Candace Nola’s Breach drags us along with Laraya Jamison into a disorienting and terrifying battle for survival in a world alien from our own. The gradual revelation of a world that feels as fantastic and dreamlike as it is sinister and dangerous is a thrilling adventure for readers/listeners, even as beleaguered Laraya struggles to learn the rules of this new world and means to find her way home. A camping trip with her boyfriend and two closest friends descends into a violent and horrific disaster as a creature defying comprehension slaughters the others, forcing Laraya into an exhausting race for her life through a forest that transitions into something unfamiliar. Growing up in these woods, she knows she’s far from home, but Laraya has no idea how she arrived in this strange place or how to return to the world she knows. Laraya’s journey of discovery through this new world is equal parts fantasy and horror. The true journey is of self-discovery as she learns of her connection to this realm and the extraordinary allies in her battle against monstrous beings who seek to destroy her or follow her through the breach and back to our world. Jessica McEvoy’s narration brings Laraya to life, filling the character’s account of events with emotion that conveys the harrowing nature of her experiences.
Impact Winter is less of an audiobook than an homage to old-school radio dramas. Travis Beacham, along with a full cast of magnificent voice actors, a collection of sound technicians and foley artists, and a vast array of supporters (including the illustrious Robert Kirkman), brings to life a vampire tale that is both original and rooted in well-established mythology. When an asteroid impact devastates the world and plunges everything into darkness and storms, creatures that had hidden in the night are free to wreak havoc upon the human survivors. Hunted, and forced into hiding, sisters Darcy and Hope Dunraven find refuge with a band of refugees in an old military installation beneath a castle-turned-museum. As hopeless as humanity’s future might appear, a glimmer of salvation may be on the horizon. But what sacrifices will be required in pursuit of that new day? The story that unfolds through the twelve episodes of Impact Winter is a thrilling one populated by characters who defy generic templates and archetypes. It’s a shame that it has to end, though there’s more than enough left in the air for listeners to hope for a second season. The voice talent of performers like Holliday Grainger, Esme Creed-Miles, Himesh Patel, David Gyasi, Caroline Ford, Indira Varma, Bella Ramsey, and Liam Cunningham has a lot to do with the compelling and captivating nature of Impact Winter. An excellent script only goes so far, and it takes the talent of people like those involved with this project to elevate it to the next level.
Childbirth is always a disorienting, dangerous, and painful experience. As beautiful and fulfilling as it also might be, it remains those things. It should come as no surprise that Todd Love’s Birth focuses heavily on those first three things. It’s a horror story, after all. What else did you expect? Nora’s labor begins early, while she’s alone at home and unprepared. Bleeding, experiencing pain like she’s never known, and horrified that something’s gone wrong, it’s a relief when the professionals arrive and spirit her away to the hospital. Unfortunately, trained professionals can only do so much. Nora’s fear that something might be wrong is well-founded and has something to do with the donor material she utilized. Once again, Todd Love takes the rug by its frayed edge to not only yank with all his might and pull it out from under us, but also leave us sprawling on the floor, wondering what the hell just happened.
This title, like many of Todd Love’s stories, can be found at http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless App to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
Christopher Buehlman’s Between Two Fires transports readers to the region now known as France during the peak of the Black Death. The world was ending. Sickness had emptied whole villages, leaving nothing behind but decaying remnants and ghosts that haunted the vacant homes. The survivors, few and far between, were living through horrors no one had ever seen. Amid this nightmare of disease and human predation, a war unlike any witnessed on Earth was taking place. This tableau of terror, both human and spiritual, is the world Buehlman brings to life. When Thomas, a crude and disgraced knight, takes it upon himself to shelter and protect a young girl–who knows things she should not know and sees things others cannot see–he knows he’s set himself on a path that might end in tragedy. But nothing can prepare him for the madness and cruelty awaiting them on their journey to Avignon. The boundaries of reality are repeatedly blurred throughout the narrative, forcing the reader to question–as Thomas does–whether he’s awake or dreaming. The dead haunt the living, tormenting them with cruel assertions and distorted recollections of the past. Ghosts appear and disappear, leaving us to wonder which of these apparitions are truly beyond the veil, and which are drawn from the memories of Thomas and the weary priest who joins him on his quest. Will the trio arrive where they intend, or will the gates of Hell await them instead. Is there a difference? Steve West narrated this audiobook almost perfectly. The delivery of dialogue and narrative components were both handled with great attention to detail. The narration was almost as gripping as the story itself.
Judith Sonnet takes a hammer and chisel to our sensibilities and good taste with her collection, Something Akin To Revulsion: Six Extreme Short Stories. There is nothing safe, nothing sacrosanct, and nothing off-limits within these pages–and that’s how it should be. It was my pleasure to be one of the first to experience LOLCOW, the story that starts this particular collection. Judith’s rendition of this grotesque and graphic tale was the winning performance of the 2022 KillerCon Gross-Out Contest, and with good reason. Plumbing the depths of the internet for hilarious, perverse, and captivating content might provide more stimulation than one is prepared to experience. But like the narrator of LOLCOW, we can’t help ourselves as we return to the trough. Liquid Sick suitably tackles the TERF epidemic, showcasing for readers that those people spend too much time spewing excrement and too little time on empathy. Judith’s own trans experience influences and informs this narrative, and she does an excellent job of providing both amusement and poignant social commentary. Also, apropos of nothing…fecal emesis has always fascinated me. Sonnet’s next story, Rehearsal, provides a grim and unrelenting glimpse into the hours before a school shooting transpires. Kids who did nothing wrong find themselves prey to the whims of cruel and maladjusted classmates with pizza cutters to grind. Body-Crunch takes us to the dimly lit, poorly constructed ring of a backyard wrestling match that goes horrifically wrong. It’s not every day one almost feels bad for a pedophile, but it’s hard not to feel some faint stirring of sympathy as everything comes crashing down–and spilling out. In Coke-Nail, a group of bored, slacker teenagers decide they know where they might be able to score some cocaine. The deal doesn’t work out as planned, but one of them still manages to reach a state sort of like snowblindness. Finally, we have Something Akin To Revulsion, wherein some truly awful preadolescent girls decide they’re going to play a prank on the dumpy, less popular girl in their class. The conclusion might have you in stitches, though, so it’s worth sitting through the horror. Sonnet’s collection is as gripping as it is bleak and nihilistic, and it’s got those traits in spades. Her story notes clarify the inspiration and motivation behind each of the inclusions, and it’s always a pleasure to spend a little time getting to know the author after finishing something that’s hollowed you out like this collection is sure to do.
In a career punctuated by numerous surreal horror stories, The Town might be Bentley Little’s most surreal book of them all–and that says something. Steeped in the Russian spiritualism and mysticism of the Molokan immigrants to the United States and Mexico, Little introduces readers to a religious sect about which most people know little to nothing. I’m well-versed in world spirituality, and even I had little understanding of Molokan philosophy and culture. When Gregory Tomasov won the California lottery, he didn’t necessarily strike it rich. He did earn enough to move his family back to his hometown in rural Arizona, where he believes his children are safer than in Los Angeles. At first, the homecoming seems to work out nicely, though strange occurrences are popping up. It isn’t long before the whole world around them appears to be going mad. It all has something to do with Jedushka di Mudvedushka, the Owner of the House–a Russian superstition–and the banya (bathhouse) on the property where the Tomasovs moved. Little manages to keep the reader guessing what might come next as he ratchets up the tension and defies expectations at every opportunity. Nothing can be taken for granted as the narrative propels us toward a ghastly and horrific conclusion from which only some will walk away. David Stifel’s narration suitably captures the accents of various characters, and he provides listeners with a thrilling experience while at the same time delivering the narrative with an unusual drawl and cadence that is occasionally off-putting. It works for the story in question, but I’m not sure how much of that was intentionally applied for this audiobook and how much was just the narrator’s manner of speaking.
It’s a tradition for horror authors to write at least one coming-of-age tale that takes place during the golden years of the author’s youth. December Park is Ronald Malfi’s thrilling and heartbreaking contribution to the trend. It should come as no surprise that Malfi would manage to produce something that doesn’t feel derivative or even comparable to the work of other writers within the genre. When children begin disappearing from the coastal community of Harting Farms, rumors spread that the missing children are victims of a singular, sinister figure, the Piper. After one girl is found dead, Angelo Mazzone and his friends take it upon themselves to investigate the disappearances, believing that they are uniquely suited to unravel the mystery and locate the monster stalking the streets of their small town. The author authentically captures the period of the early-to-mid 1990s, and the young men populating his narrative feel like boys we might have known and befriended during those years. Each boy’s personality is distinct and fleshed-out, clearly setting them apart from one another while avoiding generic archetypes. As much a story of self-discovery and friendship as it is about the hunt for a murderer and the discovery of his identity, it’s likely the author utilized Angie’s character as a stand-in for himself. A gifted writer and avid reader who shyly worries that his friends will think less of him if he embraces his talent and takes the necessary steps to fulfill his potential, Angie underestimates the bonds between himself and his closest friends. The teenage years are a minefield of uncertainty and insecurity, and Malfi hasn’t forgotten what that felt like as he crafted the tale he tells in December Park. The heartbreaking conclusion is one that he successfully avoids telegraphing while navigating with attention to detail that keeps it from feeling contrived. Upon reaching the end, so much of the story up to that point is cast under a wholly different sort of bleak and somber darkness. He invites us all to join him at the corner of Point and Counterpoint, where we can watch the story unfold, not knowing what’s coming but filled with dread and tension the whole time. Eric G. Dove provides excellent narration, carefully providing each character with a voice all their own and drawing us into the world of Harting Farms.