A little competition can be a good thing. Whether it’s your hobby or occupation, rivalry can be a healthy motivator to push yourself to excel. It’s perhaps a bit less healthy when talking about two serial murderers leapfrogging over one another to produce a more gruesome and intricate tableau, but who are we to judge? The night can be dangerous, but it’s so much worse if you happen to be a secondary character concocted by the combined imaginations of Whiston and Ericmore. Whether we’re talking about power tools, sex toys, or construction equipment, these two will find a way to utilize it in the most gruesome manner possible. Am I talking about the characters or the authors? Is there a line that separates them? Much as their respective characters seek to outdo one another within the narrative, the authors of this deliciously violent story compete the perpetrate increasingly cruel and vicious acts on the page. It must be said that these two work well together in that respect, as any reader will be delighted to discover. But is it possible that one of these killers is more than they seem? Is there a grand design of malevolent intent taking shape before our eyes? You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.
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Midnight Mass provides readers with an alternate history of our world. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, a scourge of vampires rapidly overwhelmed Europe and Asia before turning their sights on America. The population centers of the East Coast are the first to go dark, as those in positions of power are quickly turned by the calculating monsters who seek absolute dominion over the world. Everything seems hopeless as the remaining human beings are slaughtered or captured and treated as livestock, recruited as daytime enforcers for the undead, or driven into hiding as they await the inevitable end. This is where F. Paul Wilson’s novel begins. In a devastated town on the Jersey shore, a demoralized Rabbi desperately seeks the assistance of his best friend, a disgraced Catholic priest, to restore both the faith and resolve to his former congregation. A desecrated church awaits them, but with the power of the cross being one of the only weapons against the undead, Rabbi Zev Wolpin hopes this one priest can spark the fire that will cleanse the community of the evil that’s taken hold. But maybe Revelation 13:4 is right, in that it will take one like the monsters to make war against them. But it’ll take more than that. There’s a deadly secret that could turn the tide of this war between the living and the undead, and it’ll be up to Father Joe and his unlikely compatriots to uncover the truth and bring it to the light of day. Midnight Mass is an action-packed narrative that manages to provide a great deal of character study along the way. Father Joe’s transformation throughout the story is both heartbreaking and exhilarating at the same time. The characters populating Wilson’s novel are spectacularly well-developed and realistic. An anarchistic, lesbian atheist isn’t going to lose her skepticism and begin believing in God or the power of Christ simply because crosses have the power to harm the undead. A nun isn’t going to cast aside a lifetime of faith and assumptions regarding right and wrong solely because the world has become a dark place filled with creatures of the night. A faithful Rabbi is bound to suffer a crisis of faith when the holy symbols of the Christian faiths have a power that’s notably absent from those of other world religions. A lifetime of seeing the world a certain way isn’t something that can be flipped off like a switch. Wilson acknowledged that in this book. It influenced his characters to make them feel more three-dimensional than I’ve seen in other vampire fiction, where the old myths and folklore are relevant. Jamie Renell’s narration is excellent, especially the performance of Father Joe’s dialogue, nailing that gruff New England accent. The accents of the various European vampires are portrayed well enough that they don’t sound cartoonish or silly. Overall, the whole narrative flows well with Renell’s voice work, and I think this was a great pairing.
Duncan Ralston’s Woom is a masterpiece of an anthology tale with the most seamlessly incorporated framing story I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It’s like Campfire Tales if that movie had been X-rated and situated in a run-down, no-tell motel room. While Woom works as a single, longer-form piece of literature, it’s also a series of vignettes that flows together surprisingly well. As Angel and Shyla share their respective stories, the content becomes progressively more unsettling and vile. That shouldn’t bother you, though. It’s what you checked in for, after all. When Angel checked in to Room 6 at The Lonely Motel and requested a big girl from the escort service, he expected disappointment. It’s what he’d experienced previously, both in life and in his previous attempts to find the right woman for the objective he has in mind. When Shyla arrives at the door, it seems like Angel might have found just the woman he’s been looking for. As the night progresses, and he opens up to her as she opens up for him, it becomes increasingly likely that Shyla will be uniquely suited to provide Angel with what he needs. Mental illness, childhood and adult trauma, sexual fetishes, graphic violence, and a desperate need for redemption and rebirth swirl together into a perversely entertaining book. Woom is a story that dares the reader to continue reading, the whole time knowing that things are only going to get worse but that the way out is through. What follows might be a spoiler, but I’m not sure I’d consider it one. While it’s obvious from the outset that Angel was telling stories from his own life, I don’t think that was meant to be a surprise to the reader, so I feel comfortable commenting on that without worrying that it’s too much of a spoiler. I suspect Shayla might have been the only person taken aback by that revelation. She wasn’t the brightest character, after all.
If you’ve been following my reviews at all, you know how much I adore Ash Ericmore’s writing and especially the sordid tales associated with the Smalls Family. To say I was pleased when Ericmore indicated there would be more to come after he’d concluded the stories of the seven Smalls brothers with Candyboy’s agricultural escapades would be an extreme understatement. With Valentine, we’re fully introduced to their cousin Marian. Babysitting Backy for Adam (Bliss) becomes quite the adventure when a group of Scottish criminals force their way into the house and leave with Valentine’s charge, hoping to take something of importance to Adam. Unfortunately for them, Valentine is no less prone to violence and impulsive behavior than the other Smalls we’ve met. Physical torture, superhero antics, excessive violence, a reptile ruckus, and a big rig brouhaha ensues as Valentine tracks down the twice-stolen baby, hoping to return him home before Adam is any the wiser. As with Ericmore’s other criminal capers, this story is non-stop, full-tilt excitement from the first line to the conclusion. You can’t be disappointed when you’re delving into the world of the Smalls clan, it’s simply not an option.
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Concerned that their neighborhood might be going downhill, Julian and Claire Perry decide to look at some available properties in their small town of Jardine, New Mexico. Drawn to a house in the historic district near downtown, they’ll soon discover that some neighborhoods are worse than others, and some homes can be worse than they’d ever imagined. Bentley Little is a master of the haunted house story, somehow managing never to retread his other material, keeping the tales fresh and filled with new horrors each time. The Haunted is no exception. The Haunted isn’t a story of gradually building unease and uncertainty, as we encounter from many tales of haunted houses. As with most hauntings, it begins with the children, but it isn’t long before everyone in the family recognizes the danger in their home on Rainey Street. It soon becomes clear that everyone in the neighborhood knows what the Perry family will discover. There is no subtlety to the monstrous presence lurking in the Perry family’s new home, and its reach is greater than any of them could have known. As is often the case with Little’s writing, there’s a massive history he’s built up leading to the events of the novel itself, and he provides readers with tantalizing glimpses of the detailed past as the story approaches its climax. The presence in their home is no mere ghost, and the house is only the most recent structure built on that place. Dan Butler’s narration is excellent, leaving nothing to be desired. The best narrators do one of two things, they either bring the story and its characters to life, or they manage to make the listener feel almost as though they’re reading the book themselves. Butler is of the latter variety, and one of the better narrators I’ve come across in that respect.
The Dark Country collects sixteen short stories from Dennis Etchison’s career, some particularly short, and all of them brimming with imagination. Unfortunately, many of the stories in this collection end without any conclusion, needlessly terminating in cliff-hangers that left me less than satisfied. The style of writing and the quality of the storytelling were both great. It was the lack of any real ending to many of the stories that limited my enjoyment at times. In most cases, I take the time to provide some manner of synopsis for each story included in a collection like this, but I will instead focus on a few of the stories that stood out to me as being the best of those included. In all honesty, some of the more surreal and peculiar tales would be impossible to review without giving everything away. It Only Comes Out At Night is an excellent way to kick off the collection, as we join a husband and wife on a road trip through the desert. A lonely rest area is transformed into a sinister and horrific place where unknown threats lurk and unwary travelers might never leave. Etchison captures the eeriness and isolation of late-night travel on empty stretches of highway, as well as the almost sinister ambiance of those out-of-the-way oases we find ourselves stopping at against our better judgment. Whether it’s because we’re exhausted, we require fuel, or we’re desperately in need of a restroom, long-distance travel has forced all of us to stop at one of those rest areas or convenience stores arising seemingly from nothing as they appear in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately for the couple at the center of Etchison’s tale, this rest area might live up to those nightmare scenarios we imagine. The cruel and monstrous twist awaiting readers at the end of The Pitch is both darkly comedic and altogether too plausible. A random gentleman offers to perform the sales pitch for a variety of kitchen gadgets in a shopping center, displaying the ease with which any slicing and dicing needs might be completed, with a special focus on the safety mechanisms. Buyer beware. Always check your purchases before use. The Late Shift builds an atmosphere of mystery and confusion as two young men stop at an all-night convenience store where they swear they recognize the attendant behind the counter. Something isn’t right, and their attempts to uncover the truth might just provide an unsettling first-hand understanding of why overnight workers seem a little unusual. Finally, the collection closes with The Dark Country, a story of a Mexican vacation and horrible mistakes made in response to a series of thefts. This final story showcases both the inherent bigotry of the Americans and the in-group vs. out-group thinking that emerges within the collected tourists as they begin perceiving the locals as predatory outsiders. The various narrators brought different qualities to light within the stories they performed. It seems as if some thought went into the distribution of stories, to pair each tale with the voice best suited for the narrative in question.
Lushbutcher is back, and she’s back with a vengeance. After the slaughter of St. Practice Day, she’s set her sights on Chucky Knight, the man who organized the pub crawl that threatened the innocent victims of those drunks and degenerates. A sprawling estate patrolled by samurai, ninja, and martial artists of all stripes is all that stands between Lushbutcher and her conquest of the evil force behind so much drunken debauchery. Lesser people might turn away when faced with such seemingly insurmountable odds, but Lushbutcher has God on her side and the brilliant legs he led scientists and engineers to develop on her behalf. As Janey carves and slices her way through dozens of security personnel, leaving a trail of limbs and broken bodies behind her, it’s her confidence and unflinching faith in the righteousness of her cause that blind her to the threat she faces. Will this finally be Lushbutcher’s mission that ends the scourge of drunken revelers terrorizing her city? Or will this be the end of Lushbutcher’s vocation, as she finally meets her match? You’ll have to read it to find out. Excelsior!
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If you’re looking for some new Christmas stories to read aloud in front of the crackling fire while everyone sips at hot chocolate, these might not be the stories you’re looking for. Do people still do things like that with their families? I’m just going to assume that they do. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these are precisely the stories you want to read to children and extended family as everyone gathers for the holidays. I’m not one to judge those things. Theresa Derwin has assembled a lovely collection of Christmas-themed horror with Seasons Creepings. Perhaps it is a bit unusual that I was reading this in February, but I didn’t judge you about sitting around a fire and reading these stories to your children, so I’d appreciate it if you extend me the same courtesy. The collection begins with the amusing Fifty Hades of Grey. A group of middle-aged women gathers together to exchange Christmas gifts, but one of those presents isn’t quite the innocent gag gift that it seems. A lady doesn’t reach a certain age without knowing how to handle a surprise or two, though. ‘Twas the Night provides us with a new interpretation of the familiar poem, replete with scathing social commentary. With The Red Queen, we’re introduced to a new acquaintance and admirer of Charles Dickens, as she nudges him along in the writing of A Christmas Carol. Some stories live on forever, and maybe it’s fitting that the authors do as well…assuming they keep writing. Night of the Living Dead Turkey shares an epistolic account of the zombie apocalypse brought about by infected turkeys. Unfortunately, this zoonotic virus might be more dangerous than the standard avian flu. For proof that revenge isn’t necessarily a dish best served cold, Last Christmas is a tale of infidelity, friendship, and the perfect holiday meal. And finally, A Contemporary Christmas Carol provides us with a glimpse of Mr. Scrooge’s regrets as he witnesses his former life of wealth and comfort eroded thanks to the interference of ghosts and the writing of Dickens himself. Sometimes our characters aren’t quite as enthusiastic about what we put them through as we portray them as being, and this is a fine example of that. Theresa Derwin has compiled a terrific little Christmas collection that’s sure to be perfect for the dysfunctional family gathering. I only wish I’d read this a couple of months ago instead of waiting until I’m either two months late or ten months early.
This title was released through http://www.godless.com as part of the AntiChristmas event for December of 2021. You can pick it up for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link follows:
Cleared Away is a truly unpleasant story. Were it not for the quality of the writing, I’d suggest there wouldn’t be anything redeeming in these few pages. Unfortunately for all of us, this story was written by Regina Watts, which means there’s plenty of quality in the prose. It should come as little surprise that this story–taking place in Nazi Germany–contains elements of rape, extreme violence, and anti-semitism. The reader should be prepared. We experience the predations of Major Basilius as he turns his attentions toward a young Jewish girl recently transported to the concentration camp. With Watts at the helm, one should know to expect that there is nothing but brutality and degradation to follow. There is nothing erotic or arousing in this story. If you’re looking for something like that, you’re in the wrong place, and you’ve picked up the wrong story. Avoid reading the following if you want to avoid spoilers: Though we find ourselves continually hoping for something to happen, some vengeance to be enacted against Basilius, Watts tears that hope away with each passing sentence. While this may be less satisfying for the reader, it’s altogether too authentic as far as the outcome is concerned. For most women in the position our young victim finds herself in, there was no salvation to be found. This young woman could have been any of the hundreds–or perhaps thousands–of victims who found themselves raped, abused, and tortured by those in power at concentration camps throughout Europe. Cleared Away is heartbreaking in its brutality and unrelenting, unflinching depiction of the treatment of this poor girl. At the same time, it’s important to remember that this is nothing compared to what was done to so many people in real life.
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Beyond the Creek tells us the story of Alex Foster, a young woman who finally discovered the strength to escape from an abusive relationship when she learned she was pregnant. Starting over with nothing in a small forested town, Alex is desperate to provide a better life for her unborn child. She takes a job as a caregiver for Peter Nox, a recent stroke victim undergoing physical and speech therapy, and it seems like she might be on track to make a go of life away from her abusive ex. Shrouded in mystery and the subject of rumors and superstitious whispers around town, the Nox family and their sprawling estate might be something more than Alex signed up for. Is it possible that she escaped from one monster in her life only to fall into the web of something far more terrifying? The answer to that question–and many others–may only be discovered beyond the creek on the property. Or are there answers to be found in the secret room beneath the Nox house? Nico Bell spins a dizzying tale of survival, family, and motherhood that keeps the reader breathless as they follow Alex on her journey into the darkness. Drawing from Greek mythology, Bell provides us with something captivating and unpredictable as she guides us along with Alex to unravel the threads that threaten to bind her to a fate worse than anything we imagined as the story began.
You can purchase this for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The links are below: