Mark’s life is one of banality punctuated by terror. Living in a sparsely furnished apartment and working at a filthy cesspool of a fast-food restaurant, he thought he might have escaped the horrific events that transpired in Leesburg. But the dread and panic are always there, just beneath the surface, waiting to erupt, and some wounds never heal. Recollection of the events from his past come through only sporadically, intruding on his daily life at unexpected moments, triggered by seemingly unpredictable stray thoughts or disturbing noises and visions. As Mark struggles to remain in the here and now, he finds himself increasingly drawn into memories that he simultaneously wishes he could forget and desperately needs to unravel. Maybe he didn’t escape at all, and it’s all happening again. Milliron masterfully crafted this tale of cosmic horror, utilizing the imprecision of traumatic memories to provide us with an unreliable protagonist around whom the story plays out. This story has everything one could hope for in cosmic horror. Milliron blends a perfect mixture of secretive cults hidden within small-town populations, unspeakable horrors breaching the barriers that separate our world from somewhere cold and dark, hallucinatory visuals described with frightful detail, and a stochastic narrative that leaves the reader dizzied and struggling to piece together the mystery. Lost Words In a Dream is a story that will stick with you long after you’ve reached the conclusion, and you’ll find yourself wishing you could go back in and experience it fresh all over again.
This title was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You can obtain a copy for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
I’d never finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle when I was growing up. I’d somehow just never gotten around to it. Waiting for the final novel of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy got me in the mood to revisit this series–and hopefully finish it–as it was one of Rothfuss’s major influences when he began writing The Name of the Wind. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Le Guin’s capacity to blend minimalism with exquisite prose, crafting a streamlined narrative that never bogs itself down with minutiae and long-winded deviations from the main story. In that and her sheer imaginative quality, Le Guin remains an iconoclast in the realm of fantasy literature. We join Ged on his journey from childhood through young adulthood as he finds his place in the larger world of Earthsea. We experience his mistakes and misplaced pride as if they’re our own, and we feel both his terror and exultation as he travels to lands familiar and far distant in his quest to evade and subdue the shadow he set loose on the world. The narration provided by Rob Inglis made the audiobook a vastly different experience from simply reading the book decades ago, and I’m pleased to see that he continues as narrator for the subsequent volumes in this epic series.
I had the immense pleasure of reading Baker’s Dozen in advance to write a blurb for the anthology. It seemed only natural that I would also be writing a review of the collection now that the release date is looming on the near horizon. Rarely has a themed anthology come together so perfectly in capturing a motif and carrying it through all of the component pieces included. There is no question that Baker’s Dozen is overall one of the best anthologies I’ll have the pleasure of reading. Paraphrasing what I said in my blurb, this is a delicious concoction, albeit neither safe nor healthy. If you’re looking for those qualities, you’re in the wrong place. It would have been a challenge, bringing this assortment of spectacularly imaginative authors together and compiling an anthology that wasn’t worth reading; there’s no doubt that Candace Nola deserves a great deal of credit for editing this volume, though. Anthologies are only as good as the editor who brings them together, and there’s no question that this collection was in excellent hands from the beginning. Christine Morgan kicks it all off with the period piece, Pretzels of God, spinning a tale of jealousy and bitterness, of sacred vows broken most violently and unpredictably. Apple Pie & Diamond Eyes by Chris Miller tells the story of an aptly-named Karen being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, Karen has a passel of teenage girls in tow, as a trio of criminals gets their just desserts in a truly literal sense. Ruthann Jagge’s The Piebird introduces us to Flora Corolla, so desperate to bring pride to her family’s bakery that she’ll accept guidance from the most unlikely and untrustworthy source. Next Best Baker by Jeff Strand is perversely hilarious. A man after my own heart, I feel like he watches cooking and baking competitions the same way I do, imagining the worst conceivable surprise ingredients being tossed into the mix and laughing as he envisions it all playing out. I assure you that this is no baking competition for the faint of heart. Aron Beauregard hits us with A Muffin In The Oven, and he hits us hard. The announcement of a friend’s pregnancy–an event that should be full of warmth and cheer–turns sour and horrific as the facts surrounding the paternity come to light. Carver Pike’s Blueberry Hill is a tale of bullying, teenage cruelty, revenge, and witchcraft. This one is, without a doubt, the hardest story to read, in my opinion. Hillary Hightower doesn’t deserve any of the terrible things that happen to her, but when seeking retribution, one should probably be careful what they wish for. This story has the “dig two graves” adage on full display. They Are Always Watching is equal parts sad and terrifying, and Patrick C. Harrison, III leans into both qualities heavily. A daughter struggling with her mother’s declining mental capacity is forced to face the truth of what seems like little more than her debilitated mother’s fevered mind. My Lil’ Cupcake by Lee Franklin floats us through a dysfunctional marriage and one woman’s desire to find freedom from the domineering, cruel, and awful men in her life. The method by which Lindsey seeks her emancipation is something visceral to behold. Kenzie Jennings provides us with the worst Florida has to offer in Just A Local Thing. A family on vacation finds themselves at the mercy of the perverse whims of a seemingly prescient baker. Of Dough And Cinnamon brings us heartbreak and satisfying vengeance as Daniel Volpe tells the story of a widower who experiences one more loss than he can handle. Rowland Bercy Jr. introduces us to the most unlikely cryptid in Homegrown Comeuppance. A fierce rivalry between two bakers reaches a horrific conclusion that just might spell the end for not only those involved but also the innocent residents of a Brazilian town. Candace Nola showcases not only her editorial skills with Baker’s Dozen but her skill as a writer as well. County Contest provides us with a glimpse of a small business still struggling to recapture the success once known when Horace’s wife was still around. As a new librarian arrives in town, it seems like her sole purpose in life is to tear down everyone around her with sarcasm and bitterness. But maybe that bitterness is just what the recipe calls for when it’s time to unveil a new flavor. Death, And A Donut by Michael Ennenbach is a most peculiar yet beautiful love story, built on a substrate of random, wanton bloodshed and disorder. A cacophony of disaster paves the way through this narrative, leading us to a surprisingly touching conclusion. You can’t go wrong with a single piece in this collection, and I recommend dedicating some time to taking in the fantastic illustrations that accompany the text. This whole volume was painstakingly assembled with obvious love and care like the best recipes always are.
In Blood immerses us within an epistolary horror penned by Sir Henry Irving, owner of the Lyceum Theatre, to his friend and assistant, Bram Stoker. It is a tale of murder, insidious plots, and the evolution of what would become Dracula. It all revolves around a Masonic conspiracy surrounding the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, his part in the pregnancy of a Catholic girl of low birth, and the prostitutes murdered by Jack the Ripper. As our narrator describes it, his authentically terrified performances in Macbeth are informed and influenced by an all-too-real haunting wherein he sees the deceased ladies of the night in place of the three witches on stage with him. From there, he finds himself driven by strange and monstrous compulsions and a need to witness unspeakable things in an appalling attempt at method acting. As his missive to Stoker continues, it becomes clear that something awful has awakened within him, leading inexorably down the path toward damnation and inhuman brutality. The Professor’s narration of this sordid tale makes the story all the more compelling, its deranged and lunatic protagonist leaping from the page in such a way that the listener feels his frantic, unhinged need propelling the narrative forward. The strangely beautiful prose comes to life in cruel, vivid detail as the exquisitely described savagery spirals out of control.
You can obtain a copy of In Blood by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
The novelization of Wishmaster verifies something for me that I’ve long suspected to be true. While I own it, and I’m able to enjoy it for what it is, I never cared for the 1997 movie altogether too much. It just felt all too cheesy and poorly put together, like it was building on the worst aspects of the Nightmare On Elm Street series. It wasn’t the story that was the problem–I now know for sure–because I thoroughly enjoyed this novelization based on the screenplay. From the tumultuous devastation in ancient Persia to the symmetrical horrors of the climax at Beaumont’s party, the descriptions from the narrative–and the visions elicited in my imagination–were far superior to what was executed on the screen under Robert Kurtzman’s direction. While the casting choices for the movie weren’t bad, Andrew Divoff being a particularly fantastic choice, most of the decisions seemed to be less focused on who would be right for the role and more aimed at drawing in a preexisting audience from other intellectual properties. The absence of performers who felt shoehorned into their roles also made for a better experience through the novelization. It was enjoyable, following along as an ancient evil was set loose in a modern city, a city unprepared for a creature of magic and malevolence like the djinn. Sean Duregger’s narration was excellent. He especially captured the demonic tone and texture of the djinn’s voice, both in its natural form and in the guise of Nathaniel Demerest. He had some pretty impressive shoes to fill, lending his voice work to a character originally played by Andrew Divoff, but he managed to pull it off successfully. Additionally, with a movie that had been narrated by Angus Scrimm (the Tall Man himself), Duregger was biting off a lot more than most would dare…but again, he did it, and he did it justice. There’s a reason he’s steadily become one of my favorite audiobook narrators.
If you’ve already subjected yourself to Butcher’s coprophilic masterpiece included in Scats, Splats, and Stupid Twats, you’re already familiar with Kreb, The Chocolateman. You can think of him as something akin to Candyman, a monstrous, supernatural being who comes when you make the mistake of uttering his name. Of course, instead of bees and honey, his aesthetic is purely fecal. This larger volume can be considered the origin story for The Chocolateman. Butcher takes this opportunity to tell us how Kreb found his way into our world and our bathrooms in search of delicious choc-choc. James Tooth appears to be a successful man with a loving family, but he is tormented by a horrible secret that troubles him more profoundly as the 22nd anniversary of his parents’ deaths approaches. James is terrified of poop and with good reason. Throughout the story, Butcher provides readers with glimpses of James’s childhood, the horrible events of 22-years before, when he was only ten years old. As the past catches up with him, taking a terrible toll on both himself and those around him, he has no choice but to face the nightmare that’s haunted him the previous two decades, his older brother, Kreb. Mixed up in the whole mess, James’s drug dealer, Mucklow, and his bodybuilding lover, Isabella, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time over and over again, leading them on a collision course with the Tooth family and The Chocolateman himself. Amazingly enough, considering how absurdly revolting the concept of Chocolateman is, Jonathan Butcher still populates this tale with well-developed and sympathetic characters. Grotesque, gory, and visceral as much of the narrative happens to be, it’s also fantastically well-written and articulated in such a way as to never seem quite as gratuitous as it’s clearly meant to be. Chocolateman isn’t simply a collection of repulsive gags and toilet humor. At its heart, it’s a story about family, fears, and the ways we cause harm when trying to do what we believe to be the right thing.
This title was released on http://www.godless.com as part of the 31 Days of Godless event for October of 2021. You can pick it up for yourself by going to the Godless website or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The links for purchase are available below:
You’re a 15-year-old boy living with a foster family when you awaken to the sounds of shattering glass followed by what can only be violence. This isn’t the first time your short life has been punctuated with instances of horrific bloodshed, and if you choose to join the band of peculiar killers reveling in the chaos they’ve created in what is your third home in only a third as many years, this most certainly will not be the last. Don’t worry, this isn’t a choose-your-own-adventure story, and this pivotal decision is taken out of your hands and placed in the skilled, albeit sadistic custody of Chandler Morrison. Entering the dizzying narrative of Until the Sun, you’ll be swept along currents of blood, strange drugs, and adolescent hormones until you find yourself standing dazed, in the sunlight of a new day, waiting for the ride to end. Morrison thoroughly captures that sense of being caught up in a life that feels entirely out of your control. This extends so far as to include the fact that, as a reader, you’ll see the final moments coming long before our protagonist does…and you’ll experience sensations that range from pity to heart-wrenching sympathy as you witness events unfolding. We’re forced to wonder–if we’re being honest with ourselves–whether we’d be any more capable of wresting control from those who steer us along the destructive path ahead of us if we’d experienced the same tragic and disorienting life of young Casanova. I suspect we’ll never know, and we should be grateful for the fact that the dreadful sequence of events befalling that young man could only happen in fiction. Morrison provides us with a vampire story that is both more and less than that. Until the Sun is a dark, twisted, and perverse coming-of-age tale that abruptly detours us through the worst possible paths to reach the conclusion. A conclusion, I might add, that is equal parts hilarious and cruel in both its predictability and subversion of what a reader might expect when first choosing the book. John Wayne Comunale’s narration is effective in bringing to life the characters who often feel like caricatures of people we might have known in our own lives, or maybe people we’ve been at different points in our lives. There probably isn’t a narrator who would have been better suited for this drug-fueled, bloody, and irreverent combination of various horror subgenres.
Robert Sinclair is a good kid who has a lot on his plate, but he pushes through it all and remains good-natured and hard-working. Working multiple jobs, struggling to remain afloat while caring for a mother suffering the end-stage of cancer, Robert doesn’t have much room in his life for anything else. While working a dead-end job at L-Mart, Robert has developed a friendship with an elderly gentleman, Josef Lazerowitz. A former theology professor in Poland, Mr. Lazer is burdened by an unbelievable history, plagued with unspeakable secrets that will soon become Robert’s burden to bear. Both of these men, Robert and Josef, are decent and sympathetic characters forced to experience their individual, horrific torments separated by more than half a century. In the end, what they’ll share is a terrible and shameful confidence that could destroy both of them and anything they hold dear. Daniel Volpe constructs a captivating, mysterious tale that’s so thick with atmosphere and depth that the reader can hardly keep from being immersed in the experiences brought to life on the page. His detailed exploration of Josef’s life in 1940s Poland is gripping and profoundly vivid, almost painfully so. The author’s unique portrait of the supernatural world and how it interacts with our own was fascinating. As the story delves into those things only near the latter half of the book, it still doesn’t feel like the reader is short-changed or left wanting. I can’t recommend this book enough, especially to those who enjoy a bit of historical fiction with their horror. I will suggest that one scene in this book troubled me, and it involves a bit of a spoiler, but I’ll do my best to dance around that by explaining a little bit about my own life, hopefully framing why I found it disturbing without telling you about the scene itself. I had a dog named Molly. She was a terrific, atypical chihuahua who was perpetually thrilled to meet new people. When she was seven years old, she was taken from me by cancer in her blood. That little girl died in my arms, in what I can only describe as a traumatic experience without going into detail. I now have a dog who is half golden retriever and half German shepherd and husky–funny enough, named Talia–who is two years old. She’s been with me since December of 2019. Fans of Volpe’s work might find that last bit to be a strangely serendipitous thing. Having a personal connection with both a golden retriever and a dog named Molly, there’s a particular scene that I found difficult.
I picked this title up as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com in October of 2021. You can obtain a copy for yourself by going to the website or downloading the app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
The Ritual is a fantastic journey into the realm of folk horror, a literary exploration into the sort of narrative that evokes themes familiar to fans of movies like The Wicker Man or Midsommar. As four friends hike into the autumn wilderness of Sweden, they discover that not all shortcuts are meant to be taken, that there are secrets and horrors in hidden places, and they find tensions that refuse to remain beneath the surface as stress and fear take a heavy toll on the men. The gloomy, sinister forest is brought to stark, claustrophobia-inducing life as Adam Nevill draws us deeper into the trees and brush as the relentless rainfall paints everything gray and lifeless. The characters of Hutch, Dom, Phil, and Luke are similarly well-drawn and three-dimensional in their portrayal. This realism serves to make the narrative all the more captivating as we become invested in the drama playing out between the hikers and the overwhelming sense of unease as we experience the disquieting events through Luke’s perspective. By the time the four men discover they’re not alone in the woods, it’s far too late to turn back, and the desperate push forward presents challenges that grow increasingly difficult. Now, because I’ve seen the movie adaptation as well, I’m going to compare the two. This portion of my post will include spoilers, so anyone seeking to avoid spoilers of either book or film should stop here. The movie would have benefitted a great deal from incorporating elements that were exclusive to the novel, such as the multi-generational graveyard and the ancient, decrepit church Luke discovered when he ventured off on his own. I loved that whole section of the story, and I think it added something to the atmosphere of the narrative moving forward. Similarly, the familiarity Hutch had with some of the architecture and runic writing was a nice touch that I felt could have made the movie better. I also preferred the absence of the cowardice subplot, wherein Luke did nothing and allowed a fifth friend to die. Unfortunately, with the absence of that subplot, we also lost the element of blurred reality that I enjoyed a great deal in the movie, wherein the god of the forest used illusions and hallucinations to manipulate the men. The movie was superior once Luke made it to the village near the end. The addition of Dom being present and alive for a portion of that section of the story was a nice touch that I think made for a better overall story. Sure, we had the reconciliation between Luke and Dom in the novel as well, but it felt more appropriate at the point when the men were in captivity and facing the very real probability of death. Removing the irritating caricatures of Loki and Fenris was a great choice, as I almost stopped with the book when those characters insisted on remaining present for altogether too much of the narrative. The random insertion of the fictional, murderous nordic black metal band, Blood Frenzy, felt like a pointless way to share the author’s familiarity with contemporary bands within the genre. Additionally, the portrayal of the god/monster within the movie was spectacular and exceeded anything I imagined from the book. Overall, I think I enjoyed the movie a bit more than the book, which is an uncommon thing…but it does happen. The audiobook narration provided by Matthew Lloyd Davies was spectacular. He even managed to superbly capture the accents of the characters I’d have preferred to do without. The narration certainly served to add depth and texture to the narrative, something that leapt from the page, so to speak, bringing an extra quality to the words penned by Nevill.
Rampage is the story of Howard Unruh, a man who, in 1949, would murder thirteen of his neighbors (and people passing through his neighborhood) before returning to his apartment and returning to bed because he’d run out of ammunition. As the killer himself indicated during an interview, he’d have killed a thousand if he’d had sufficient ammunition. Repressed homosexuality, experiences during the conflict of WWII, and assorted petty grievances against his neighbors simmered for years until finally exploding in a cold, meticulous series of killings that would thoroughly destroy the relative peace of Camden, NJ. Considered the face of modern mass murder, Unruh had no apparent interest in committing suicide at the end of his bloody rampage, nor any plan to be killed by the police. He simply wanted to kill the people he perceived as being aligned against him or of having committed one slight or another, and once Unruh started, he didn’t seem interested in stopping until he had no choice but to do so. The descriptions of the murderer’s flat affect and calm demeanor both during the rampage and during the subsequent questioning, while a bullet remained lodged in his thigh, were unnerving in a way I can’t quite put into words. Steven Weber’s narration was as high quality as it has been for the rest of the Bloodlands stories, and I would love to hear him narrating further true crime audiobooks and even documentaries.