Archive for Book Reviews
Reviewed by Kristi DeMeester
In the deep heat and humidity of a small Southern town, Coil Stevens returns to the family homestead after a fifteen-year absence. Years ago, a terrifying event left Coil’s sister, Cass, on the verge of death at what appeared to be her brother’s hand. Plagued by gossip and rumor that he raped and beat his sister, Coil fled his hometown and put down roots in New York where he struggles to recapture the artistic talent of his youth that disappeared after the incident in the woods. In fact, it seems as if Cass leeched the talent out of him as she enjoys a successful career.
But now, Coil has come home to deal with his sister who has had a recent accident and now suffers from sundowners: a syndrome of episodic violence that coincides with the setting sun. As Coil finds himself enmeshed once more in the whispers he ran from fifteen years prior, he re-discovers his talent by frenetically painting in his sleep. His paintings, however, point toward an evil that has infected the townspeople and driven them to lurid, murderous acts.
The incident in the woods holds the key, and to help his sister, Coil must face something darker even than the accusations he faced as a teen. He returns to the woods to confront the horrible thing plaguing his sister and the town.
Brown’s strongest writing happens smack dab in the middle of this book. The first chapter is obscure and repetitive. A voice calling from far away. A summoning that is eerily recognizable. A command that must be followed. And so on and so forth. In reading this, I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t help it. I feared that what followed was going to be much of the same, and I couldn’t bear the idea of dragging myself through boring horror tropes for 206 pages. My apologies to Ms. Brown. I was wrong, and I have never been more relieved.
There are some truly horrifying moments that occur in small licks throughout the book. The chapters written concerning the townspeople are particularly well done, and the novel builds nicely toward the reveal of exactly what happened to Cass and Coil in the woods and the final showdown. The pacing creates a feeling of suspension, a sense of eeriness that crawls up the spine and lingers, and many of the scenes stick with you long after reading (read the chapter called “Pitter, Patter” and see that I’m not kidding).
I’m not sure what I was expecting the reveal to be. I’ve always found not seeing the monster to be a better bet than revealing it in all of its obscene glory, and I appreciate the anticipation that Brown creates. The sense of unease and wrongness that she develops in so many of the scenes is spot on. But the reveal, which deals with the nature of the muse, wasn’t exactly what I wanted. In fact, it was something of a strange let down. The descriptions are wonderful, and Brown is a talented writer, but there was a piece of me that found the evil lurking in the woods a bit, well, hokey isn’t exactly the right word, but it will serve.
Despite my misgivings regarding the ending, I’d still recommend the book. There are certainly moments that will keep you watching that strange shadow in the corner and awake long into the night.
Reviewed by Sheri White
Mary has lived alone in the valley for sixteen years, exiled by her husband due to a relationship gone awry. Now she spends her days gardening, baking, living her quiet life and enjoying her solitude. Until the day a stranger strayed away from the path and into her home. When he offers her freedom, her entire existence is threatened.
She refuses to go back, and is visited by others, urging her to return to the city and her husband. The city is crippled and her husband wants her home. Mary wants to stay, but now storms are descending upon her home and wild dogs are threatening her.
But once Mary faces her fears of her husband and the city, she is confronted with a reality she is not sure she can accept.
Tim Lebbon is well-known in the horror community for his novelizations of popular horror and science fiction movies, as well as authoring his own novels. In the Valley is a quieter story, with beautifully written scenes that spark the reader’s imagination. A sense of unease permeates the story, leading to an ending that works perfectly.
In addition to this wonderful novella, a bonus story called “The God of Rain” is found at the end of the book.
In the Valley, Where Belladonna Grows is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve read it.
PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA—Word Horde is proud to announce the release of THE CHILDREN OF OLD LEECH: A TRIBUTE TO THE CARNIVOROUS COSMOS OF LAIRD BARRON. Editors Ross E. Lockhart (THE BOOK OF CTHULHU, TALES OF JACK THE RIPPER) and Justin Steele (THE ARKHAM DIGEST) have gathered together many of the brightest lights in dark fiction to pay homage to one of horror’s masters.
Over the past decade, Laird Barron has become one of the most lauded and influential names in horror fiction. His short stories, two novels, and three collections have garnered numerous nominations and awards, including three Shirley Jackson Awards and a Bram Stoker Award. Recognizing Barron’s meteoric rise, Lockhart and Steele sought to assemble an original tribute anthology unlike any other, focusing on atmosphere and affect, rather than simple pastiche.
“Barron’s fiction has long been an inspiration to his peers,” says co-editor Justin Steele. “The interwoven stories and novels create a rich tapestry of noir-infused cosmic horror. This mythology makes for an excellent backdrop for the weird tales within.” Offered this unique opportunity to play in what Publishers Weekly calls Barron’s “worm-riddled literary playground,” these children of Old Leech—Barron’s fans, peers, friends—conjured an anthology “with a coherent feeling of dread, without feeling derivative of the source.”
On Tuesday, July 15, 2014, Word Horde will commemorate the book’s official release with a virtual toast to Old Leech himself. Throughout social media, authors and readers alike are encouraged to share their thoughts about the anthology and its inspiration, Laird Barron, using the hashtag #TCoOL.
THE CHILDREN OF OLD LEECH is distributed by Ingram, and will be available in Hardcover and eBook formats through most online retailers and better independent bookstores everywhere in July 2014. For more information about Word Horde or to request an electronic review copy, please email publicity[at]wordhorde[dot]com.
Reviewed by Jess Landry
When I originally heard about editor Rhonda Parrish’s anthology A is for Apocalypse, my first thought was of the 2013 film The ABCs of Death, in which twenty-six different filmmakers were each assigned a letter of the alphabet and from that letter, they were given a list of possible titles. The filmmakers then created a short film based on their chosen title; the first short in the celluloid anthology being A is for Apocalypse.
Upon reading Parrish’s introduction in A is for Apocalypse, it was as I suspected – she had been inspired by The ABCs of Death and created this anthology in the same fashion. Parrish’s plan, as stated in her preface, is to create a series, twenty-six different anthologies each containing twenty-six stories, one story for every letter of the alphabet. As an ode to the film that inspired her, the title of each story isn’t revealed until its end, which made reading the stories a bit of a guessing game.
Every story in A is for Apocalypse revolves around the before, during or after of the end of the world. Whether this world is Earth or somewhere distant, whether the survivors are humans or something else, whether the story is told from the perspective of a human or something a little more sinister, there’s a fine balance of scenarios spanning cultures, timeframes and predicaments presented within the 300 or so pages.
In dealing with the human aspect of the Armageddon, a truly successful pre- or post-apocalyptic tale tends to delve into the study of human nature, mainly what would become of us, the human race? How would we survive? Suzanne van Rooyen’s F, Pete Aldin’s S and Cory Cone’s T stories are fine examples of how pressures of the post-apocalyptic world may bring some people well beyond their breaking point. BD Wilson’s L, Damien Angelica Walters’s U and Lilah Wild’s W stories touch upon the lengths some people will go to save the ones they love. Sara Cleto’s H, Kenneth Schneyer’s I, KV Taylor’s J and Alexis A. Hunter’s Y stories take the human emotions of the world ending and show them through the unlikely eyes of another.
With twenty-six different styles and voices, it’s a matter of opinion as to which ones stand up higher than the others. For me, I enjoyed KV Taylor’s well-paced J story, Gary B. Phillips’s hilarious K entry, Samantha Kymmell-Harvey’s beautiful V story, Lilah Wild’s thoughtful W story, and Alexis A. Hunter’s Y tale, which takes a horrible fad of a title and turns it into a wonderful story.
Just like the film, there are some hits and some misses, but with an assortment of plots and genres (some horror, some science fiction, even a few dabbling in romance and humour) there’s a little bit here for everyone. Fans of apocalyptic tales should find A is for Apocalypse entertaining and if Parrish follows suit with The ABCs of Death titles for the next instalment in her self-proclaimed “ABCs of Awesome” series (I second the motion!), I look forward to reading B is for Bigfoot.
Reviewed by David Goudsward
All the Shadows of the Rainbow begins in 1955. Diane Chilton is adjusting to changes that took place at the end of the previous book, including her own death. Diane is now a vampire. She returns to Boston after the Fae drive her from wallowing in self-pity in the Maine woods. An undead mage among the living, she searches for another vampire, beings so rare that even magic society doubts they exist.
The one minor issue with this book is that at times, the characters and references require familiarity with the previous book, The Longer the Fall (2010). The previous book introduced Diana Chilton as a magician in 1952 Boston who leaves her male-dominated order to attempt social change through magic. It did not end well for the attempt or the participants. Although Arthen does a remarkable job of gradually fleshing out these previous events without bogging the reader down in a ponderous recap, a little more background in the early chapters would have helped.
Diane went through her training with childhood friend Jack Garrett. He proposes that they start a secret coven and use their training and powers to subtly make the political and social changes Diane has long believed are necessary. With two other highly gifted magicians, they slowly begin manipulating people for the greater good. They begin to build a vast web of magical energy that allows them to determine where, when, and who to influence. As the 1950s become the 60s, Diane slowly begins to question the effectiveness of what they’re doing and whether she still trusts Garrett. Events in November, 1963 destroy the connection between the four, and they drift off on their own paths.
Alone again, Diane returns to her search for another of her kind. She finds Troy, a vampire in a commune starting an organic farm. Diane joins the commune, a haven as the 60s become a morass of drugs, violence and racism. Diane begins to suspect her former friend Jack Garrett has done the impossible—kept the coven’s magical web alive without the combined power of the coven, and his manipulating people is causing the violence and civil upheaval tearing apart the Age of Aquarius. Troy is leaving to follow a lead as to the origin of vampirism, but Diane realizes that she must stop Jack before he can usher in the end of modern society.
The story is taut, weaving historical events together with alternative, supernatural explanations. Diane does what she does, whether it is manipulating racists to change their minds, becoming a hippie, or helping the homeless with the sole purpose of bettering mankind, even though she no longer a member of humanity. Her decisions are agonized over, second-guessed and not always correct. Diane Chilton may be a vampire, but her humanity is never in question. It is a character worth knowing in a book worth reading.
Reviewed by Marvin Vernon
The best reason for buying Bleed, the emotionally moving anthology of horror fiction edited by Lori Michelle, is that the proceeds from the sale of the book goes to the National Children’s Cancer Society. The second best reason for buying it is that it is one of the best horror anthology I have read in a long time.
Bleed is a collection of 47 short works by known and lesser known authors in the horror genre. Most of the works are short fiction but there are about a half dozen essays and a few poems. The theme anthology focuses on the horror and devastation of cancer. This may sound depressing but Editor Lori Michelle does an amazing job of balancing the book with very different tales of horror, grief, emotional loss and even hope. Sometimes the tales are directly related to the illness. Sometimes the authors use fictional plagues or monsters to make the case. And in other stories, it is an allegory that may not connect right away but later as the story absorbs into your brain.
The first four works pretty much set the pace and shows Michelle’s deft handling of the topic. The introductory essay “True Horror” by Lori Michelle describes her experiences dealing with her son’s diagnosis and treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. It is followed by “With Paper Armour and Wooden Sword” by Tracie McBride, a piece of fantasy fiction that deals with the relentless devastation the disease brings to families and society. But once you finish it and are reeling from the power of the work, you get Bentley Little’s “The Addition” a very subtle and gentle horror tale that at first seems to have no connection until later when the message hits you. Then the pace is changed again with “Welcome to the World, Mister Smiles” by T. Fox Dunham, a horror tale that directly involves cancer and its treatment but with a terrifying twist.
From then on, the stories continue with much more variety then you would suspect for what appears to be a narrow theme. Yet the contributing writers display an abundant of imagination and a refined skill for portraying feelings of grief, loss powerlessness and, most importantly, hope. No story or essay is weak and if there are better pieces than others it comes from a comparison of strength rather than weaknesses.
There are a number of fictional works deserving special mention. “Sludge” by Stan Swanson is one of the more humorous of the stories and perhaps also a clever tribute to the film The Blob. It works best as a clever analogy. William F. Nolan’s “Descent” starts out quietly but quickly turns into a harrowing look at facing inevitable death. “Dreams of Shadows” by Robert S. Wilson is one of many stories in the collection that directly takes on the plight of childhood cancer yet it stands out as the most hopeful of the short fiction pieces. Rick Hautala’s “The Call” is a terribly beautiful tale of a son and father. It is one of my favorites and it bear extra significance considering the author’s demise in 2013. Some of the stories features cancer in the form of a sentient monster and “The Sallow Man” by Adam Millard especially stands out in that category. Finally, “No Limit” by Peter Giglio and S. S. Michael has a quirky kind of weirdness to it and if its connection to the anthology’s theme eludes me, it is still too good not to mention.
So overall, Bleed is an exceptional anthology with an unusual theme and fiction that rises over the average in terms of quality and substance. I highly recommend this book as one of the best anthologies you will find. And don’t forget that you will be donating to a good cause. It’s a win/win.
Edited by Alex Scully
The desert is a very hot place. Heat shimmers like a living thing as you gaze across vast stretches of more desert. That shimmer distorts your reality. It alters your perceptions. It can kill you. In Kate Jonez’s novella, Ceremony of Flies, the desert, with its oppressive heat and endless nothingness, serves as the perfect setting for a seemingly innocent decision with horrific consequences.
Two petty criminals, drifting from one desert town to another, make an innocent pit stop at a roadside bar. They’re full of dreams and schemes, but all they find is trouble when a stolen credit card leads to a brutal shooting. Fleeing into the “weird brownish haze” of the desert twilight, they come across a small boy and his dog at a lonely crossroads. Perhaps for the first time in their lives, they do “the right thing” and rescue the boy from the oppressive sand and rock. But as they flee toward Mexico to escape the law, they encounter forces far more dangerous than anyone with a badge.
The environment becomes a character as much as the human beings in Ceremony of Flies, and it gives the story a vivid backdrop. Images such as “the Joshua trees wave their twisted arms” and a desert “moonscape, unbroken in its desolate sameness” create an eerie parallel to the narrative. An evil rises from this endless desolation, and like the twisted desert trees, its distorted visage stands threateningly in the sea of emptiness. Jonez also uses the fly as a subtle symbol of the growing evil. In this inhospitable climate, the flies, and their master the Lord of the Flies, are the only living creatures to thrive.
Ceremony of Flies is disturbing on two levels. Taking the narrative at face value, Jonez paints a bleak picture of a coming doom that cannot be stopped. “This is the essence of the word disaster” as our protagonist tells us in the end. But there is another layer here. What if this is the tale of a madman? Can we believe our first-person narrator? What if Harvey, the little boy, is the fantasy of a demented mind? Jonez has skillfully crafted a dark and compelling story with multiple perspectives through the use of an unreliable narrator. Do we believe it? If it’s true, the consequences are horrific. If it’s not, we have travelled into a deeply disturbed mind. Both choices will leave with you nightmares, particularly in the shimmering heat of the desert during that haunted brown haze of twilight.