<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - BOOK REVIEWS]]>Thu, 22 Mar 2018 09:04:35 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[FICTION REVIEW: GLIMPSE BY JONATHAN MABERRY]]>Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/fiction-review-glimpse-by-jonathan-maberryBy Amber Fallon 
 Glimpse is the kind of book you finish and immediately want to read again. As soon as that last page is turned, there’s this kind of desperation, this feeling of “What if I missed something?” that might just be me making excuses for the fact that what I actually missed were some of the characters that I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to just yet…

If you’re familiar with Maberry’s work, you know that he’s a talented author and that his way of crafting dynamic action scenes, powerful storylines, and kick-you-in-the-teeth endings is second to none. While those things are present in this book, it’s also something completely different. Fans of his Joe Ledger series will definitely find something to enjoy here, as will fans of the Pine Deep series, but Glimpse is also something completely new and entirely unique.

 I absolutely loved Glimpse, and if I had to pick just one favorite thing about it, creepy broken watch to my head… I’d say it’s the truly brilliant way the author manages to make things in the book seem simultaneously familiar and also brand spanking new, and he does this again and again and again and to great effect. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the book’s villain, Doctor Nine. Doctor Nine is, in a word, CREEPY. He’s absolutely terrifying, and fairly unique among horror antagonists… however there’s this edge of familiarity to him that’s juuuuust enough to convince me that I KNOW that guy! After he makes his first appearance, I set the book down struggling to remember whether or not I’d had a nightmare about that very thing myself at some point, which is an awful concept that immediately drew me deeper into the book itself and brought it alive like nothing else could have.

Glimpse is the tale of Rain Thomas, a young woman with a dark past. She’s a former addict that gave her baby up for adoption after his father died in Iraq without even knowing Rain was pregnant. It’s the kind of thing that might drive anyone a little over the edge. After succumbing to drug addiction as a way to escape guilt over what she’d done for a period of years, Rain is now clean and doing her best to live her life. She’s been abandoned by her family, struggled to find a job, and has built a life for herself in New York. Everything starts to come apart for her one day when… well, when one day just disappears. That’s only the beginning of this unique, dazzling thriller that features one of my favorite settings of all time, a world I’d love to visit known as The Fire Zone.

Rain is my favorite kind of protagonist; deeply flawed, heartbreakingly real, and relatable. She’s human, and the things she does and the decisions she makes when presented with horrible events makes her feel like someone I know, someone I could be friends with, maybe even just someone a bit like me.

The book is populated by a host of memorable characters, vivid settings, and gut wrenching twists and turns that will keep you flipping the pages well into the night… and leaving all the lights on after you’ve gone to bed.

If I have a criticism, it’s that my favorite character and, perhaps the most interesting character in the book (which is saying something) isn’t introduced right away. He comes in somewhere around halfway through and while I understand the decision to hold off on his introduction, I was left wanting more, more, more of him in specific.

If you like supernatural thrillers, if you dig stories that put you into the heart of the action and make you wonder what you’d do when faced with events beyond your control, or if you just really like a masterfully crafted tale, I recommend Glimpse highly. 


<![CDATA[Book Review: FROM THE FRONT LINES OF ROCK by Jason Arnopp]]>Thu, 15 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/book-review-from-the-front-lines-of-rock-by-jason-arnoppby Kit Power 

Jason Arnopp is no stranger to Gingernuts of Horror. His debut novel, The Last Days Of Jack Sparks, was a big hit with us in 2016, and we were delighted when he agreed to be interviewed about the writing of that novel.

Since then, he’s been hard at work on the screenplay - the book having been optioned by Ron Howard’s production company, Imagine Entertainment - and in between he’s put out this book; a ‘greatest hits’ collection of interviews with some of the biggest names in rock and metal, from 1992 to 2005.

See, it turns out, before taking up storytelling as a full time occupation, Jason was actually earning a living doing my other dream job, as a reviewer and interviewer for the mighty Kerrang! Magazine, through the period I was growing up as a metalhead, and he got to attend shows and chat with… well, basically everyone who was anyone.

You could go off some people, if they weren't so damn likable.


This book collects a career spanning assortment of interviews with Rock royalty, from Anthony Kiedis and the Robinson brothers in 1992/3 through to Fred Durst and System Of A Down in 2005. It’s a real who’s who of the period, and the interviews themselves are conducted, for the most part, with the kind of unfettered access and free-flowing questioning you’d struggle to get now - a point the author himself makes in the footnotes.

Ah, yes, the footnotes. In addition to the 30 interviews collected herein, Arnopp adds some pretty hefty value to proceedings by extensively footnoting the pieces with additional information. These notes are often fascinating, giving either further reminiscence and context for the questioning, background information about his wider relationship with either the subject or their music, or occasionally berating his younger self for a faux pas or missed opportunity to delve deeper.

It certainly adds another layer of interest to proceedings, though my own preference was to read the entire block of interviews first, then explore the footnotes afterwards - though the ebook was impressively well formatted, making passage between the notes and the main text smooth, I personally preferred the experience of reading the interviews as published, and getting the ‘backstage gossip’ afterwards.

And blimey, the interviews. I was hit on more than one occasion by a powerful wave of nostalgia, as the names of bands and musicians washed over me - Garbage, Slash, Manic Street Preachers (yes, with RIchie James, in Tokyo, for crying out loud), James Hetfield, Trent Reznor, Faith No More, Rage Against The Machine, Eminem… I’m not a rabid fan of every band featured (I have an active and not entirely rational loathing for Limp Bizkit, for example), but I found myself transported back to a time when these names, these artists, dominated my mental landscape, were hugely important to me as signifiers of identity.

In that sense, it not always a comfortable look back. I was a huge Chilli peppers fan in 92 (and still don’t have a lot of time for the now-fashionable hatred for the group), and am to this day a Black Crowes devotee, but neither group covers itself in glory in these interviews. They come across as nice enough, but there’s also… well, there’s no polite way to put it, but a vacuity to many of their answers. It’s just a touch depressing to see artists I’d so worshiped come across as the not-terribly-well-informed, arrogant and yet insecure men children they must, logically, always have been. Or maybe I’m just getting old, and it’s depressing to read interviews with old gods who were younger then than I am now.

But, hey, it’s a good kind of depressing! No, really it is. For starters, there were some surprises. Whilst Pantera came across very much as the hyper-macho guitar bros their image always suggested, Korn frontman Jonathan Davis transcended my own mental image of him, with some to me surprising displays of emotional intelligence. The interview with Trent Reznor is just superb, meanwhile, taking in pretty much everything you’d have wanted to ask the man about, in between finishing The Downward Spiral Tour and working on The Fragile. Reznor is a superb subject, but Arnopp really shines here too - asking smart, probing questions, and then just getting the hell out of the way. And much as it pains me to admit it, even arch douchebag Fred Durst comes across as more human than you’d have any right to expect, given his public persona. Although maybe that’s more a function of the fact that nobody could really be that much of an asshole.

The other factor that packed a significant emotional punch here, for me, is the weight of history. The obvious, sledgehammer blows fall when the subject is someone no longer with us - the aforementioned Manics chat, obviously, and Dimebag Darrell, and an especially tough interview with Shannon Hoon, which covers a lot of the issues that would sadly lead to his passing, far too soon.

But there’s also just some significant cultural moments - or, I suppose, sub-cultural ones. Like getting to interview Steve Harris and Bruce DIckinson as Iron Maiden wrapped up what was, at the time, Dickinson’s final tour with the band. And as well as the aforementioned conversation with Trent Reznor, right between his two seminal albums, there’s moments like bumping into Slash in 1996, when the prospect of a new Guns N Roses studio album still felt like a live, somewhat imminent possibility, rather than the depressing, cruel joke it would later become (Slash himself came over well in this conversation, I think, honest about some of the obvious issues in the band, but also surprisingly diplomatic and upbeat).

Taken all in all, if, like me, you loved this particular style of music during this period of time, it’s hard to call this anything other than indispensable. It’ll put you back there, that’s all - back to a time when you felt that a perfectly struck power chord and a screaming, curse-laden vocal might actually have the power to change the world. Jason is an able guide through this foreign-feeling past, and there’s an undeniable pleasure in juxtaposing his youthful swagger with his more considered, reflective footnotes.

The only real quibble is with what must, surely, have been left in the Arnopp vaults. You’re not telling me he hasn’t sat down with Marilyn Manson, or Ginger Wildheart, for example, to name but two musicians of the period with a deserved rep for giving good copy.

What do you say, Jason? Can we get an encore?



<![CDATA[BOOK REVIEW: THE HOLLOW TREE BY JAMES BROGDEN]]>Tue, 13 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/book-review-the-hollow-tree-by-james-brogden
'​There is a power in stories, a power to root themselves into a nation's subconscious and an ability to take on a life of their own.  James Brogden's  The Hollow Tree uses one such story as the basis for his latest novel from Titan Books.  Based on the true story of infamous Bella in the Wych Elm, The Hollow Tree uses this fascinating legend as the foundation for a chilling folk horror ghost story about the compelling nature of story and belief. 

When Rachel Cooper suffers a horrific accident that results in one of her hands being amputated her idyllic married life is thrown into turmoil.  Haunted by nightmares of a woman trapped in a hollow tree, her marriage and her sanity are soon threatened by a world beyond ours as the mystery surrounding Bella begins to unfold and the real power of myths is unleashed on our reality.  

The Hollow Tree while not a direct sequel to last years excellent Hekla's Children, can be view as a companion novel.  Both of them deal with the notion that there are worlds beyond ours, shielded from ours by the thinnest of veils that can't always keep our worlds separate.  Where Hekla's Children was a more full-on folk horror novel, The Hollow Tree is slightly more restrained work, but nevertheless, it is still a highly enjoyable ghost story with enough thrills and chills to keep the reader wanting more.  

Brogden carefully keeps the supernatural elements of the story to a bare minimum during the initial phase of the novel. Instead, he focuses on the stress and strains of Racheal's relationship to her husband Tom as a result of the accident. It's a clever move as it serves to ground the story and the dynamics between the pair of them in a sensitive and believable manner, allowing for you to become invested in their relationship, as the story unfolds.  

When the focus of the story moves away from the domestic drama, and the supernatural element kicks in full force Brogden takes on an ingenious trip to  The Umbra.  The Umbra is a wild place, filled with dark magic, a place where the dispossessed dead exists, clinging onto the boundary spaces between the two worlds that have special meaning to them.  But The Umbra is so much more; it's a place where our myths, legends, and stories go, a place the power of belief can be harnessed by those in the stories to cement their power and their existence in the Umbra.  It's a bewitching premise which allows for some excellent twists and turns as the story unfolds.  Forgive me for being a vague here, but trust me the less you know about certain aspects of the narrative, the more enjoyment you will get as the story unfolds.  

Without giving too much away, Brogden has created a unique and utterly compelling supernatural threat.  As he says we all have our death, but we might not be able to choose it.  He utilises the urban legend of Bella to great effect, drawing on the foremost myths and theories behind who Bella was a Nazi spy, a gypsy witch or a prostitute. Brogden even manages to use the much-maligned dream sequence method of storytelling to great effect as a means to introducing us to the three different facets of who Bella is. 

Sometimes the ending of a story is the hardest thing to get right, many stories fizzle out, or feel unresolved, or god forbid end too quickly.  The Hollow Tree has one of the best endings I have had the pleasure of reading in many a long year, Rachel's fate is is perfect and filling and will have you running the full spectrum of emotions as her fate is revealed.  

The Hollow Tree is a gripping supernatural thriller, filled with great ideas, a fresh take on the tried and trusted ghost story, and a genuinely unique Big Bad Monster.  A sympathetic and fitting extension to the myths surrounding Bella in the Wych Elm.  


<![CDATA[HORROR FICTION REVIEW: THE HOUSE OF NODENS BY SAM GAFFORD]]>Mon, 12 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/horror-fiction-review-the-house-of-nodens-by-sam-gaffordBy George Illet Anderson 
Belly of the Beast
One of the best things about reviewing is when you come across those books that weave their reading magic on you, lulling you into this weird state of oblivion. Where you find yourself sitting down to have a taste of what’s on offer only to find yourself roused from your insatiable appetite for more by the fading light. Sam Gafford’s debut novel from Dark Regions Press, “The House of Nodens” definitely falls into this category.
I’d previously bought Gafford’s collection from Hippocampus Press, “The Dreamer in Fire and Other Tales” and found myself immersed in these beautifully crafted worlds full of imagination and assured writing. So when this popped up in my recommendations and I glanced at that brooding and ominous cover, I just knew that I had to part with my money and dive headlong in. I must admit that as much as the cover swayed me, my initial impression upon reading the blurb was that it sounded somewhat akin to a Stephen King, Dan Simmons or Robert McCammon styled take on childhood but that illusion was dispelled very, very quickly. This is an altogether far more brutal and primal look at innocence lost than the aforementioned have conjured up. “The House of Nodens” is a nightmare of broken lives, ritualistic sacrifice and slaughter that feels like David Fincher directing a cosmic/ folk horror themed detective film.
The central protagonist is Bill Simmons, who as a young child befriends a group of school outsiders who dub themselves “The Cemetery League” and meet in a clubhouse they construct in the woods of New Milford, Connecticut. However something ancient and malevolent resides there and insidiously works its way into their psyches with horrific consequences for Bill, his friends and the world at large. The immediate thought on reading this description would be to think that this sounds somewhat akin to King’s “IT.” However, whereas that monster of a novel can be considered a loose template of sorts, “The House of Nodens” is a very different breed of beast; lean and mean with a voracious hunger for meat and mayhem.
Much like King’s novel, the narrative jumps back and forth between Bill’s childhood and his adult life. Gafford’s deft writing is great at conveying both the joy of friendship and the cruel deceptions that lurk beneath childhood relationships. A duality that extends into the present as Bill contends with the harsh realities of adulthood. Troubled by vague memories and terrifying visions, his world is irrevocably altered when he’s brought in to aid police with a murder investigation involving one of his childhood friends. From hereon out, Bill’s life spirals further out of control as he finds himself haunted by the ghosts of his past and hounded by the ominous presence that is Nodens.
Up until this point, my familiarity with Nodens was principally based around the version that was presented in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, namely that of a benevolent deity opposed to the malevolent Old Ones. The version presented here however is a malignant representation of the ancient Celtic God of hunting and one that delights in entrapping and corrupting people for its own pleasure and plans.
Gafford excels at creating this menacing and oppressive sense of being stalked throughout the novel, a feeling that only intensifies once old wounds are opened and the past comes screaming back into the present. This is typified in the mirroring of Bill’s efforts to reconnect with the past with an ongoing FBI investigation into a serial killer who has eluded the law for decades. The plot strands weave in and out of each other, leading you down paths of misdirection and confusion until you are left wondering who is innocent or guilty and what constitutes fact or fiction. You feel like you are in this tense game of cat and mouse where the resolution is far from clear but you just intrinsically know that it is not going to end well for all involved.
Whilst the story does feel somewhat familiar, “The House of Nodens” wears its influences well and delivers a satisfyingly bleak slice of dark hued horror fiction that is worthy of investigation.


<![CDATA[BOOK REVIEW: WITNESSES BY ANTHONY WATSON]]>Thu, 08 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/book-review-witnesses-by-anthony-watson
There are times when an author attempts to try something different with simple narrative structure if a story, and a lot of the time they end falling on their flat on their face, with a story that just ends up being confused, convoluted or even worse just annoying.  

Anthony Watson's Witnesses is one such novel that tries to break away from the traditional narrative, with multiple timelines, multiple points of view and even various narrative tenses.  It's a bold move, one that opens the story up to so many pitfalls and stumbling blocks. However, Witnesses stands proud grips them by the throat and delivers a challenging yet ultimately rewarding read.

Witnesses isn't an easy read for want of better words, the structure of the novel along with the lack of chapter breaks when the narrative shifts from one person to another, and the use of relatively small passages, at first makes this a daunting read.  You need to get into the groove and rhythm of this book, and when you do get into the groove, you are rewarded with a fascinating story of an impending apocalypse filled with dread and horror. 

Some books get described as being cinematic in tone, and most of the time they are confusing loads of action with an actual sense of cinematic scope.  Witnesses, thanks to the absence of chapter headings, and the rapid cuts from one narrative thread to another lends this book a real cinematic feel.  Watson has a real eye for knowing when to shift the perspective, to maximise the consistent feel of the book.  He gives you just enough at each time to ensure that you continue reading to find out what happens next.  

The novel also takes a refreshing approach to the "bad guys" by setting one of the threads during the First World War, making a refreshing change from usual Nazi angle that many authors take.  Watson's writing is probably at its most potent during these passages; he captures the sense of place and maximises the sense of dread and impending doom for the rest of novel during these segments.  

The sperate threads while having a distinctive enough voice all follow a similar development, with the characters all facing an initial state of confusion as to what is happening followed by understanding and then action.  This is another clever move by the author as it lends the book a sense of entalgement, where the separate stories are distanced by space in time, and yet they still exist in the same universe as the main driving force of the story.  

Watson keeps the level of gore and brutality to a minimum, allowing the story rather than the events to build the tension and drama of the novel.  The restrained way in which Watson builds up the depictions of the violence as the story unfolds is handled with a keen eye for dramatic effect, allowing for the grand finale to shine through.  

While this is, in essence, a novel of a coming apocalypse rather than going for the vast world encompassing an end of the world scenario, Watson keeps the finale in key with the rest of the novel's vision by staying slightly somewhat subdued.  That's not to say that the novel ends with a damp squib, there is a clever well thought out, and original concept behind the finale and Watson's delivery is spot on for the book.  

Witnesses is one of those books that will infuriate you at the start but once you become invested in it, and the brilliance of the novel  clicks in you will be rewarded with a novel that dares to break away from the mundane methods of storytelling and stand out from the rest of the pack.  


<![CDATA[FICTION REVIEW: FULL BRUTAL BY KRISTOPHER TRIANA]]>Mon, 05 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/fiction-review-full-brutal-by-kristopher-trianaby John Boden 
Kristopher Triana's Full Brutal  is certainly an example of a book that lives up to its title.

Kim White is the cookie-cutter popular girl. She's hot and come from a well-off family, sort of, she has a rich father who is never around so she gets to play adult with  no worries about money or repercussions. This leads to lots of time to think, and plot...She doesn't want or need much of anything and it's driving her crazy.  This book lets you know that the drive wasn't all that far.

Bored and leaning towards suicide, Kim instead decides she's going to lose her virginity, but not one to go conventional, she decides to seduce and lose it to one of her teachers.  Thinking that his ruination would be an added layer to her freaky fun cake. Then she finds that she is pregnant and that's when the bloody snowball really starts rolling.  Deceptions and manipulations so sick and twisted that it's dizzying.  Ripe with teenage-sex and violence. The final chapters are just insane.

Someone touted this novel as Mean Girls meets American Psycho,  I'd agree with that.  In an earlier draft of this review, I had claimed it   was Mean Girls fisting Heathers.  It's whatever teen movie you want it to be, pumped full of drugs and then directed by the horny ghost of Sam Peckinpah.  Nobody writes bat-shit crazy like Triana.  And I sill gladly line up for my slice, every time.

Full Brutal is available from Grindhouse Press.


<![CDATA[FICTION REVIEW: THE HUNGER BY ALMA KATSU]]>Thu, 01 Mar 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/fiction-review-the-hunger-by-alma-katsuBy Tony Jones 

“Experience the true American pioneer spirit by joining the wagon
train heading to hell in this superb literary historical horror novel”


If you’re a fan of historical fiction, with a vague touch of the supernatural then Alma Katsu’sThe Hunger” may well be the book for you. I thoroughly enjoyed it and although it’s a novel which may not be lumped with ‘horror’ in the bookshops it has got more than enough to keep fans of the genre entertained, particularly in its gruelling second half.
Based on a true story, the disappearance of a large wagon train heading west towards California in the mid-1840s, Alma Katsu has made a superb job of recreating the hard and dangerous life of the wagon train. For much of the perilous journey there is a vague suspicion of something nasty tracking the ninety or so travellers, including many children, wives and old folks. Many of the group were desperate men, heading west with a lack of provisions, ill-prepared and hoping to survive the perilous 2000 mile journey to enjoy what later became known as the ‘American Dream’. But instead we’re heading into nightmare territory.
It’s hard to know what to compare this superb beast of a novel to, however, if Dan Simmons decided to tackle the American frontier period he may well come up with something like “The Hunger” and that’s high praise indeed. The novel is full of colourful period detail, exquisitely researched, and although it moves along at a slow pace it is never dull and I read it very quickly. However, if you do prefer a slash, bang, wallop kind of horror then this is probably not the book for you. It inhabits the literary end of the genre and is a fine example of how to build tension, slow dread and fear as the travellers are picked off one by one after the first young boy is disappears early in their journey, his eaten corpse found strangely ahead of the wagon train a few days later. Indians or wolves are suspected, but soon the fear and suspicion spreads.
According to the informative author end-notes the true events of the disappearance of the ‘Donner Party’, or at least the facts that do exist, was common knowledge until the last couple of generations and have now disappeared from common American historical knowledge. As George Donner had the most wagons and financial clout he declared himself leader of the convoy, but with winter fast approaching the wagon train falls behind schedule and they are left with a critical choice to make. Either go the familiar safer wagon route, or follow a supposed short-cut which is unexplored, but rumoured to shave 300 miles from the journey. They foolishly take the short cut.
Although the whole book is a journey, with something nasty lurking in the background, the book is as much about the people as anything else. It is also easy enough to argue the plot would have been strong enough without any supernatural elements at all. Seen from multiple points of view there are some wonderfully drawn characters and the novel uses both flashbacks and letters to explore many key back stories. For many of them, risking a 2000-mile journey, means they are running away from something. Amongst these good Christian men and women, we have every kind of secret from infidelity, homosexual lust, murder, to incest, all of which slowly unravel as the wagon train begins to flounder. Laced into the plot are many clever cultural observations from the period, for example, why were unmarried men treated with suspicion? As one of the leading characters Stanton finds out.
The Hunger” was a superbly thoughtful novel, which ultimately stretched the limits of human endurance, as there is more than one kind of ‘hunger’ within the pages of the book. Its strength lies in its depiction of the pioneer spirit of the brave ninety souls searching for a dream, not knowing a nightmare was waiting. Turning a factual event into a very readable novel is tricky, adding a convincing supernatural angle is even more difficult, but the author pulls it off admirably. It’s possible readers of ‘straight’ historical fiction may not like the direction the novel heads in the final 25% of its gruelling 400 pages. But, hey, that’s their loss. 


<![CDATA[FICTION REVIEW:  INTERLUDES FROM MELANCHOLY FALLS VOL. 1 BY JEFF HEIMBUCH]]>Tue, 27 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/fiction-review-interludes-from-melancholy-falls-vol-1-by-jeff-heimbuchBy Michael Sieber

Melancholy Falls doesn’t sound like a nice place to visit, and I wouldn’t want to live there.


Because there’s a lot of weird stuff going on there.

How weird?

How about the mayor turning into a rat and having to govern while in that state for a start?

And that’s just the beginning — literally.

Interludes from Melancholy Falls Vol. 1 by Jeff Heimbuch is a book of short stories and vignettes about the odd happenings and weird people in the town of Melancholy Falls.

In this book, you get to know some of the residents of this town, and while you can read this book as a standalone and come away with something, it’s meant to be a companion piece to the podcast Return Home also by Heimbuch.

Return Home plays much like the old radio dramas from a long time ago. Interludes from Melancholy Falls Vol. 1 according to Heimbuch is a way to flesh out some of the characters listeners hear during the show. While it’s a companion piece to the podcast, Heimbuch says one doesn’t need to be a listener to the show to enjoy the book, and I agree.

The book reads as if you stumbled upon files that an investigator keeps as they’re investigating a mystery. Some stories are transcripts from recordings, some are confessions, and others read like poems. At first, the book seems like it’s just weird for weirdness sake, but reading through these pieces, one gets a sense that there’s an odd thread like a rancid connecting tissue loosely tying everything together.

Once you get to the end of that thread, though, you’re left with more questions, as if the investigation stopped, or picks up later, which it does on the podcast.

While the book isn’t about any one character or event, I do get a sense of sadness (melancholy) that runs through each story, and while I wouldn’t classify the book as straight horror, there are horrific elements to be found.

You have the mayor mentioned above who turned into a rat only to be replaced in a special election by a candidate who’s incorporeal.

Then there’s the case of a man whose wife died because of some weird religion called Bileth.

And there’s the mysterious and murderous Woman of the Falls, for whom the town was named.

While I can’t say it’s a merry romp through Melancholy Falls — that pit you get in your stomach when you start stays with you when you’re finished — I can say fans of the weird will be entertained. It’s a quick read with most stories being two to five pages.

Heimbuch says that Volume 2 may come out at the beginning of their fourth or fifth season of the podcast; they’re in season three at the time of this writing.

If you’re a fan of the bizarre, Interludes from Melancholy Falls Vol. 1 satisfied, but you’ll likely want more.


<![CDATA[FICTION REVIEW: HELLRAISER: THE TOLL BY MARK ALAN MILLER]]>Mon, 26 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/fiction-review-hellraiser-the-toll-by-mark-alan-millerBY GEORGE DANIEL LEA 
Strange and suspicious, this; following from the less-than-successful Scarlet Gospels, a prequel to Barker's closure of the Hellraiser franchise came out of nowhere and seems to have been surreptitiously slipped into the market without much fanfare or celebration.
No longer marketed as being written by Barker himself, this instalment is purportedly written by Mark Miller, one of the ghost-writers of The Scarlet Gospels and one who has worked with Barker on various comic book projects before now.
An expensive curiosity, following the overall disappointment of The Scarlet Gospels, I was reluctant to lay down the asking price for this book, out of sincere dread of being soured further on the franchise.
But, curiosity and a -perhaps misplaced- loyalty to the franchise led me to pre-order it, devouring it in its entirety on the day it arrived.
First thing's first: whilst extremely small (the book barely warrants being called a novella), it is beautifully produced, with a lush and exquisite jacket, excellent quality paper and binding; a physical product of quality one would expect, given the asking price.
It is also very, very, very small. I was certainly not expecting something of the length of The Scarlet Gospels, but maybe at least half that.
A matter which is of little significance, if the story itself is of sufficient quality (Barker's Tortured Souls: Tales of Primordium is of similar size, but a fantastic read).
For my part, this marks the end of my association with this franchise. I don't think anyone currently operating with reference to it, in film or written fiction, grasps what made it so successful in the first place; where the core of its appeal lies. Furthermore, I do not believe that anyone involved with it harbours any genuine enthusiasm on their own part for it.
The book purports to follow Kirsty Cotton, protagonist of the original Hellraiser (most certainly the film incarnation, not the Hellbound Heart novella) in the decades following her experiences with The Lament Configuration, the Cenobites etc, in which she finds herself constantly on the run, having to change lives and identities so as to avoid the forces and agents of Hell, who are consistently interested in her.
Unfortunately, the book simply isn't long or fulsome enough to make anything of this. Like Harry D'Amour in The Scarlet Gospels, Kirsty feels truncated and breathless and “hurried along,” as though the writer wants to get the domestic details out of the way and get down to the weirdness and horror of it all.
This is particularly problematic when you consider that there was a Hellraiser comic book series not too long ago which told exactly the same story, but did so with far more nuance, intrigue and respect for the original mythology, that portrayed both Kirsty and “Pinhead” (here more often refered to as “The Cold Man”) in a more complex and engaging light.
There's just nothing here; nothing to immerse or anchor the reader; it relies far, far too much on fan-association and brand loyalty, hoping that the inclusion of characters familiar to the reader will make up for a lack of depth or detail in the writing.
Kirsty Cotton, protagonist of the first two Hellraiser films makes a return as a harassed and hunted woman, perpetually forced to abandon the lives she manages to scavenge together in the aftermath of her experiences with the uncanny for fear of its agents discovering her.
This, in itself, might have been the basis for something interesting; it would have leant the book some much needed depth and detail to explore who Kirsty was, is and has been throughout her myriad incarnations, what encounters she has had with the agents of Hell and other forces. A fascinating format is inherent to the idea: the book would have had so much more raw intrigue and engagement were we introduced to Kirsty not as Kirsty, but maybe one of the myriad roles and masks she has occupied in her time since Hellbound.
Instead, all we have are allusions to her past and current condition; very little that anchors or makes the character interesting beyond the too-heavily-relied-upon context of the films. She is very much just a cypher for the story in this instance, which is extremely thin and provides little in the way of illumination or elaboration on the events of The Scarlet Gospels.
The book is somewhat flaccid, but not terribly offensive, until the point that “The Cold Man” makes his appearance.
Given the book's brevity (it barely constitutes a novella; many of Lovecraft's “short stories” are far longer), there isn't enough time to build up the threat or ethos of Hell; Kirsty's few encounters with the outre or bizarre are pleasing enough, in their own surreal ways, but more like paintings than parts of an on-going narrative: images that exist for their own sakes, with little weight or context to lend them relevance.
As such, “The Cold Man” and Hell itself lack impact, when they finally occur:
Introduced far too early, this is very, very much the Cenobite we know from The Scarlet Gospels and the latter films, lacking any and all of the majesty, ambiguity and poetry that leant him intrigue in his original incarnations.
There is something powerfully off about this particular rendition of the Cenobites: they are far too limited, too physical and verbose; far too emotional to maintain any weight or dignity: “The Cold Man” is brought low by nothing more than a claw hammer and responds to physical violence as though he is a far more fragile and mortal entity than the one portrayed in films, the original novella and the extended universe. He suffers pain, he experienes wounds, he is moved to anger and expressions of violent petulance.
It's almost as though the writer(s) hate this character, hate this mythology, and want the readers to hate them, too, so go out of their ways to undo anything ambiguous, complex or engaging about them:
Hell is Hell, and it is a place where demons and bad people reside. “The Cold Man” is a demon who could be swapped out for any such entity from any vaguely metaphysical work of horror you might name: there is nothing to distinguish him here or make him a half way engaging character. Kirsty is just another in a long line of plucky potential victims that ends up turning the tables (in a manner that does not work; it feels strained, as though the writer didn't know how to manoeuvre her out of the situation he placed her in).
The encounter between “The Cold Man” and Kirsty could have been one for the ages: something that fans have been clamouring for arguably since Hellbound (yes, I know they meet again in one of the latter bits of “straight to DVD” dreck, and no, it doesn't count). Instead, it's awkward, fumbling and, most notable of all, insincere. It doesn't feel as though the writer believes in this story; it feels like something that has been cobbled together, possibly from portions excised from the final draft of The Scarlet Gospels, and sold as a complete work (for a HEFTY price tag, I might add).
Furthermore, this story has already been told: as previously mentioned, a recent series of Hellraiser comics does this exact concept far deeper justice, in which the mythology of Leviathan's Hell is maintained (and elaborated), in which core characters from the franchise get to have some exposure (and even resolution), in which “The Cold Man” is not only intriguing, but marvellously complex: swapping out his place in the hierarchy of Hell for a return to his mortal life as Elliot Spencer, with Kirsty Cotton taking on his mantle and the panoply of pins. It's a fascinating role-reversal, and is far more consistent with the original mythology and its ethos, far better written and more diverting than this.
It's all very hum drum; simultaneously pandering and entirely ignorant of what has sustained this franchise through corporate shit and shennanigans that should have buried it long, long ago.
For my part, in context with the undoubtedly hideous Hellraiser: Judgment (read our review if it here) , this marks my termination point with a series I have adored since I was a child. The original films, The Hellbound Heart novella, will always be significant to me; they will always be powerful influences on my imagination and the subject matter it produces.
But, as for anything that occurs from this point on, I will make a deliberate point of not purchasing it, not consuming it, for fear that it taints my affection even for those artefacts.


<![CDATA[FICTION REVIEW: ​BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS BY STEPHEN KING]]>Tue, 20 Feb 2018 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/book-reviews/fiction-review-bazaar-of-bad-dreams-by-stephen-kingBy Kit Power 
I’ve got a bit of a King backlog. I’m not one of those late period naysayers, either - I adored Mr. Mercedes and Under The Dome, and flat out loved Finders Keepers. But Dr. Sleep and 11/22/63 sit on my shelf from last but one birthday, spines uncracked, and the above collection, End Of Watch, and Gwendy and Sleeping Beauties have all been added to the pile this Christmas.
2017 was not a great year for reading, for me, and I’ve resolved that 2018 will be better - largely because I’m going to read only the things I seek out, rather than ‘duty reading’, which I think slowed me down last year. It’s already working, and I’m happy with how much I’ve read in January, and how much I’ve enjoyed it. Hopefully, it’ll generate a few more of these, too :)
With all that in mind, I was long overdue a trip to the Bazaar, King’s most recent short story collection. I’m a huge fan of King’s short work. I enjoy his doorstop volumes as well, of course, but I think that his short work is never less than compulsively readable, and often outright sublime. So I was very keen to see how the latest collection panned out.
There’s a beautiful introduction, where King discusses the short form in general (and interestingly confesses he doesn’t much like to write it, as a rule). Further, in a break with prior collections, there’s a short piece at the beginning of each tale, talking a bit about the inspiration and origins, should he be able to recall them. As a long term fan I enjoy these anecdotes almost as much as the stories themselves - occasionally, if I’m honest, perhaps a little more - but I think, on reflection, that I prefer them collected at the end of the book rather than preceding each story. They gave too much away, for me, that’s all - either by preparing me for the voice or broad themes, or in some cases by basically presenting the premise of the tale. This is a classic mileage may vary thing, of course, but I found myself wishing I’d skipped the prefaces and just plunged into the stories, taking in the notes afterwards. Again, they are lovely, and often very illuminating pieces in their own right - but yeah, could have done without them as lead ins.
The collection itself I found to be a very mixed bag - more mixed than prior collections, and with a more variation of voice, style, and quality that I’m used to. Mile 81, the opener, is a good example - there’s a lot of classic King elements, especially the child characters, who are drawn note perfectly. At the same time, the central premise is… well, goofy. Not bad - just goofy. And it’s King, and he sells it as well as he can, and you know how good that is, but still… Despite some beautiful character work, this one just didn’t quite land, for me.
Premium Harmony I liked a good deal more - it’s almost a vignette rather than a narrative, but the exquisite character work is perfectly sympatico with a sparse voice, and while the whole thing is intentionally dry, I felt the story really hummed. It’s atypical King, for sure, but really well crafted.
Batman and Robin Have An Altercation is another character study, and the first of a few ruminations on the aging process. The slow fade goodbye of Alzheimer's - always far rougher on the family than on the sufferer - is unflinchingly presented, but I felt the climactic incident of the story, though well described and portrayed, felt a bit rushed and perfunctory. Or maybe it just felt to me like the heart of the piece was elsewhere. I also felt this one suffered particularly from the front note, as it not only gave away a large part of the ending, but also led to a sense of anticipation that was ultimately underwhelming - or at least, it was for me.
The Dune features another aging protagonist, this one with all his marbles, and a secret obsession. Again, the front note blunted some of the enjoyment for me, which was irritating, but the story itself is a beautiful little slice of sinister whimsy.
Bad Little Kid is a stonker - Death Row, with the condemned finally opening up about the real reason he’s there, this is a classic King short - nasty, disturbing, and with that crucial unexplained quality that I really enjoy in tales of this length. Nothing earth-shattering or life changing, but a lovely Genus of the species.
A Death is a curious story. I enjoyed the western setting, and again, there’s King’s trademark exquisite character work firmly on display - but the ending, novel as it was, didn’t quite land for me - perhaps because it didn’t feel like it had the revelatory quality a really good last page or so can have in tales like this. That said, I don’t think it’s been done before - though there may be a reason for that.
The Bone Church I flat out loved. Though it’s written clearly in an American vernacular, for me, the voice was pure Long John Silver, complete with cries for rum and wonderfully acid asides. A recreation of a long lost long form poem King wrote in college, it’s a wild ride narrative with touches of Conrad and Stephenson, with just a dash of the old Lovecraft obsession with the ancient. An unexpected treat, and all the more welcome for its incongruity in the collection as a whole.
Morality picks up another thread that runs through many of these stories - the financial pressure of not-quite-getting-by America (also featured in Premium Harmony and some of the later tales in the collection). It’s fertile ground for horror, and here King comes up with a classic hellish bargain - albeit one without any overt supernatural angle, and for my money all the more powerful as a result. King’s also not afraid to make uncomfortable observations about human sexuality, and how people sometimes respond to violence and regret. I wasn’t super bowled over by the ending, but there’s a fevered darkness at the heart of this one that whispers some very uncomfortable things. I’m glad King heard those whispers, and wrote them down for us.
Afterlife felt to me to have some echos of Everything’s Eventual’s story ‘That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French’ though it posits a different afterlife and our protagonist has more options - or at least appears to. I enjoyed this one a great deal, though it’s slight in terms of incident. It’s fun to watch one of my favourite writers gnawing on this particular bone, I suppose.
Ur just knocked my socks off. A classic, classic King premise, with an equally classic King protagonist - unworthy motivations, but not bad, let alone evil, and understandable if far from admirable - come together just how you hope they will. With tie-ins to the Dark Tower mythos that serve as a treat for fans, but I don’t think will detract from those unfamiliar, Ur felt to me like top drawer, classic King, and frankly, it made my black little heart sing.
Herman Wouk Is Still Alive is vastly different tonally, but is for my money another stone classic. The duel narrative is deftly chosen and beautifully told, and the characters! This is an aspect of King’s work that I think is often criminally underlooked. For all the talk of his (admittedly often brilliant) ideas, one of his stand out skills for me has always been the ability to see his characters so clearly that we see them too. Shorn of many of his other typical tricks of the trade, this short pushes that ability front and centre, as the entire narrative fails or succeeds on the strength of King’s ability to sell you on these people as real. For my money, it doesn't merely succeed but is in point of fact a fucking triumph. A genuinely haunting tale, with not a ghost, goblin, axe murderer or devil in sight. THIS is horror. Superb.
Under The Weather I think I’d read before, and I’m damned glad, because for my money, this one was the most damaged by the preface, which all but ruined the reading experience, for me. That said, the tale itself is lovely - melancholic, and with just a lovely sense of creeping dread - unless you read the introduction and understand the premise almost from the opening line, that is.
Blockade Billy proves a contention I’ve long held, which is that if you’re passionate enough about a subject, and a good enough writer, you can make anything interesting. There are, I am sure, topics in the world about which I know and care even less than I do baseball, but I’m honestly struggling to think what they could be. But King clearly loves the game, and that love shines out through every sentence. He cares, he is thrilled, and therefore so was I, for the duration of this tale, at least. The 1957 setting helped, also - the era of the kids sections of IT, and King’s own childhood, that he seems to be able to evoke on a whin, with the deftness of a master illusionist's favorite trick. King’s own appearance in the story likewise works flawlessly, and adds an additional light dusting of fun to proceedings.
Mister Yummy is another tale of old age and mortality, but I think both themes are handled with more sureness of purpose than in Batman and Robin… . for a story about last days in a retirement home, I found it to be both humorous and uplifting, as well as touching. It may not be the main reason we come to King, but when he does occasionally stray into this kind of territory, I think he usually acquits himself well, and this is no exception.
Tommy is the second poem of the collection - somewhere between elegy and dirge. It’s probably mainly my own over-signification with the 60’s counterculture talking, but I found this one to be extraordinarily moving and melancholy.
The Little Green God Of Agony feels like more vintage King, with a brilliant set-up, a nifty core idea, a twist i found to be genuinely surprising and wrong footing, and a killer closing line. This is the essence of what I love about short horror, and the kind of thing King does as well as anyone - and, let's face it, way better than most.
Cookie Jar - We’re back to mortality again, and childhood and parenthood, as an old man in a home tells a grandkid about the stories his mother told. Reflecting on this one at a few week’s distance, I suppose it could be accused of over sentimentality, maybe, but to me it spoke strongly of old age in conversation with youth about the power and wonder and terror of imagination and story and love. So, I mean, how am I supposed to do anything less than love it, at that point?
That Bus Is Another World - Another tale for my money weakened considerably by the preface, to the degree that it didn’t quite land, as I’d basically been prepped for the central image already. Yes, it was cool to see how King took a day to day occurence and what his imagination did with it, but I’d far rather have read that after the story, so I didn’t spend the whole thing lying in wait for that moment to come. That said, some lovely character work, as always.
Obits is another belter, and another why-didn’t-I-think-of-that premise. This one’s got it all, morally suspect but not evil protagonist, similarly ambiguous co-worker, and a brilliant central premise that provides an awful dilemma. This is what we came here for.
Drunken Fireworks  - I’ve been a bit down on some of King’s experiments with voice elsewhere in this collection, but in Drunken Fireworks, he absolutely nails it - a first person narrative told in a thick country voice that ran true to this fan of Justified. I loved every damn last thing about this one, from set up to glorious conclusion and coda. It even had a sneaky thing or two to say about race relations, I thought, but please don’t let that put you off, it’s very light touch and background, and the foreground is technicolour brilliance.
Summer Thunder is a gut punch of a closer - melancholic doesn’t begin to cover it, this one’s outright miserable. An end of the world scenario that’s sadly become slightly more plausible again recently, thanks to key personnel changes in the US government, it’s a real comedown after the sugar rush of Drunken Fireworks, and a frankly devastating way to end a short story collection with so many tales of mortality. Needless to say, I thought it was brilliant.
Overall, I didn’t find Bazaar Of Bad Dreams to be a particularly brilliant King collection - it’s uneven, especially in the first half, where a few of the stories didn’t quite click for me, and as you’ll have gathered, I think the decision to put the notes on each tale’s origin before the relevant piece was a bad one. That said, there’s some absolute gems in the second half of the book, with a real gamut of ideas, styles, and moods to keep you awake nights.
And if, in a final analysis, this particular collection is no Skeleton Crew (or even no Everything’s Eventual) there's still isn’t really such a thing as a bad King collection, I don’t think. He’s just one of those writers that will always hold my attention, and who even in his weaker work will provide elements that suprise or amuse, some turn of phrase or observation that’ll leave me shaking my head in admiration.
He really is - still - one of the very best in the business, and his beloved status is well deserved and earned. And as he says in the introduction “we’re both still here. Cool, isn’t it?”
Yes, sir. It sure is.