Scott Kenemore’s The Grand Hotel takes us on a tour that leads us from one tragic tale of horror to another, each with its nuanced cast of characters and captivating narrative. As the sinister desk clerk guides the tour group through the halls of the hotel, he also nudges us from one long-term guest’s fantastic and unbelievable story to another. Reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt, if the Cryptkeeper were more somber and the crypt was a massive antiquated hotel, there’s a hidden truth embedded within each new story. When the tour group finds their way into the seemingly abandoned hotel, they’re shocked to be greeted by a peculiar and chilling night clerk welcoming them to The Grand Hotel. More shocking is the tour of the ancient building, the introduction to various residents and employees, and the stories he prompts them to share with the unwitting guests. Kenemore’s gradual revelation of the truth behind the hotel and its temperamental host is delivered smoothly, without coming across as forced or spoon-fed to the reader. Each of the individual tales incorporated into the overall narrative is distinctly voiced and unique from the others, making it feel all the more authentic. With the tour group, we get to experience tales of police detectives tormented by a haunted house, the tragic first manned mission to Mars, a naive dance student’s first experience with love and betrayal, and so much more. Christian Rummel’s narration perfectly suits the voice of our host while also conveying the necessary separation for the other characters in the book. Upon completion, I’m not sure I could imagine a different voice for Vic.
Travel By Bullet returns fans to John Scalzi’s The Dispatcher series following a pandemic that isn’t altogether too dissimilar to the one we’ve experienced in the real world. Unlike the real world, Tony Valdez and other dispatchers like him have had more work than they can handle, as grieving families insist on postponing the inevitable for loved ones hooked up to machines. Unfortunately, resetting only goes so far, and it won’t repair the damage done by the sickness itself. It’s a bleak and depressing scenario we find ourselves experiencing through Tony’s perspective. When a friend is rushed to the hospital, begging Tony to let him die, it triggers a series of events that brings Tony to the attention of wealthy and powerful figures with secrets they’ll do anything to keep under wraps. This installment continues Scalzi’s trend of combining the alternate reality science fiction of The Dispatcher series with an old-fashioned dose of noir that blends perfectly. The overarching mystery is satisfying and sufficiently convoluted, especially impressive considering the relatively short length of the story. I particularly liked the concept behind the title of this installment of the series. The premise of utilizing the reset in that way seems both obvious and strangely horrific. As with the previous two volumes, Zachary Quinto’s narration is superb, lending Tony a uniquely nuanced personality and bringing the other characters (many familiar faces from previous glimpses into the world of The Dispatcher) to life. I hope that Scalzi continues writing these tales and that Quinto continues narrating them because, like Scalzi’s seamless combination of genres, it’s a perfect blend.
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.
In The Babysitter Lives, Stephen Graham Jones tackles the haunted house theme with the same unique style and flair readers have come to expect. When Charlotte arrives at the Wilbanks’ house to babysit their twin six-year-olds, she has no idea she’s walking into a place more dangerous and horrifying than anywhere else she’s been. In what could be described as House of Leaves meets Stranger Things, Jones weaves a disorienting tale that leaves the reader questioning what’s real just as much as the narrative forces the same confusion on Charlotte. Charlotte, Ron, and Desi are not alone in the house, and there’s a depth to the shadows and dark corners that threatens to swallow anyone who ventures into the dark spaces without caution. Ultimately, the story succeeds in being a unique and tense haunted house story, capturing the highest stakes on a small scale. The natures of reality and identity are questioned in a big way, but Jones isn’t satisfied simply leaving us with questions. He wants to delve into the how and why of it all. Jones forces us to think about everything happening through the lens of Charlotte’s analysis and the horrors of the past she’s forced to witness. This might be my second favorite story from the author, following the masterpiece that was The Only Good Indians, and with good reason. The narration provided by Isabella Star LaBlanc combines with Jones’s writing to make Charlotte feel like a real girl. She’s smart, funny, and thoroughly out of her depths but too stubborn to give up. The supplemental material from Jones himself adds a nice touch, touching on his inspirations and what he hoped to accomplish with The Babysitter Lives. I’d say he was more than successful.
Kristopher Triana conceives of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he takes it to an extreme most of us would never imagine possible. A Fine Evening In Hell is a tense, character-driven thriller that explores the lengths we’ll go to survive when life has taken a detour down a dark road into real-life terror. Heather and Evan couldn’t have dreamt just how awful their night would be when they snuck away to the parking lot of an abandoned warehouse for sex. Not only was the sex itself disappointing, but they soon find themselves caught in the middle of a dispute between criminals and the dirty cops hunting them down. Their attempt to find a secluded place for intimacy will lead them down a path with disastrous and deadly consequences. Triana does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life, fleshing each out, and making them feel as human as anyone. There are no two-dimensional throwaway characters and no bland ciphers onto whom the reader can project themselves. We’re meant to know these people, to love and hate them as the story dictates, and to feel an empathetic connection with them–even when we may not want to. Kristopher Triana displays a versatility of style that is astounding, bringing his understanding of horror and visceral human terror to the all-too-real conditions of this story, and forcing us to feel the chill of that Northeastern climate as we’re transported along with Heather.
Before Deadman’s Road, I’d only been acquainted with Reverend Jebidiah Mercer via one of the short stories contained within this volume, but the character stuck out as one with a great deal of potential for additional adventures. I’m pleased to discover that I was not wrong. Joe R. Lansdale populates his fictional version of the American Wild West with monsters, both human and inhuman, familiar and strange. All of this is filtered through the sardonic and rueful Reverend Mercer as he struggles to fulfill God’s will, a capricious and cruel thing. As he faces off against zombies, werewolves, goblins, and other monstrous entities, Mercer is joined by assorted men and women who frequently don’t survive the encounters with the same sort of adroitness the Reverend displays. Short-lived as his companions may be, they provide ample fodder for Mercer’s wit and derision in some of the most entertaining dialogue Lansdale’s written outside of the Hap and Leonard novels. The narration of the audiobook provided by Stefan Rudnicki perfectly suited the gruff and acerbic Reverend, as well as the other characters filling these tales. This was only my second encounter with Rudnicki as a narrator, and he was no less impressive this time around.
Arnold’s mother isn’t doing well, and when his father–for some unknown reason–can’t track down Aunt Dorreen to babysit while he takes mommy away to get her some help, there’s no choice but to enlist Molly’s help to take care of Arnold. Unfortunately, Molly isn’t alone for long, and her friend’s brought along some hard drugs. We’ve all been warned about the dangers of drugs, and Arnold has too. But peer pressure from Jimmy the Chimp might be too much for Arnold to bear, especially when the prospects of becoming King Arnold are rapidly diminishing as he struggles to be a good boy. In this hallucinatory installment of the Fucked-Up Bedtime Stories, Caffrey blurs the line between what’s real and what’s happening solely in Arnold’s imagination, providing us with a tale of dizzying escapades of extreme violence and sexual content. The audio edition provided with the purchase brings the whole experience to life in all its vivid and disorienting detail, lovingly narrated by the author.
You can read this for yourself by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below:
Arnold desperately wants to attend the school dance, but he doesn’t have a date. While Jimmy the Chimp thinks it’s ridiculous that Arnold even wants to waste his time on something so stupid, he decides it’s better to help Arnold than to listen to him whimpering and being depressed. Attempts to meet a woman in a shopping center or to obtain a prostitute with the winnings from Pork Chop’s dogfighting don’t go smoothly, but Arnold finds a date on his own in Emily, a crippled girl he meets while performing charity at school. It wouldn’t be a Peter Caffrey story if everything came up roses from there, and the story devolves into murder, accusations of molestation, and Jimmy the Chimp leading Arnold on a mission that’s sure to destroy more lives in the process. As always, Caffrey provides his fans with audio narration of this story in addition to the usual digital files for reading, and his enjoyment is clear if you take the time to give the audio edition a listen.
You can pick up all of Peter Caffrey’s Fucked-Up Bedtime Stories by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:
Arnold’s wanted a dog for some time, especially since he and Jimmy the Chimp murdered the cat–along with the rest of the neighborhood cats. When he and Jimmy meet the resentful service dog who never gets to have any fun, they decide that they’re going to take Pork Chop out for a night on the town. It’s a win-win situation. Arnold gets to enjoy having a dog for a while, and Pork Chop gets to experience being treated like a pet rather than a slave. Everything goes about as smoothly as one should expect from a Peter Caffrey bedtime story. The adventure descends into a place of madness filled with death, gypsies, dog fighting, gambling, murder, and toothless oral sex. If you’re curious about how all of that falls into place, you’ll have to check it out for yourself. Once again, audio narration is provided by Caffrey, so you can enjoy the sensation of having him read you this lovely addition to his bedtime stories series as you drift away to a nightmare-plagued slumber. I made the mistake of listening to this at the gym while running on the treadmill, and I was grateful that I had the place to myself because I started laughing out loud at various points.
This–and the other bedtime stories–can be picked up from http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below:
Arnold’s parents have a honeymoon to celebrate, and they’re leaving for the weekend–what Jimmy the Chimp insists will be a “dirty weekend.” Arnold and Jimmy are thrilled to imagine a weekend left to their own devices while their usual babysitter casually ignores them while sneaking into the sauce. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s in store for them. Instead, Arnold and Jimmy are carted off to spend the weekend with Arnold’s aunt Dorreen, a new age hippy with a vegan diet and a vastly different idea of fun from what Arnold and Jimmy the Chimp have in mind. A surprising session of naked yoga is the last straw, and the rest of the weekend becomes a rollercoaster of death, dismemberment, and debauchery. Caffrey continues to entertain with the antics of Arnold and Jimmy the Chimp while creating bedtime stories that only the least qualified parent would share with a child. Thankfully, he provides audio narrations of each of these stories, so you can settle in and let him read these amusing tales to you just like mommy and daddy did before they were hauled off by Child Protection Services and incarcerated.
You can find this, and the other titles in the series, by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below: