<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - BOOK REVIEWS]]>Tue, 22 Aug 2017 13:28:31 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[Book Review: The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski]]>Tue, 22 Aug 2017 11:09:11 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/book-review-the-hematophages-by-stephen-kozeniewskiReview by John Boden
Allow me to make a confession, and you can just drop those pebbles in your hand, pal!!

I am not a big fan of science fiction.  I mean the "Laser gun/space ship/computery-beep-boop-beep!"stuff.  So when this came to my doorstep and I read the back copy, I cringed. It sounds so damn science fiction...and it is. But, I was wrong. Really really wrong.

Paige is a student invited to participate in a salvage mission, to find and bring back a mythical ship called Manifest Destiny.  She has never been off the space outpost  where she was raised and longs to experience other things.   I can't begin to boil down the heady plot other than I will say that as far as world-building goes, Stephen Kozeniewki has hit a grand slam here.  I mean, the details of the incredibly bleak and interesting world are amazing. Simply staggering!

I'll touch on some other things that come into play here:  We have a cast of entirely women, not just on this mission--but in the whole world. There are no males.  We meet a band of pirates called "Skin-Wrappers" who are so ghoulishly bizarre that I have still not stopped picturing them and I finished this book two months ago!? We have the flesh world, a living planet-sized organism, wherein the blood is an oceanic entity, brimming with life of its own--the titular critters, The Hematophages. These psychic space lampreys are vile and smart and they are not to be taken for granted.

All of this wraps around itself and what you get it a Russian nesting doll of 80's pulp inside of hard science fiction inside pointed and pretty fucking spot on social commentary, all in a highly unique and entertaining package.

Buy this book. Read this book. It's fantastic.

The Hematophages is available from Sinister Grin Press
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Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a “station bunny” – she’s never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up. But when she’s offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind. Paige is convinced she’s been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies. Whatever she’s looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld. Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates. Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights. The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can’t extort. But the greatest threat to Paige’s mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld. These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in an ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home. In just a few short, bone-chilling hours Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as…THE HEMATOPHAGES.

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<![CDATA[THE GUNS OF SANTA SANGRE BY ERIC RED]]>Wed, 16 Aug 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/the-guns-of-santa-sangre-by-eric-redBY GAVIN KENDALL
A tale of three gunslingers who hear of a small town church full of silver, the trouble is, between them and unlimited riches, a band of brutal werewolves!

Does this western/horror hybrid have teeth or is it shooting blanks?
'Guns' is a punchy, action packed novel that plays up to the old movie clichés of the rugged gunslinger. The lead characters of the novel  Tucker, Bodie and Fix are classic examples of your usual hard-drinking, tobacco chewing, guns for hire. On the run from the bounty looming on their heads, they are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the law. 

When they're approached by a young peasant girl named Pilar, who begs them for their help whose village has been pillaged by 'Men Who Walk Like Wolves'. With the promise of all the silver from the village's church as a reward, the unspoken leader of the gang Tucker, agrees to go and help.

Moving from set piece to set piece at a fantastic pace, only slowing for an unnecessarily long passage where the gunslingers are travelling across the desert to the werewolf infested village, this is high-octane, gore filled entertainment. The first chapter sets the stall out perfectly, with a high-speed stage-coach chase across the desert, with howling werewolves in pursuit. It was so visual and had me hooked.

Characterisation of the three gunslingers is well written. Everyone else, bar the lead werewolf, Mosca and the old drunk with a werewolf history,  are there simply to push the story along. Some of the extended back stories were somewhat superfluous, however, I would have liked to have had the old drunk's backstory explored a little further. (How about a prequel Eric?) This is gunslinger v werewolves after all.  Eric Red has given the reader just about enough to create a set of characters that you root for, or against.

The werewolves brutality is wince inducing; they have no limits to satisfy their blood lust. So can Tucker, Bodie and Fix save the survivors of the village? These survivors are caged up and pulled out one by one like some macabre pick 'n mix  to be eaten or worse!
I say worse as this is where my one issue with this novel lies. I'm a horror fan; I have no objection to violence and gore if it's deemed necessary to the plot,  Eric Red has nailed the violence/gore ratio perfectly.  

Having said that the brutality toward women within the pages of this book went beyond the limits of acceptability for this reader. There was so much sexual violence it was uncomfortable for me as a reader, it took me out of the story at times sadly.  The 'meat puppet' description is one of the most disgusting things I have read in a book for a long while!

Despite my criticism, which I know will put some people off, The Guns of Santa Sangre, is a fast paced, action packed, blood soaked novel that I'd thoroughly recommend.
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They’re hired guns. The best at what they do. They’ve left bodies in their wake across the West. But this job is different. It’ll take all their skill and courage. And very special bullets. Because their targets this time won’t be shooting back. They’ll fight back with ripping claws, tearing fangs and animal cunning. They’re werewolves. A pack of bloodthirsty wolfmen have taken over a small Mexican village, and the gunmen are the villagers’ last hope. The light of the full moon will reveal the deadliest showdown the West has ever seen—three men with six-shooters facing off against snarling, inhuman monsters.

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<![CDATA[FINAL GIRLS BY RILEY SAGER]]>Wed, 16 Aug 2017 09:13:43 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/final-girls-by-riley-sagerBy Tony Jones 
“The slasher film inspires an entertaining thriller”
First and foremost Riley Sager’s “Final Girls” is an old fashioned page-turner and I really don’t read enough of them. You’ll quite easily begin on a Friday evening and munch up the 342 pages finishing it in good time for the Sunday roast. I most certainly did. Like huge selling “Gone Girl” and “Girl on the Train” it’s also probably one of those books will readers will devour and then claim not to like at all, even though they just read it in two days flat! A guilty pleasure.
“Final Girls” also had major pre-publication hype with Ebury eventually buying it after an intense seven way bidding war. The buzz was heightened when Stephen King weighed in with this juicy quote: “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this” stating it was one of the first great novels of 2017. There have also been some raised eyebrows over the fact that author Todd Ritter has chosen to use a gender neutral pseudo name which casual buyers and browsers may presume is a woman.
 
So Todd (or Riley) is most definitely a man and is a huge horror fan, especially slasher films. If you track him down on Twitter you’ll be cheered to see scream queen legend Jamie Lee Curtis is his Avatar. His love of horror films is stamped all over “Final Girls” with “Halloween” and the complex multi-stranded Wes Craven classic “Scream” his favourites, the latter having more of a background influence on the origins of his novel.
 
Think back to many of the top slasher films, many have one thing in common - only one female character survives. Riley Sager argues that this is not really a happy ending as their life is in ruins, they are psychologically damaged and all their friends are dead.  Marilyn Burns from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is another example the author uses in an interview. This is the premise for “Final Girls” and in briefly summarising the plot, I don’t want to give too much away:
 
Over a period of ten or so years there are three major incidents when there are mass killings with only one young female survivor. They are not connected, the women don’t know each other and they become tabloid celebrities being branded ‘Final Girls’. This moniker sticks. The novel focusses upon Quincy who is the third and most recent of the ‘Final Girls’, she avoids the media and does not do interviews, surviving with a cake-making blog and a supportive lawyer boyfriend. However, when the oldest of the ‘Final Girls‘, Lisa, is found dead under mysterious circumstances the second of the ‘Final Girls’, Sam, turns up on Quincy’s doorstep. The media get wind of this meeting and the two women discuss about what happened to Lisa. To say anymore of the plot would spoil it, but expect some major twists and turns… Some very clever and others very dumb…
 
The novel is seen entirely from the point of view from Quincy who really is a bit of a cry-baby, she’s no Jamie Lee Curtis, but I found myself warming to her as she guzzled booze and popped pill after pill. Like any slasher film, true to form, she is also incredibly gullible as she finds herself caught in the spider’s web woven by Sam and makes dumb decision after another.  A second strand of the story strand takes the reader back to the cabin where Quincy’s friends were all murdered and the circumstances which led to it. The problem is Quincy cannot remember what happened and only suffered superficial injuries and was questioned by the police at the time. The plot thickens, it’s never dull, and poor old Quincy turns into a bit of a car crash, but it’s all part of the fun.
 
Like the horror films the novel is inspired by, there is always a candidate who is too obvious to be the killer, but then there is always a second character you REALLY think is the killer. However, then it always turns out to be another character completely! This book was a bit like that, actually, it reminded me more of another slasher film I am not going to mention by name as it might give too many clues. So it was sleazy, forgettable dumb fun all the way.
 
“Final Girls” was most definitely more of a thriller than a horror novel, but horror fans who cross into thrillers are unlikely to be disappointed. The author has mentioned Stephen King, Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott as major influences, the first two are pretty obvious, but if you don’t know Megan Abbott I highly recommend you checking her out. She is a stupendously versatile writer who consistently produces high quality novels which like “Final Girls” are more thriller than horror, are incredibly layered, psychologically clever, and full of wonderfully damaged characters loaded with secrets. She’s very cool and undoubtedly the only author in the world who could mesh teenage gymnastics and murder successfully.   
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If you liked GONE GIRL you'll like this' STEPHEN KING

FIRST THERE WERE THREE
The media calls them the Final Girls – Quincy, Sam, Lisa – the infamous group that no one wants to be part of. The sole survivors of three separate killing sprees, they are linked by their shared trauma.
THEN THERE WERE TWO
But when Lisa dies in mysterious circumstances and Sam shows up unannounced on her doorstep, Quincy must admit that she doesn’t really know anything about the other Final Girls. Can she trust them? Or...
CAN THERE ONLY EVER BE ONE?
All Quincy knows is one thing: she is next.

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<![CDATA[THE TRUANTS BY LEE MARKHAM]]>Tue, 15 Aug 2017 11:45:48 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/the-truants-by-lee-markhamBy Gavin Kendall
An interesting twist on the vampire myth as the last vampire learns that his partner since the Stone Age has killed herself. Rather than face eternity alone he decides to commit suicide by waiting for the sun to claim him. His plans are thwarted however when he's stabbed as the sun rises, his suicide remains successful, yet he retains a degree of consciousness as his soul is now being spread through each subsequent victim that falls to the blade. He must get the knife back and reclaim his soul, the problem is, someone doesn't want him to get it back.

The Truants is a tale of the social underclass, of knife crime, drug abuse and poverty  with a clever new interpretation of the Vampire mythology woven between the rat infested tower blocks. It's beautifully written, almost poetic at times, there were several passages that literally stopped me reading for a moment it was so powerful. The way Markham details the grief of a murdered childs mother were stunning, the vile descriptions of poverty and abuse in a small flat where drug addled parents fester whilst their dirty, lice ridden child is in another room desperate for love and attention is simply heartbreaking.

The story is certainly not an easy read, but the elegant way in which it's written pulls you through the blood and filth.

The Truants is a remarkable piece of work that demands to be read.
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Following the suicide of his lover, the last of the ‘old-ones’ – ancient immortal beings, as clever as they are ruthless and unable to withstand the light of the sun – has decided to end his immortality. As he sits on a bench on the edge of a council estate to await his demise with the rising of the sun, he is mistaken for an old man, held up at knifepoint by a young man and stabbed before the sun burns his body to ashes. His assailant scurries back into the belly of the estate with the knife in his pocket, the blood of the old-one seared into its sharpened edge.

But once the blade cuts another person, the congealed blood mingles with that of its victim, and awakens in them the old-one’s consciousness from the depths of the afterlife. It is not long before the knife draws blood again, and one by one the youth living on the estate are taken over by the old-one’s mind. Determined to die, he must find and destroy the knife before his soul becomes irrevocably dispersed in the bodies of the city’s children, trapped forever in its feral underbelly. But someone is out to stop him…

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<![CDATA[I AM BEHIND YOU BY JOHN AJVIDE LINDQUIST]]>Tue, 08 Aug 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/i-am-behind-you-by-john-ajvide-lindquistBy Tony Jones
“Abstract horror which seriously disappoints
“I Am Behind You” is John Ajvide Lindqvist’s first novel to appear in English since “Little Star” in 2011, being a major fan of this highly versatile Swedish author I was really looking forward to reading something new. However, this was a major disappointment and it does not compare favourably to any of his previous four novels. Interestingly, it appeared in Sweden way back in 2014 and the translation has taken a while to materialise, perhaps they struggled to find a home for it? If that was the case, it really would not surprise me. However, a second book (in this projected trilogy) has recently been released in Sweden, so the story does continue. The original title, in Swedish, translates into English literally as “Heaven’s Beach”.
The opening sequences of the book definitely catches the reader’s eye and initial interest for me was high. A group of holidaymakers, who do not know each other, wake up one morning to find themselves and their caravans are no longer in their caravan site. Instead they have, in some weird way, been transported to a huge open grass plain, where there is no sun, an endless horizon, and they have absolutely no idea how they got there, or how to leave. It then takes a while for the ten characters involved to come to their senses and explore their surroundings.  So this is the setting for what has been billed as a “conceptual horror” as the ten Swedes try to deal with whatever this crisis is.
 
To be frank it was all pretty dull and uninvolving from start to finish. I struggled to visualise this endless and empty grassy place where this generally unlikeable and pretty boring bunch of people were stranded.  The author does not give much in the way of descriptions to liven things up and I tired of this empty location pretty quickly as it took ages for anything to happen. Slowly the group realise the seriousness of their predicament and they start to scheme, backbite and things begin to go from bad to worse as they start to have visions, hallucinate, fight inner demons, and contend with acid rain with the power to create gaping holes in their caravan roofs. It gets even more bizarre when real people such as the actor James “everyone calls me Jimmy” Stewart makes several appearances, along with characters from Star Wars. One of the better characters is a slightly unsettling little girl who enjoys watching the French torture flick “Martyrs”, then throw in an emancipated tiger and white humanoid creatures lurking on the distant horizon who don’t do very much except lurk. What did this amount to? Not a lot, except a hodgepodge of disjointed sequences that made little sense.
 
The book explores not only the group's attempts to understand this new world but also  investigates their individual histories - did something each of them do when they were younger lead to this current situation? A lot of the novel is told via this flashback method and once again I found these sequences very uninvolving. Further real characters appear including popular Swedish singer Peter Himmelstrand and lots of other references mainly to Swedish pop culture. The Swedish media did indicate that some of the occurrences may have been autobiographical points of notes from the author’s own life.  Once the initial interest wears of the book really sagged in the middle, the back stories plodded, and I naively hoped for a conclusion that would provide answers. Once again, I was disappointed.
 
It's a very dodgy sign when the only characters you care about and want to survive are the cat and the dog which become friends when everything else goes to crap.  The Swedish media reacted pretty favourably to this book, stating that Lindquist was evolving his literary style into more abstract and existentialist type of horror. Personally I don’t buy that statement, I enjoy challenging and intelligent horror, but when you get to the end of 400 pages and absolutely nothing is revealed the majority of readers are going to be shaking their heads. Horror requires atmosphere and this novel really, really lacked it, and was as bland as the grassy setting.  
 
Is it heaven, hell, purgatory or something else? You may not care by the time you get to the end. Not that you find out anyway.   I like very strange horror novels, “Little Star” by this author is so much more than this cumbersome and tiring book I would highly recommend you read either that or any f the author’s other novels instead of this. The publishers will probably try to sell this new novel as “psychological horror” don’t believe them. Very disappointing.
 


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A supernatural superthriller from the author of Let the Right One In

​Molly wakes her mother to go to the toilet. The campsite is strangely blank. The toilet block has gone. Everything else has gone too. This is a place with no sun. No god.

Just four families remain. Each has done something to bring them here - each denies they deserve it. Until they see what's coming over the horizon, moving irrevocably towards them. Their worst mistake. Their darkest fear.
And for just one of them, their homecoming.

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<![CDATA[THE FIDDLE IS THE DEVIL'S INSTRUMENT AND OTHER FORBIDDEN KNOWLEDGE BY BRETT J. TALLEY]]>Wed, 02 Aug 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/the-fiddle-is-the-devils-instrument-and-other-forbidden-knowledge-by-brett-j-talleyBY WILLIAM TEA 
 "those who still enjoy the Mythos-inspired stories of Frank Belknap Long, Brian Lumley, or even August Derleth, The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument offers the literary equivalent of comfort food"
In genre fiction circles, the name H.P. Lovecraft has long been revered. These days, the most noteworthy of the many, many writers who invoke that name tend to take influence from the man’s more “literary” qualities. They craft subtle, atmospheric, often quite poetic tales of philosophical horror with cosmic implications and an emphasis on suggestion over explication. It’s worth remembering, though, that Lovecraft’s legacy is equally rooted in the realm of pulp fiction.

Indeed, what originally attracted both readers and writers to Lovecraft’s output was not so much his style or worldview (as largely seems the case today), but rather the open-source mythology he created as a background for his tales. From pantheons of alien gods to whole bookshelves stuffed with arcane grimoires, Lovecraft’s sandbox has always been flush with toys practically begging storytellers to jump in and play with them.


No one had to beg Brett J. Talley, it seems. His latest collection, The Fiddle is the Devils Instrument and Other Forbidden Knowledge, is classic Lovecraftian fiction in full-on no-frills pulp mode: Straightforward horror yarns about unsuspecting mortals stumbling into conflict with ancient, apocalyptic entities. And sometimes they even survive!

Over the course of 13 tales, Talley injects Cthulhu Mythos tropes into a wide range of well-realized historical settings, often finding ways to make Lovecraftian narratives reflect the grimmer aspects of the spirits of each age.

In the rugged days of the North American fur trade, paranoia consumes a party of trappers when one among them becomes possessed by a wendigo-esque Old One. Nineteenth century voodoo queen Marie Laveau leads a swamp-dwelling cult on a campaign of bloody sacrifice in service of Nyarlathotep. In the trenches of “No Man’s Land” during the Battle of Verdun, a creature that feeds on death is roused from its centuries-long slumber, and it is hungry.

A WWII soldier searching for meaning after enduring the horrors of combat attends a gathering of spiritualists who, upon broaching the veil between worlds, are confronted not by the ghosts of their loved ones but rather something far less comforting. At the close of the Cold War, the CIA interrogates a KGB operative about just what surprises are hiding in a secret Soviet facility, and why even the Reds themselves have fled the place. In the present day, a massacre at the Large Hadron Collider raises questions about what experiments the scientists there might actually be performing, and what they might unleash.

Despite the dark and sometimes lurid subject matter, there is a lightness to Talley’s fiction, an “everyone gather ‘round the campfire” ghost-story warmth that admittedly undercuts the terror every now and then, even flirting with outright absurdity on occasion (one memorable story features a rodeo clown using the tricks of his trade to escape the wrath of Tsathoggua!). Nevertheless, it is this lightness that makes Talley’s tales so eminently readable, so easy to enjoy.

Talley isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel; weird fiction readers in search of material with a more self-aware, deconstructionist, or genre-bending flavor are better off looking elsewhere. But for those who still enjoy the Mythos-inspired stories of Frank Belknap Long, Brian Lumley, or even August Derleth, The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument offers the literary equivalent of comfort food: Good, solid Lovecraftian pulp that’s light on all that purple-prose philosophizing and heavy on macabre monster action.
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​From Brett J. Talley, the master of Lovecraftian terror, comes thirteen tales of the dark forces that lurk just beyond man’s understanding.

A scientist who opens a door between dimensions. A creature that devours the dead in World War I’s no man’s land. A fiddler who can bring forth the gods of old. These are but a few of the horrors retold in The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument and Other Forbidden Knowledge.

Read them if you must but do not forget: there are some things mankind was never meant to know.

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<![CDATA[LOST BOY BY CHRISTINA HENRY]]>Tue, 01 Aug 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/lost-boy-by-christina-henryBY DEANNA KNIPPLING
I felt tired and old and untrusting rather than darkly delighted. It felt like being trapped in an awful relationship with a narcissist, with no way out.
I have to start out this review with: I wanted to like this more than I did. However, the issue I have with the book isn't going to be one that most readers have. YMMV.

Lost Boy is a dark retelling of the Peter Pan story from Captain Hook's perspective. Jamie isn't based on the historical captain James Cook (which I was half-expecting), but on an ordinary boy. A mostly ordinary boy, who nevertheless is the kind of kid who can keep up with Peter for more years than one likes to think about. If the implications are true, Jamie may go back all the way to 1750--or perhaps just to the mid-1800s. It's hard to tell.

Peter is a bad boy. A truly bad boy, as it turns out. Reprehensible doesn't cover the half of it. 

Jamie, on the other hand, is his one true friend, both to Peter and to the rest of the lost boys, and if he has a few anger issues, they're certainly nothing unreasonable, all things considered. Or at least that's what he says--he's telling the story, isn't he? Of course he's put a little bit of a shine on himself...
On the one hand, the craft behind this book is well done. Solid characters, including one of the more eerily accurate-feeling portrayals of a narcissistic psychopath that you'll run into this year. The style is solid and readable, very readable. The dark aspects of the book are also well done--there's a goodly amount of creative gore, leaving none of the characters unscathed; in addition to which, the horrific implications of the story are calculated out nicely, with logic taking us down some slippery slopes indeed.

However, and here's my problem, the premise is the entirety of the plot. The entire book is a windup to the reveal of just how bad Peter is--again, this is pretty bad--and then it ends.

That was it.

In addition, the ending left me with the sense that yes, the conflict between Hook and Peter is justified--but when I tried to tie the original play/novel with Lost Boy, the logic doesn't fit. Nothing is mentioned about Peter's curious shadow (or if it was, I missed it). Never addressed is the fact that Peter will bring Wendy, a hated girl, to Neverland (and promises to visit her repeatedly after she leaves--in the novel coming back to visit her daughter and so on). There's no mention of Tiger Lily & company (which is understandable, if a bit weak). Hook never went to Eaton. There's only one fairy left at the end of the book (Tinkerbell). And the crocodile never eats Jamie's hand, nor does it eat a clock.

In the end, it was a difficult book to read. Peter does something terrible, Jamie struggles to clean up after it, Peter does something else terrible...lather, rinse, repeat. The ending didn't resolve the conflict, only set it in stone. And the details that didn't mesh up with Peter Pan felt like indications that Jamie had lied about the story, whole cloth--and I don't think they were meant to. 

Some people will most likely think this book is an excellent adventure, a great dark spin of a retelling, and in many ways it is. I saw someone describe it as a fantasy Lord of the Flies, and they're not wrong. But when it was over I felt tired and old and untrusting rather than darkly delighted. It felt like being trapped in an awful relationship with a narcissist, with no way out.
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There is one version of my story that everyone knows. And then there is the truth. This is how it happened. How I went from being Peter Pan's first--and favorite--lost boy to his greatest enemy.

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<![CDATA[YOU WILL GROW INTO THEM BY MALCOLM DEVLIN]]>Mon, 31 Jul 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/you-will-grow-into-them-by-malcolm-devlin"It was dirty, physical work, but it was second nature to Alce by now. She still marvelled at the complacency of the oblivious public she dealt with. The ludicrous way they could remain blind to the nature of the wider world until the unpleasant realities of it impinged on their own. She remembered wishing she could feel so immune. She wished she could leave the house one morning and see only the world as it pretended to be. It must be so easy to be ignorant. So happy to not know."
 
- 'We All Need Somewhere To Hide'
 
"Tom imagined his life as a transplant operation. The fictional world he’d lived in was being cut out of him and a weighty reality was being wired into the hole it had left behind. But transplants were dangerous, and Tom found himself living at one remove, convinced his body would rebel at any arbitrary moment, rejecting the reality he had been forced to accept."
 
- 'Songs Like They Used To Play'


Malcolm Devlin's debut short story collection 
You Will Grow Into Them marks the debut of an exciting new talent. Over the course of ten stories, Devlin shows just how varied Horror and Weird fiction can be, effortlessly fusing elements from folklore, science fiction, regency comedy of manners and urban fantasy into a cohesive and compelling whole. Each story demonstrates Devlin's mastery of prose; his writing is beautiful and clear, and his characterisation deft. The stories are thematically linked through the idea of the coming of age tale. With each story, Devlin uses Horror and the Weird to remind us of the gap between our perception or reality and reality itself, and to explore what lurks in the shadows in between. His writing is fascinated with transitory states and the liminal, the space that exists between the rigidly defined strictures of the world around us. In this his work echoes the philosophical approach of Philip K. Dick and Thomas Ligotti, reminding us of the power of genre fiction to ask profound questions about our relationship to reality.
Each of Devlin's stories in the collection is a coming of age tale, roughly arranged in chronological age order of the protagonists. Thus while the earlier stories reflect the essential moment of a child's realisation that the world is a stranger and more frightening place than they had known, the stories featuring young adults and couples with children themselves remind us that our understanding of the world as we mature still remains incomplete, something to be challenged. The stories celebrate the idea of transition from one state to another, the moment of metamorphosis, terrible or wonderful. Devlin is an adept explorer of these liminal states, his stories gaining their power to thrill and frighten from the vividness with which he inhabits them. Rather than relying on jump scares or explicit violence, his stories frequently use the power of suggestion and implication to open up and explore these spaces, an engagement with the reader's own subconscious. 'Dogsbody' is a werewolf story set years after the transformations have taken place, whilst the cross hatch man in 'Passion Play' never makes a physical appearance. This gives his stories their own particular unusual flavour, and allows him to exploit the uncanny to its full effect.
 
In keeping with the theme of liminal states, Devlin's stories frequently play surprising games with genre and form, finding common ground between seemingly disparate genres or novel uses for familiar tropes or motifs. The new is mixed atavistically with the old, as a method of defamiliarising both, and creating a sense of echoing or recapitulation. Thus 'Breadcrumbs' spirals out from fairy tale motifs into surrealism and the New Weird, imagining a city blossoming into a riot of nature. 'Her First Harvest' effortlessly mixes Regency period comedy of manners with science fiction, portraying a young girl's first ball on a planet in which the colonists harvest edible fungi from their own backs. 'Passion Play' conflates the Stations of the Cross with a police reenactment of the last journey of a missing schoolgirl.
 
The idea of doubles or reflections recurs throughout the stories. This is demonstrated in the way in which Devlin undermines the sense of realities. 'The Bridge' is a beautifully subtle story in which a couple moving into a house find a model replica of the town in the attic which tells the tragic story of the previous owner through its deviations from the real town. 'Two Brothers' explores the gap that grows between siblings as their experiences differ, the protagonist unable to process the change in his older brother after his first term at school. 'The Last Meal He Ate Before She Killed Him' features a restaurant in which a woman who killed a general is punished by being forced to replay the events of his final evening as a form of dinner entertainment for high ranking members of the militia. The story explores the way oppressive regimes codify the behaviour of their citizens into routines of paranoia and treachery; the routine proves no less dangerous for being rote. 'Songs Like They Used To Play' is a powerful exploration of the distorting effect of memory and toxic nostalgia. Its protagonist grew up on a reality show that mimics life in Britain in previous decades; he can never be sure which of his memories are genuine or which are shaped by rewatching the show, in much the same way that the nostalgia industry warps our perception of the past with its airbrushed sepia-toned cosiness.
 
Devlin's stories frequently tap into British social class anxieties, a subject that provides a continuous source of tension throughout the collection. 'Dogsbody' is a powerful exploration of social stigma; the werewolves are treated as second class citizens because of their condition, and it is this which drives the story rather than any sense of threat from the werewolves themselves. 'Two Brothers' invokes the sneering sense of entitlement fostered by the British public school system. His most powerful exploration of these themes is in the final story of the collection, 'The End Of Hope Street'. Devlin dissects the petty neighbourhood rivalries and relationships on Hope Street as one by one the houses become unliveable, and the remaining tenants have to choose between welcoming their now homeless neighbours or selfishly driving them away. The story shows both how tragedy can bring people together and bring out the best in them but also how it can bring out hatred and paranoia. As an exploration of Britain shutting its doors on its neighbours it could not be more relevant or timely.
 
Though his stories are frequently unsettling and disturbing, Devlin's empathy for his characters shines through. The stories in this collection are peopled by a diverse cast of differing backgrounds, sexualities and world views. Devlin is able to bring them all to life and give them all distinct voices. His strong character work helps to anchor his stories. The familiarity and humanity of his characters makes their exploration of the uncanny and the stripping away of our complacent understanding of reality all the more powerful. For all that the stories frequently do not feature traditional ghosts or monsters, they are very much part of the Weird. Throughout the collection Devlin shows us how our perspectives cheat us; the reality we experience is only a window on to the world, and there is always some vital piece of information hovering just outside our perception. The stories in You Will Grow Into Them force us to confront this information. The end experience can be uplifting or terrifying or both, but in every case they force us to change and grow as people.

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Malcolm Devlin's You Will Grow Into Them is a collection of immaculately written tales that deftly mix darkness with a playful imagination. The results are stories that are as entertaining and humane as they are deeply unsettling. We need more stories in the world like these. Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts Devlin's collection, like Andrew Michael Hurley's The Loney before it, is set to become one of the decade's landmarks of English weird. Nina Allan, author of The Race and The Rift 

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<![CDATA[PAPERBACKS FROM HELL: A HISTORY OF HORROR FICTION FROM THE '70S AND '80S BY GRADY HENDRIX]]>Mon, 24 Jul 2017 04:53:13 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/paperbacks-from-hell-a-history-of-horror-fiction-from-the-70s-and-80s-by-grady-hendrixBy Ben Arzate

 
When I was a kid I recall going to one of my grandparents' friend's house. When I looked on their bookshelf, I saw a few books with striking covers depicting creepy skeletons. One that still sticks with me these days showed a boy's skull peeking out from behind a beanie and scarf as it rides a tricycle towards the reader. I could never remember what that book was. If nothing else, I can thank Grady Hendrix of Horrorstor and My Best Friend's Exorcism for showing me that the book was Tricycle by Russell Rhodes.
 
That book, among many, many others, came out in the horror publishing boom that started in the late '60s and ended in the early '90s. While some books regarded as contemporary classics came from that boom, such as Rosemary's Baby which Hendrix argues kick started it, many of these books are now out of print and forgotten except by a few aficionados.
 
In the introduction, Hendrix talks about the book which got him addicted to seeking these out these paperbacks. John Christopher's The Little People had an absolutely ridiculous cover showing Nazi elves menacing a couple with whips in front of a castle. While he found the story lacking, though delightfully insane at times, he sought out more of these paperback oddities.
 
Each chapter of the book looks at the various trends that sprouted up during the horror publishing boom and some examples of titles that were following the trend. For example, in the wake of the success of Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, dozens of imitators focusing on Satan and the Catholic Church sprang up. The success of The Omen resulted in many evil children novels, V.C. Andrews and Anne Rice sparked a new interest in Gothic horror and vampires, and so forth.
 
A big focus here is on the cover art. After all, marketers relied heavily on them to sell new authors, and cover paintings were the standard before Photoshop. In several “Coroner's Report” asides, Hendrix discusses the histories of particular artists and their histories. One of the more fascinating asides talks about the artist George Ziel, a Polish Catholic who survived a concentration camp and lost his Jewish wife to the Holocaust. After he had moved to the United States, he worked as a cover artist, translating the horrors he'd seen in real life to the ones the paintings that would accompany various paperbacks.
 
While he points out some books as lost masterpieces, such as the works of Ken Greenhall (which are being brought back into print) and The Voice of the Clown by Brenda Brown Canary. He doesn't hesitate to let us know that many of the books had a “so bad it's good” charm to them while others were just bad. For example, it's clear that Hendrix had little use for the entire Splatterpunk movement, a few exceptions like Clive Barker and Joe R. Lansdale aside. This is one of the strongest points in the book. Hendrix could have easily made this a dry reference book, but there's plenty of humour and personality in the writing to make this enjoyable to read on his own.
 
Of course, one of the problems is that there was so much happening during the horror publishing boom that it often felt like Hendrix had to gloss over many parts of it. Despite that, this remains an essential read for horror fans. There are a lot of books I'll be tracking down after reading this. I hope that this book will help to renew interest in many of these books and will them back into print, or at least get them re-released as ebooks
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<![CDATA[NAMING THE BONES BY LAURA MAURO]]>Thu, 29 Jun 2017 07:02:21 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/naming-the-bones-by-laura-mauro
Naming The Bones from Laura Mauro is the latest entry in the Dark Minds Press excellent novella series, following on from such great novellas from the likes of Rich Hawkins, Ben Jones, and  Gary Fry.  These thematically distinct novellas have continually shown that Dark Minds Press knows exactly what makes for a great novella.  When the announced that there latest title was from one of the brightest and most talented of the new generation of Horror Writers Laura Mauro, there was a wave excitement around Ginger Nuts of Horror.  

Since first reading her short story While Charlie Sleeps in Black Static, this reviewer knew that a huge talent had just stepped onto the stage, and in the short intervening years Laura has grown and developed as a writer in ways that would make many another author green with envy.  

Naming The Bones,  is Laura's first published novella, and marks her first move away from the short story format, can Laura pull off a longer format story?  You will have to read on to find out...
Allessa Spiteri, is a broken woman, struggling to come to terms with her life and relationships after surviving a bomb explosion on the London Underground, she is seeking answers, answers to why the bomb was set off, and answers to what the nightmarish shadowy creatures that she witnessed in the aftermath of the explosion.  Initially she believes them to be mere hallucinations, but as she comes to terms with events she slowly changes her mind and believes the creatures to be real.  What are they, what do they want, and can they be destroyed these are the questions that will see Allessa return to tunnels, and on a journey of dark, cold terror.  


When you read story from Laura Maura, it doesn't take long to realise that you reading something rather special.  Laura's ability to weave multiple thematic, and emotional  layers into her work is outstanding.  One the one hand you have have a simple tale of a woman battling against the monsters in the dark, but scratch the surface of the narrative ever so slightly and you will find a depth to the story that belies the initial simplicity of the story.

Naming the Bones, is a dark claustrophobic story, that uses its real London locations to great effect. The Elephant and Castle area of London lives and breaths within the lines of the story, adding a sense of reality to the more fantastical elements of the novella.   As Alessa pounds the streets of her home looking for answers the reader almost feels as though they are peering over her shoulder, watching as events unfold and her life unravels.  

As a simple story Naming The Bones is exceptional, Mauro's story has a fantastic sense of place, with some tightly written set pieces, especially the opening scenes of the explosion, the disastrous first foray into the tunnels and the thrilling final act where everything comes to light and some devastating secrets are revealed.  However, interspersing  these set pieces is a complex and heart wrenching look at the themes of survivor guilt and the sense of hopelessness when faced with something beyond your control.   Laura's intimate look into the mind of Alessa provides the reader with a honest look at how a person deals with these traumas. Rather than making Alessa a victim for the reader to feel sorry for, Mauro has made her all too human, she is an unreliable narrator, the reader is kept guessing as to the truth of the story.  She is also a flawed person, her pigheadedness, and unrelenting desire to find out the truth, at times makes you want to take her aside and shake some sense into her, and two seconds later makes you want to take her aside and give her hug and tell her everything will be OK.  Alessa is one of the most truthfully depicted characters in recent times, complex, with actions that are completely believe, and an emotional journey that is both honest and totally satisfying.  

Laura's depiction of the "Shades" is truly chilling, taking cues from a number of folk legends, these avatars of doom are truly frightening.  Wild, ragged creatures, that feed on suffering and despair they will haunt your dreams after reading this book.  

Naming The Bones is a powerful, thoughtful, and emotionally satisfying novella, dark, deep and dramatic, it will have you looking over your shoulder and peering into the dark spaces of your world for any hint of the shades.  

We are only halfway through the year, but Naming The Bones, looks set to feature very highly in my top 5 reads of the year.  


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First there was darkness…
Alessa Spiteri survives a bombing incident on the London Underground only to discover that the horror she experienced there is only the beginning of the nightmare.
As she struggles to rebuild her life, she finds herself haunted by grotesque, shadow creatures – monsters Alessa believes are hallucinations, born of her traumatised mind until she meets Casey, also the survivor of an Underground bombing, who tells her she can see the monsters too.
Together, the women plan their fightback against the creatures, a course of action which takes Alessa back into the tunnels beneath the city.
Back into the darkness.

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