. I love reading “true” tales of hauntings, but they are all read with a grain of salt. In A Dark Place was no exception to this. More on this in a bit.

In the 1980s, The Snedekers oldest son was undergoing daily cancer treatments and the family needed to move closer to the city in order to better care for him. With limited income, there was only one home that they found and could afford that satisfied both the needed location and space for their family of six – a former funeral home. The parents opted not to share that fact with the kids and spent their next year or so in utter denial of all of the weird goings-on around the home. Their eldest son was the most affected and often blamed for the spooky occurrences. The situation reached its boiling point once their son was no longer in the home and the Snedekers could no longer lie to themselves about the presence of evil. Enter the Warrens and eventual exorcism of the home.

This book has it all – strange sounds, disembodied voices, shadow figures, weird lights, footsteps, phantom touches, disappearing items, vibrating beds, the evil spirits of necrophiliacs, and demonic anal rape. Oh, yes – what kind of possessed house would this be if you weren’t being anally raped by a demonic presence?!

This book is an absolute blast – when you read it as fiction. It stands on its own as a pretty great haunted house novel. Ray Garton is a fantastic writer and his story shines. If you read it as a true story, well, there are many plot holes and inconsistencies to be found. Garton himself found them and questioned the Snedekers who never seemed to be able to keep their stories straight. He approached the Warrens about the questionable events and was told by Ed to, “…make it up and make it scary. That’s why we hired you.” I highly recommend reading the interview that Ray Garton did with Damned Connecticut about his experience writing this book. You can find it here.

Whether or not you believe the validity of this story or in the Warrens ability to assist in these cases – it is a fun ride. Garton wrote a wicked fun haunted house story that can be enjoyed whether it is true or not. Recommended read!

Ghoul

A coming-of-age horror novel by Brian Keene

5/5 Star Review

It’s the last week of April and you know what that means – we are halfway to Halloween! Over on the Spine Breakers YouTube channel, Sue and Megan have been hosting Halfaweenathon 2020. You can find the the original video and the reading challenges here.

I read Ghoul for challenge #2 – Read a spooky book and then watch the movie (or TV) adaptation.

Ghoul is a perfect example of quintessential coming-of-age horror. The novel takes place over the summer of 1984. Three boys, twelve years old and best friends, are going through their own separate hells at home, fighting a supernatural monster, and becoming more grown-up than they should ever have to be over the course of just one season.

Timmy, Doug, and Barry live in small-town PA and their primary playground is the cemetery that sprawls next to Timmy and Barry’s homes. They notice that something seems to be going on when Barry’s dad, the cemetery caretaker, warns them away from playing there anymore and tells them to never come near it again at night. Days later, they notice some of the gravestones seem to be sinking into the earth. As more holes seem to be opening up and people start to go missing, the boys make plans to try and explore what they believe to be an underground cave system underneath the cemetery. Amidst their outdoor adventures, each of the boys is dealing with their own issues at home. Barry lives with a verbally and physically abusive father; Doug lives with a mother who is far too physical with her affections; and Timmy is dealing with the death of a family member and a father who demands he grows up too quickly.

Ghoul reminds us that there are things in this world that we perceive to be monsters, but that they are only doing what it is in their nature to do. It reminds us that humans can be monsters, and they they can be the most monstrous of all. Highly, highly recommended read!

I read my old Leisure copy of Ghoul that is no longer in print. You can find the current version linked here that is in print through Deadite Press. If you want to go all out – I highly suggest ordering the June 2020 Night Worms package, “Boys of Summer.” One of the books included will be an exclusive version of Ghoul published by Poltergeist Press with new cover art and a new introduction written by Brian Keene – read more about it here.

I’m only going to say a few words about the movie. It was released in 2012 and made for Chiller TV. I rented it through Amazon Prime and watched it a few nights ago. It was incredibly disappointing. It was missing all of the heart from the book and the filmmakers made some serious changes to the plot, particularly in regards to the ghoul itself. The changes could have worked, or at least not have been as glaringly out of place, if they hadn’t tried to use so many direct lines from the novel. Delivering the lines without context, or completely different context, just made for a muddy mess. I highly recommend skipping over the movie and just reading the book.

A Cosmology of Monsters

A generational novel of cosmic horror by Shaun Hamill

5/5 Star Review

I am not normally lured in by cover blurbs, but this one – this is the one that got me to pick up the book:

“If John Irving ever wrote a horror novel, it would be something like this. I loved it.” —Stephen King

If there is one element of story I think of when I think of both Stephen King and John Irving, it would have to be character narrative. Both authors have an incredible talent for creating characters that are people you know, or have known. They are friends, lovers, acquaintances, family members. As it would turn out, A Cosmology of Monsters completely lives up to the comparison.

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

In my opinion, Monsters is, at its heart, a generational family drama with elements of cosmic horror and weird fiction woven throughout the narrative. I came for the characters and stayed for the horror. You should know that going in. If you are taking the plunge and are expecting a straight horror story, you may be disappointed. This is a slow-burn. If you enjoyed King’s Revival or Duma Key – this would be a book you would absolutely love. It’s a novel that takes its time, but as it unfurls it is so very, very good!

Noah Turner is our narrator and the book is broken up into four parts – The story of Noah’s parents and the story of Noah’s childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. We follow the family’s highs and lows as they revolve around the designs of a great haunted house that grows from a front yard set-up to a full-size attraction called, The Wandering Dark. The family experiences loss and heartbreak and as the reader, we are there for every moment. Throughout, there are glimpses of the weird, the abnormal, and every taste leaves you wanting to know more. I hesitate to say anything else as this is a book I think you should walk into blind.

A Cosmology of Monsters is the number one contender for the best novel that I have read so far in 2020. It’s going to take to take a real doozy to unseat this one, but even then, I don’t think anything could drop if from my Top 5. If you like weird fiction or quiet, literary horror – you are doing yourself a disservice if you let this one go by without a read.

John McNee’s Doom Cabaret

A transgressive horror anthology by John McNee

5/5 Star Review

Do you remember the first time that your read Clive Barker or Poppy Z. Brite? Or the first time you discovered books published under the old Dell Abyss imprint or the splatterpunks of the 1990s? That feeling – that excitement – of knowing that horror can be both brutal and beautiful? That’s where I am with John McNee’s Doom Cabaret.

Like Brite and Barker, McNee has perfected the art of presenting taboo acts of extreme horror, violence, and gore as art. He makes the grotesque palatable by painting it with smooth curves and soft edges – acceptable in its brutality.

Doom Cabaret is comprised of eight short stories – all of which are worth mentioning: Bebbel – A story of dark magic and a carnival sideshow; Dead Deanna – About a girl who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer; Man Holding Razor Blade – Sometimes art takes on a life of its own; Slaughterhouse Sweetheart – Some men can never stop playing with their food; Skunk Jr. – A story about a couple who finally get a baby of their own; Repulsive Glamour – A cautionary reminder not to anger the gods; The Lullaby Man – A girl confronts her childhood nightmares; and the title story, Midnight at the Doom Cabaret – A sinister nightly show whose main act is always different and always chosen by the patrons.

If I have struck a chord reminiscing about 90s horror, or if you are looking for a darkly beautiful slice of the macabre, John McNee’s Doom Cabaret is available on April 24th 2020 and I highly recommend that you pre-order it now! I have placed a link to the ebook on the title image above.

This was my first time reading McNee and I can guarantee that it won’t be the last. It’s been awhile since I have been so very excited about a new author! My next dive into his works will be his novel, Prince of Nightmares, published by Blood Bound Books in 2016.

Please note that I did receive this title as a review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

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.