Candace Nola’s Bishop takes us to the wilderness of Alaska, on and off the beaten path in Tongass National Forest, where Troy Spencer is about to begin a desperate search for his sister and niece. Erin and Casey have been missing for a couple of days, and they’ve been alone in the wilds for nearly a week by the time Troy arrives in Ketchikan to begin the search. Venturing deep into the mountainous wilderness, racing against the clock, he’ll settle for nothing less than the best guide he can find. Unfortunately, the most knowledgable guide for those parts of Alaska is a gruff, solitary indigenous man who goes by the name of Bishop, and Bishop is a man of few words and many secrets. Troy knows he’s running out of time, but he has no idea how much danger his family is in, as an ancient and terrible presence exists in the forest, stalking and terrorizing Erin and Casey. Bishop knows it’s there, but Troy’s proximity limits his ability to do anything about it, and nothing will stop the evil from taking what it wants unless Bishop can free the beast inside of himself. Candace Nola brings the cold Alaskan wilderness to life, immersing us in the damp, chilly environment from which there might be no escape. Bringing her fascination with survivalism and the tools necessary for survival to bear, Nola brings Casey, Troy, and Bishop to life in vivid detail and three-dimensional depth, forcing us to experience the same tense, disquieting struggle as her characters. Jamison Walker does a decent job of providing the characters with voices of their own, distinctly separating them.
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.
Things haven’t been going well for Ross Lowry. He’s lost his engineering job and struggled to find a new source of income. His troubles are essentially ignored by members of his family, many of whom had no difficulty accepting his assistance when he was in the position to offer it. All of that begins to change when his cousin, Lita, and her husband, Dave, invite Ross to spend some time at their ranch in the isolated, small town of Magdelena, AZ. There’s something about the peace of being there that makes him feel like he can take them up on their offer of staying for an extended period. It seems like an excellent opportunity. Ross figures that he can sublet his place in California while assisting Dave and Lita around the ranch and continuing his online job search. Everything seems fine at first. But during the New Years’ celebration at Cameron Holtz’s ranch, when the celebrants fire their guns into the sky, something other than spent ammunition comes falling down. From that point on, everything begins to change. Animals begin dying. Those that don’t die, begin undergoing strange and unsettling transformations, both physical and behavioral. It isn’t just the animals, though, as the residents of Magdelena change as well. The status quo shifts in unpredictable manners as fortunes and positions within the community go topsy turvy. Will Ross and his small group of friends and family be able to figure out what’s going on before it’s too late for them to avoid a fate similar to seemingly everyone else? What is the monstrous thing being worshipped on Cameron Holtz’s ranch, and is it something worthy of adoration? While this isn’t the best of Bentley Little’s work, it is as deeply unsettling and imaginative as anything else he’s written. Elements of body horror and psychological horror meld perfectly with supernatural and spiritual elements to create a narrative that demands the reader/listener not turn away. Joe Barrett’s narration captures the confusion and desperation Ross and the others experience as the story grows progressively more disturbing and unreal. The characters are distinctly voiced and three-dimensional.
This is the third of the releases in D&T Publishing’s emerging authors series in partnership with Godless. There hasn’t been a lackluster piece of writing in the bunch. 1855 is no exception. Victorian-era photography is rife with eerie elements that were commonly in practice. Jacob Steven Mohr, in a flash of brilliance, decided to place “hidden mother photography” at the core of his story, 1855. When the quiet, strange Italian boy winds up in the orphanage, the language barrier makes it all but impossible to determine what’s happened to his family and how he found himself in the care of the sisters and director Timothy Ford. The arrival of a priest who can translate the child’s story leads the characters down a path punctuated with sinister disappearances and evidence that a mother’s love and protection of her child never fades. It’s the story of a father whose grief wouldn’t allow him to bear the sight of his deceased wife, and the consequences that follow. While this is a horror story, it’s also a heartbreaking glimpse of a child lost in the world and unable to recall his own mother’s face. This is a period tale of tragedy and sadness as much as anything else, and it’s brought to life with expert quality with Mohr’s writing.
You can pick up 1855 and the previous Emerge series of stories by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device. The link is below:
When Hank Flynn stumbles onto the site of what will soon become Protection, Kansas, it’s immediately apparent to Wallace Bixby and his daughter, Josie, that there’s something special about this grievously injured man. Nursed back to health, Hank settles in and becomes a member of the growing community as long as God will allow it. Protection is aptly named, with Hank Flynn around, because there’s no threat that Hank won’t combat to keep the people of his home safe, whether marauder, drought, or worse. It soon becomes clear that “worse” is going to be the case more often than not, as strange and evil forces align to seek out Hank where he’s found peace. But Hank is a man of many skills and a haunted past that propels him forward as he does God’s will wherever he’s called to do so. The malevolent beings that hunt him down would be wise to avoid Protection, Kansas because Hank is no stranger to raising Cain when the situation merits it. Candace Nola has written a spiritual horror stand-in for Little House On the Prairie, punctuating the prosaic struggles of frontier life with body and soul battles against the denizens of Hell. It’s a little bit Kung Fu (the 1970s television series) and a little bit Supernatural all rolled into one captivating package. The narration provided by Jamison Walker is dramatic, and the voices of the assorted characters are distinctly their own. I’d never encountered his narration with previous audiobook titles, so I’m not sure if this title is representative of his other work, but it was suitable for this book.
The concept of bibliophobia is anathema to me, both as a writer and an avid reader. Being scared of books would be a nightmare for me, and it’s a nightmare Evan has suffered through his whole life. Unable to bring himself to touch a book, he made his way through most of his life by pretending he had an allergy to binding glue. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it worked. Unwilling to leave the town where he grew up, Evan experiences the perverse cruelty of fate in finding himself working the only career available to him, the town librarian. It’s in that role that Evan discovers something miraculous, a book he can not only touch but that he craves. Under the circumstances, it’s only reasonable that he might be developing a bit of an obsession with not only this book but its author. It should be no surprise for readers of Allisha McAdoo’s stories that things only get stranger from these already strange beginnings. The author has a knack for packing a whole lot of weirdness into a small number of pages, and Bibliophobia: The Fear of Books is no exception.
You can pick this up 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:
Janine Pipe delivers a diverse assortment of stories with Twisted: Tainted Tales, the only theme being that the bulk of the action takes place in the 1980s. This collection, framed as being stories from a missing author, as discovered by a woman tasked with sifting through the missing person’s household for anything of value, is packed full of nostalgia for those of us who recall the era. Unlike some nostalgia-heavy writing I’ve read recently, Pipe doesn’t lean on the nostalgia to do the heavy lifting and instead keeps the focus on her largely spectacular storytelling and captivating set pieces. Each of the stories contained within Twisted: Tainted Tales has been titled (or retitled) with that of a song from the music released in the 1980s. This is done with the explanation that there’s a mixtape accompanying the discovered manuscripts. The collection starts strong with Footsteps, a story of three women venturing into a section of wilderness where something sinister and bloodthirsty might be waiting for anyone unfortunate enough to stumble upon its hunting grounds. When Doves Cry is a period piece about a woman accepting the kindness of a stranger on a cold night from a man seeking the right woman to fulfill his peculiar needs. The third inclusion, I Want To Break Free, subverts our expectations as we experience the same event from a captured victim and her captor. But which one is the monster? Maneater introduces us to two detectives investigating a series of exsanguinated victims. The nature of the crimes themselves is perhaps less startling than the perpetrator when one of the detectives discovers the monster behind the killings. A night at the club turns into a bloody, violent act of intimacy in Addicted To Love. Sweet Child Of Mine delves into the topic of imaginary friends and the potential consequences if those friends aren’t as fanciful as we suppose. Tainted Love recounts a narrative of obsession, as an infatuation transforms into something far more unsettling, culminating in brutal violence and skilled craftsmanship. With Lost In the Shadows, we’re introduced to a town plagued by a rash of missing children, and a sinister discovery at the local drive-in theater. It’s a Sin is a ghost story about friendship, child abuse, and overprotective parents that ends unhappily. The post-apocalyptic tale, Love Is a Battlefield, acquaints us with a society where the rich and powerful have been stripped of their privilege. We follow one of the former upper crust as she believes she’ll be forced to face death as entertainment for those now in control. Running With the Devil is a story of urban legends and ghost stories, and the profoundly negative impact those things might have if we discover them to be true. Boys being gross, led by adolescent hormones, and burgeoning sexual discovery is the topic of Paradise City. Of course, things take an awful turn that is sure to make every man cringe. School’s Out Forever resonated well with me as someone who routinely ventured into condemned and abandoned buildings. A couple of friends decide to trespass in a haunted school where atrocities once took place, hoping to find the place haunted but ultimately terrified by what they discover. Two brothers on a camping trip with their father discover that a mother’s love transcends death, in Living On a Prayer, especially when there’s an ancient burial ground nearby and revenge to be taken. The fifteenth track, Thriller, delves into the fact that the topic of urban legends and ghost stories again, exploring the haunted houses we’re all sure exist within our hometowns as we’re growing up. Nobody’s Fool explores the possibility that one young boy’s night terrors might be rooted in something other than an overactive imagination and that there might be an important message embedded in the unconscious horror that he experiences. Stephen King’s not the only one who can tell a tale about the convergence of coming of age and sewer drains. Janine Pipe concludes her collection by introducing us to a different sort of monster that might be lurking in the storm drains the most daring children explore when there’s pride and a kiss on the line. The closest thing I have to a complaint is that I’d have preferred the author’s notes compiled at the end of the book rather than at the end of each story. It was more jarring, having those notes breaking up the framing story of discovered manuscripts rather than placing them at the end of the collection. I’m a fan of the author’s notes being included, so I’m pleased that Pipe included them, but I feel like they could’ve been in a better location.
Devil’s Night is a collection focusing primarily on the myths and urban legends emerging from the darkness and the destructive tendencies of people during the Devil’s Night eruptions of violence and arson in Detroit. It would be easy to write off Curtis M. Lawson’s short story collection as an outlet for bleak and cynical tales of horror lurking below the surface of those actions, but it would only be telling a fraction of the story. There is a deep and abiding love for Detroit embedded within these tales. Lawson’s is a love that doesn’t cling with shallow superficiality to the glory days of the motor city or Motown but embraces the painful and often ugly reality that coincides with those things that once set Detroit apart from the rest of America. In these pages, you’ll certainly find stories of the Nain Rouge, The Pig Lady, and other urban legends that are specific to that region, but you’ll also find the far more sinister forces at work, racism, predatory capitalism, and addiction. In Lawson’s Devil’s Night, you’ll meet a city that has a nebulous mind and spirit of its own, one poisoned by generations of residents and the corruption they brought with them. You’ll discover a Detroit where toxic, venomous plantlife flourishes beneath the surface, ready to flay alive any who stumble across it, poisoning those who survive with unquenchable hate and anger. In Trash-Fire Stories and The Work of the Devil, we meet children who have experienced every tragedy life can throw at them, each event preceded by the appearance of the Nain Rouge, presaging the bad things soon to come. In D20, we learn that two brothers attempting to escape the cruel reality of their lives through a role-playing game might be awakening a force to affect the real changes they so desperately need. Devil’s Tongue and The Exorcism of Detroit, Michigan both take us to a place where we catch glimpses of the underlying evil that poisons the city and turns the residents into the monsters they’ve become as Devil’s Night arrives. The latter tale providing the reader with a certain sense of hope and faith that things can be better. Through Hell for One Kiss shares a haunting love story that proves to be a quite literal haunting for those caught up in the annual remembrance of the ghosts involved. A Night of Art and Excess showcases the awfulness and depravity of human nature and greed, without any supernatural scapegoat to assuage the guilt. No One Leaves the Butcher Shop tells the story of a pair of arsonists who stumble across something far worse than homeless people encamped within the building they’ve been hired to burn. The Graveyard of Charles Robert Swede takes us on a journey with a monstrous serial killer who learns–as the line between our world and another are blurred–the truth behind why he’s chosen the burial site he’s utilized for the disposal of his victims. We discover that even the devil has standards and sometimes a more stringent moral code than the clergy in This City Needs Jesus. There’s more within this collection than solely the stories I’ve referenced, but these are the ones that stood out the most for me. Interspersed through the book are numerous illustrations that are positively magnificent. It was these illustrations that first brought this collection by Lawson to my attention, and as awesome as they might be, they’re no more spectacular than the stories they reference. I wish I had read this collection in the final days of October because this book is so perfect for reading at that time of year. If you have a chance to read this for the first time, I recommend doing so at that time. You will not regret the decision.
Ronald Malfi’s Bone White is as devastating as it seemed like it might be. When we learn that Paul Gallo’s brother, Danny, had disappeared near Dread’s Hand, Alaska, only a year before a serial murderer wandered into town and turned himself in, we hope for closure as the best-case scenario. The author teases us with the potential for a happy-ish ending, only to string us along through a tale that crosses back-and-forth over the lines between supernatural and superstitious, thriller and horror. Embedded within the larger story of Bone White, Malfi introduces us to multiple, smaller tales that would make for fascinating stories in their own right. This attention to detail and world-building for the remote Alaskan wilderness setting makes the story all the more engaging and impossible to set aside. As we’re dragged through the cold and snow near central Alaska, it’s something you begin to feel in your bones. It’s not just the chill of the environment that gets under your skin, but the chill emanating from the locals who live insular lives with no interest in the outside world or having intruders from the outside digging through their secrets and the fears that underpin them. Paul’s tension and frustration are palpable, and anyone would likely feel the same if they knew their search for the truth about their missing sibling was being stymied by the superstitions and mistrust of the only people who might have the answers. The narration provided by Charles Constant is terrific, his voice weaving the fantastic writing into a thoroughly captivating experience.