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.
Nat Whiston weaves us a tale of friendship, betrayal, lost love, witchcraft, and supernatural horror in her short but potent debut, What’s Eating You. As the author draws you through the expertly crafted twists and turns, you’ll only discover where the story’s headed when she leads you right up to the precipice, and you find yourself gazing into the depths of Hell itself. The moral of the story: Don’t betray a witch–and certainly don’t do it twice. But, if you insist on betraying her, make damn sure you understand the objectives she has in mind. There’s no way to say anything more without giving it all away, so you’ll just have to read this one for yourself. I trust that you’ll find yourself just as eager to see what the author has in store for us in the future.
This story was released on http://www.godless.com as part of the AntiChristmas event for December of 2021. You can pick it up for yourself by going to the website or downloading the Godless app. 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.
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:
My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a nostalgia-packed excursion into the life of adolescent girls in the 1980s. We meet Abby and Gretchen when the girls are in fourth grade, as Abby attempts to celebrate her birthday party at a roller-skating rink. Alone with her family, Abby fears no one will show up, but the strange new girl from school appears. What begins as an awful experience for the birthday girl develops into the best friendship either of them could hope for. We’re provided with snapshots of the friendship between these two girls throughout the narrative, the bulk of the story devoted to character development. The meat of the story picks up when the girls are in their Sophomore year of high school at the prestigious Albemarle private school. They’re near the top of the class, and they have bright futures ahead of them. That’s when everything changes. Abby finds herself helpless as she watches Gretchen changing into someone she no longer recognizes, and everything becomes a dizzying nightmare of lies and manipulation that she struggles to navigate while learning that there’s more going on than she can easily comprehend. As a story about friendship and coming-of-age, it’s pretty fantastic, really delving into what it means to be best friends from childhood. As a horror or thriller story, it falls well short of the mark. I have the same issue with this Hendrix novel as I had with The Final Girl Support Group, in that the story grows tedious before it truly begins to get to the point where anything is happening that propels the narrative forward. Much like that novel, when this story starts getting good, it gets great, but it takes an awfully long time getting there. There are points when it appears to be picking up speed, only to revert to a meandering, detail-filled exploration of Abby’s day-to-day life, and it was challenging to make it through those intervals. The narration provided by Emily Woo Zeller brings this story of youth and friendship to life in a way that it desperately required. Her performance of the various girls, notably Abby and Gretchen, was terrific. The voice provided for Christian (The Exorcist) was amusing and captured the absurd, muscle-bound character in such a way as to make him almost feel real. The audiobook edition of this novel made an otherwise unsatisfactory experience a much better one, and that is due entirely to the quality of the narration provided.
Oh dear me, Professor, dear me. I began Ejaculate of the Incubus with high expectations brought on by the, quite frankly, stellar performance during KillerCon 2021 of a separate, though no less graphic and revolting tale. As you can probably ascertain, I was most assuredly not disappointed. This lovely tale starts as an unnamed narrator meets with an old friend, Professor Roberts, for tea. Anticipating some minor transformation resulting from Roberts returning from his recent honeymoon, our narrator is taken aback by a far more startling and peculiar metamorphosis having taken place. A prim and proper, detached and naive gentleman no more, Roberts displays a wild-eyed intensity and disheveled condition as he begins to recount recent events. It was the honeymoon between Roberts and his bride, Lily, at an old monastery on the Sussex coast, that led them to discover a peculiar metallic object buried in the sand. Returning to their lodging, they caught a glimpse of a strangely proportioned man emerging from the surf, and they hurried to the security of human habitation. Upon inspection of their discovered object, Roberts discerned graphic depictions etched onto the surface that shocked his puritanical sensibilities. This is where the story truly blossoms into something altogether peculiar, blending eroticism and revulsion into a dizzying melange of fluids both human and infernal. The author, publishing under the nom de plume of The Professor, provides us with a deliciously vile story that lends sophisticated use of language and eloquence to acts of sexual depravity one typically finds when perusing the Urban Dictionary or Reddit forums. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. I knew to expect something magnificent from this author, and I was still blown away. The audio narration of the same work, provided by the author, is a fantastic experience that adds a different nuance and enjoyment to the experience. I’ll be eagerly awaiting any new material from The Professor.
This title is available as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. You can obtain this for yourself by going to the website or downloading the app for your mobile device.The link is below:
Poisoning the Well begins with a short, shocking tale of Trevor Wolf defying authorities and braving a life-threatening storm to get home to his wife, only to receive a startling homecoming the reader shouldn’t see coming. With this auspicious start, Todd Love invites us on a journey through thirteen brief tales that will leave you wishing he’d given you more. Spiders deposit clutches of eggs in horrible places. Irish myths and legends are examined. The reader will experience equal parts nostalgia, amusement, and horror as Halloween of 1988 is brought to life in a way any child of the 80s will appreciate. And that is only a small sample of the stories you’ll have to look forward to. You will be satisfied. You will be entertained.
This title was released as part of the http://www.godless.com 31 Days of Godless event to celebrate October of 2021. You can snag it for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app on your mobile device. The link is below: