The Handyman by Bentley Little, Narrated by Chris Andrew Ciulla

Daniel is a real estate agent leading a couple through a cabin when the husband suggests, “It’s like a Frank house.” From there, everything changes in Daniel’s life. When Daniel was a child, his family had purchased land in Randall, AZ from a man named Frank Watkins, and they’d hired Frank to assemble the prefabricated A-frame they’d be using as a vacation home. He knew, first-hand, what it meant to live in a Frank House, but he’d still only glimpsed a fragment of what that meant.
As the memories of his surreal childhood experiences with Frank come rushing back to him, along with the tragedies that followed, Daniel finds himself driven by a compulsion to find the strange and sinister man who ruined his life. As he’ll soon discover, Daniel’s was not the only life ruined by living in a Frank House, and it’s more than shoddy workmanship and incompetence involved. It seems like there might be some cruel design behind it all.
The reader is treated to unsettling glimpses into the world Frank is crafting with his seemingly alien compulsions, whetting the appetite and setting the mind awhirl as we approach the dizzying and horrific conclusion in the missing town of Plutarch, TX.
A ghost story with a hint of cosmic horror resides at the center of the mystery Bentley Little lays out for us with The Handyman. There’s a hint of Danielewski’s House of Leaves in these pages and a little bit of the Winchester Mystery House thrown in for flavor, but it’s distinctly Little in craftsmanship.
The narration provided by Chris Andrew Ciulla is fantastic, especially on those rare occasions when we get to hear Frank brought to life with his peculiar speech pattern and unusual cadence.

Your English Is Good by Colt Skinner

Colt Skinner’s debut, brought to us by the unholy alliance of D&T Publishing and Godless, is one hell of a ride. Your English Is Good introduces us to Eddy, a biker hired as protection for Grace as she entertains clients for the night. On the surface, Grace appears to be a prostitute or dominatrix, but appearances can be deceiving.
We learn a great deal about Eddy–both his past and aspirations within the Dead Mariachis Motorcycle Club–as he finds himself drifting through reminiscence and reflection in the strangest way upon first meeting Grace. She seems to have a peculiar effect on him, but it’s nothing compared to the influence she has on her clients, but that’s what they’re paying her for.
While short, this story succeeds in blending elements of cosmic and body horror with a meditation on morality and sacrifice. In the end, we’re forced to consider that it may be that the most inhuman among us who display the most compassion and decency and that it’s all-too-human to exhibit a total lack of humanity.
Skinner leaves the reader wanting, hoping there’s more to the story of Grace and Eddy than what we’ve been exposed to. More than that, we’re left hoping there’s a lot more on the horizon from this emerging author because his English is good, but his writing is excellent.

You can obtain this story from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Candyboy by Ash Ericmore

Michael is the final Smalls brother to make our acquaintance in Ash Ericmore’s Smalls Family series, and he’s the core around which this whole sequence of events has orbited. It’s Candyboy’s thriving drug enterprise that rubbed the Eastern Europeans the wrong way.
Coming together after what happened to Bod in the previous installment, the Smalls brothers could have ventured out en masse to take their bloody and brutal revenge on the Eastern Europeans; but Candyboy feels responsible for what’s already happened, and it’s up to him to set things right in a truly Smalls fashion.
Michael Smalls will torture, degrade, and dice up anyone and everyone who stands in his way as he searches for the man calling the shots.
Ericmore, perhaps recognizing how profoundly Backy has wormed his little baby way into our black hearts, delivers more baby action with this volume. And, while there is no baby armor this time around, the little ones find a way to fly into the midst of the action just the same.
As we reach our agrarian climax, Ericmore pulls out all the stops with Candyboy destroying everyone and everything in his path, using whatever he has at his disposal, including farm implements.
This story is a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to what will hopefully be one of many Smalls Family series. Not that there should have been any doubt.

You can find this title as well as the other Smalls Family stories at http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Merry and Bright by Matt Henshaw

This story begins with what appears to be a charming little family gathered together near the tree to open presents on Christmas morning. Of course, knowing that this is a story from Matt Henshaw should give you pause, and provide some indication that things will not remain so tame and prosaic.
It isn’t until grandma and uncle arrive with three presents left near the front door that things begin to change for the worse. Driven by compulsion, the trio of Daniel, Sally, and Billy start unwrapping the presents with disastrous consequences.
A lump of coal is just fine with me if that’s an alternative to what happens to this family when they find themselves on Santa’s naughty list. Thankfully, Henshaw isn’t in R&D at Santa’s workshop, because Christmas would be a rather different experience for a lot of people.

This story was released as part of the AntiChristmas event at http://www.godless.com for December of 2021. You can obtain it for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

Cravings by D. E. McCluskey

Pickles, raw meat, even toilet paper, I’ve heard of some peculiar cravings experienced by pregnant women. For Sarah, her impulsive craving for a burger on the way home from an ultrasound was only the beginning. She doesn’t discover the true meaning of craving until she rushes to the bathroom after devouring that meal.
McCluskey hits us with a barrage of revolting set pieces devoted to Sarah fulfilling her new and increasingly disgusting cravings from that point on. We’re unable to turn away as we witness the vile, superbly detailed filth unfolding before us until everything in the first-time mother’s life spirals out of control as she desperately seeks to provide her unborn child with what it needs.
The best part is that none of this feels like shock and revulsion simply for the sake of creating something gross. There’s something more behind the mischievous and perverse imagination on display here. McCluskey manages to make us question things along the way.
How far will a parent go to provide what they believe their child needs from them?
How much willpower and control does one have in reserve when faced with an overwhelming, all-consuming impulse like a pregnancy craving?
How hard is it to clean certain substances out of one’s clothing after ravenously digging into a truly messy meal?
I hope I never have the answers to any of these questions, and I dearly hope that McCluskey’s answer to the first two questions is not what we discover in these pages.

You can obtain Cravings for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. This title is also available from Amazon. The links are below:

Nang Tani by Lee Franklin

Shane is a fighter, and he might be a big deal in his home of Australia, but he just experienced a humiliating defeat in Thailand. Bitter about his loss yet emboldened by a sense of entitlement, he discovers the perfect tattoo to commemorate his twenty-first birthday. From the wall of the tattoo parlor, Shane selects an image of the beautiful deity, Nang Tani. He demands that the artist perform the work against the old monk’s reservations, and ultimately gets more than he asked for. Unfortunately for Shane, one does not select her; she selects them.
Shane and his best friend, Paul, are terrible young men. Racist, homophobic, womanizing, and prone to violence, the curse couldn’t have befallen a more suitable victim than Shane.
Lee Franklin doesn’t skimp on the violence, brutality, and gore in Nang Tani. Nor does she refrain from bringing the characters to life by pulling no punches concerning their attitudes toward–and treatment of–the Thai locals and everyone else around them. This refusal to self-censor certainly helps Franklin to impart a great deal more authenticity to the interactions than might otherwise have been possible.
There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing these two Australians suffering, but that’s only the beginning because Nang Tani has plans for Shane, and he’ll fulfill them whether he likes it or not.

You can obtain this for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, Translated by Danusia Stok

Like most Americans, my first exposure to Geralt of Rivia and the wider world of The Witcher was through video games. It wasn’t until a short while later that I opted to check out the books upon which the video games were adapted. The Last Wish, a collection of seven short stories, was the first I’d read from Andrzej Sapkowski, and the tales were enthralling. Sardonic humor, entertaining dialogue, fast-paced action, captivating characters, and off-beat references to well-known fairy tales made famous through Disney bastardization produced a wholly original fantasy realm in which Geralt plied his trade.
Nested within the framing story of Geralt recovering from the injuries sustained in the first of the stories collected in The Last Wish, the stories primarily serve as flashbacks to earlier events in the titular Witcher’s life.
The first of those stories, and the source for the injuries, is a tale titled simply The Witcher. A king’s daughter, cursed at birth as a striga from the king’s incestuous union with his sister, has been preying on the population of Temeria. Many had tried to either lift the curse or kill the monster to no avail. Geralt offers his assistance and the assurance that he believes he can end the curse, but Geralt might have more difficulty doing so than he expects.
A Grain of Truth finds Geralt wandering off the beaten path, where he discovers two corpses with peculiar wounds. He soon discovers a large manor with an unexpected beast as a host. An interesting riff on the Beauty and the Beast narrative, A Grain of Truth provides the reader with a glimpse of the strange shapes love can take in Sapkowski’s writing.
It’s the third story, The Lesser Evil, that provides readers with the explanation for how Geralt obtained the pejorative nickname, the Butcher of Blaviken. Additionally, this story provides readers with a unique twist on the Snow White fairy tale, with a distinctly dark and sinister damsel at its heart.
A Question of Price introduces readers to “The Law of Surprise” and Queen Calanthe of Cintra. Another story with a curse at the core of it, we learn the power of destiny within the world of The Witcher, and we witness that love can be both blind and without judgment even in a realm brimming with cynicism like Sapkowski’s creation.
The Edge of The World shares with readers the first adventure featuring Geralt and the bard, Dandelion. Tasked with ridding the farmland of Lower Posada of a devil while restricted by a wise woman to inflict no harm on the creature, Geralt and Dandelion discover that there is more going on than the peasant farmers suspect.
In the story, The Last Wish, we meet Yennefer of Vengerberg after Dandelion and Geralt accidentally release a genie from its captivity, resulting in Dandelion being grievously injured. Seeking assistance from the sorceress, Yennefer, Geralt finds himself a pawn in a game he knew nothing about. He must find a way to restore control if he hopes to save Dandelion’s life as well as that of the duplicitous sorceress.
The framing story, The Voice of Reason, culminates in Geralt and Dandelion leaving the temple only to be waylaid by a company of soldiers who challenge Geralt to a duel. We also receive a glimpse into the fate the surrounds Geralt, one of blood and violence.
These stories are in no way chronologically lined up, and many of them will be familiar to those who have watched the Netflix series adapted from Sapkowski’s writing. Similarly, the strangely fluid chronological delivery will feel quite familiar to fans of the series. There are, of course, deviations in the adapted material for the series, but the core elements of the stories are present, which makes what Netflix has done quite spectacular.

Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby, Narrated by Adam Lazarre-White

There is no question why S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears made it to many national publications’ best of 2021 lists. This novel rests near the top of my list of best titles published in 2021 as well, especially when I focus on non-horror titles. 2021 was a good year for crime and suspense literature. Stephen King released Billy Summers, Kristopher Triana released And the Devil Cried, and S. A. Cosby released the absolute masterpiece Razorblade Tears.
Neither Ike nor Buddy Lee were great fathers when their sons were alive. Between recurring stints in prison and their prejudices about the fact that the boys were gay, in large part informed by antiquated perspectives on what it meant to be a man, the two men had driven substantial wedges between themselves and the sons they loved with reservations. It was only after the two young men were murdered that either father allowed themselves to embrace the sons they’d shown far too little affection when they were alive. Isiah and Derek, the interracial married sons, are like ghosts at the periphery of the tale Cosby weaves for us. They haunt the two men we come to admire, despite all of their faults, at the core of this novel.
Had Ike and Buddy Lee been able to overcome their ingrained bigotry while the boys had been alive, the two would have met years before the funeral, but that was not who the two men were. It turns out that the meeting of these two vastly different–yet strangely similar–men would be a fateful occasion that would lead to more bloodshed than either of the men could anticipate.
As the police investigation into Isiah and Derek’s deaths stalls out, Buddy Lee approaches Ike with a proposition that the two of them might have better luck taking matters into their own hands. Unraveling the mystery behind the brutal murder of the boys will force the two ex-cons to confront their pasts, their preconceived notions, and their concepts of love as the trail leads them through Hell and back before bringing them closer to home than they could’ve imagined.
The regret and retribution at the core of this book are at turns heartbreaking and viscerally satisfying. Most important, Cosby doesn’t shoehorn in any ersatz redemption for Ike and Buddy Lee because both men are so damaged and broken that redemption, in the sense that many writers would define it, simply wouldn’t make sense. That is not to say there’s no redemption here; there is redemption in these pages, but it’s the hollow sort that arises from the transformations coming far too late for it to make any difference.
Witty dialogue, well-crafted characters, and realistic portrayals of race relations, homophobia, and the difficulty associated with escaping a criminal past fill this novel with so much depth and honesty that it would be impossible to convey in a review. All I can say is that anyone delving into this book will come out the other end with an understanding that they didn’t have when going in.
Adam Lazarre-White’s narration for the audiobook is phenomenal. The additional character he brings to both Ike and Buddy Lee with his delivery of their dialogue is something that weighs heavily in favor of the audiobook edition of this novel because there’s such life and depth added to the characters with that extra texture.

Alien: River of Pain, An Audio Drama Adapted from the Novel by Christopher Golden

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I picked up Audible’s Alien: River of Pain audio drama. It seemed like an interesting alternative to the usual audiobook material I listen to, so I wanted to give it a shot. I have a massive collection of old 1940s, 50s, and 60s radio dramas in digital format, consisting of radio programs like The Weird Circle. This Audible Original was not entirely dissimilar to those experiences.
In place of the narrative, an ensemble cast performed the dialogue while digital Foley was used to provide the drama with background noise and contextual sounds that enhanced the three-dimensionality of the overall experience. Though this audio drama was missing the writing style of Christopher Golden’s actual novel, it did capture his written dialogue quite nicely. Impressively, even without the story elements from Golden, it wasn’t at all difficult to follow the events as they were taking place.
River of Pain provides us with details of the events taking place on LV-426 from the point the earliest terraforming efforts were underway. This fills us in up to the loss of contact that led to Burke enlisting Ripley to join the Colonial Marines as they made their way to the fateful–and fatal–encounter with the xenomorphs infesting Hadley’s Hope. We benefit from getting to know characters we barely met in Aliens being fleshed out, in addition to meeting characters we’d never known to exist. Additionally, we catch a glimpse of the overall decency of Gorman before his final moments of life during the events of Aliens.
The experiences on LV-426 are placed in the appropriate location in the timeline with relatively frequent snapshots of the events we’re familiar with from the movie. We’re treated to events we know well, from Ripley’s discovery by the salvage crew to her waking up from nightmares in the hospital, from her demotion to the moment Burke requests that she join the expedition to the colony.
All things considered, I feel like this drama might have been a more immersive experience than a standard audiobook, but it’s not something I’d consider a substitute for the book itself. There’s certainly plenty missing in erasing the narrative of the story, especially when written by someone as talented as Christopher Golden, but this does have its unique value.
There were too many exceptionally talented individuals lending their voices to this audio drama, so I’ll focus on the performances that stand out the most. The dialogue from Ripley was so amazing that I initially assumed they’d simply pulled it straight from the movie. I occasionally felt the same where Newt’s dialogue was concerned. Captain Brackett’s dialogue was performed spectacularly well by the voice actor involved in bringing him to life.

Lost Soul by Rayne Havok

To suggest that Rayne Havok’s Lost Soul is shocking would come as no surprise to fans of her spectacular output. What might be surprising is the lack of violence, blood, and gore found within these pages. The things that should astonish absolutely no one are the exquisite quality of the writing and the commanding emotional depth exhibited within this story.
I’m going to resist the urge to tell readers much about this story because I want them to go in fresh, but I’ll set the stage just a bit.
May is at the end of a lifelong battle with depression, going through the motions on what she intends to be her final day of life. A surprise encounter on a bridge leads May to revelations about the nature of the soul and forces her to make an almost impossible choice in light of everything she’s discovered.
Rayne Havok captures the insidious and numbing nature of depression–and long-term depression in particular–with the in-depth characterizations of both May and Zachary. She breathes tragically beautiful life into her characters on the page and reopens wounds for those who’ve experienced similar traumas and responses. I’d be surprised if this were not the most deeply personal thing the author’s written as it induces such sympathetic aches in the reader. But don’t shy away from it. Sometimes pain can be therapeutic, and besides, this is a love story.
It’s a love story as only Rayne Havok could have written it because it’s awash with her voice and teeming with life experiences and somber yet hopeful spirituality.

Lost Soul was the final release of the AntiChristmas event at http://www.godless.com for December of 2021 in addition to being a birthday release for the author. You can obtain a copy by going to the website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below: