Ginger Nuts of Horror
A hypnotic coming-of age set in a town that’s a little bit different
I was really looking forward to Joshua Gaylord’s ‘When We Were Animals’ (WWWA) as I was a gigantic fan of his literary zombie novel ‘Angels are the Reapers’ (RATR) from 2010 which all said and done is my favourite zombie novel of all time, and I’ve read a lot of them. Joshua wrote RATR under his pseudo name ‘Alden Bell’ and an earlier non-supernatural novel ‘Hummingbirds’ under his real name. So with this new novel, which isn’t necessarily supernatural, he seems to mix and match his real name and what I thought was his genre alias name. So this guy has serious style and WWWA has just been released in paperback in the UK.
A book of horror philosophy about the end of the world, the alt-right, and an AI from the future that wants to torture you. Yes, you.
Barkereqsue reality bending and mythology building, and a to-me new take on the very concept of God.
I can’t deny that my expectations were high going in. Jasper Bark released my favourite short story story in 2014 (‘Taking The Piss’, as part of the exceptional collection ‘Stuck On You and other prime cuts’) and this was my first encounter with his novel length work. How would it measure up to that stirling collection? How would the patented Bark ‘brutality-with-brains’ approach translate on the wider canvas of a novel? Could he sustain his exemplary focus and pacing over a long form piece?
INTO THE MIST by Lee Murray is the sort of fast-paced slice of military action horror that we have come to expect from COHESION PRESS. Editor Geoff Brown is a huge fan of this sub-genre, and, as the SNAFU series of anthologies have shown us, he is more than capable of sniffing out a great story that has lots of guns and monsters!
INTO THE MIST takes the unusual, though welcome step of situating itself in Murray’s home country of New Zealand, where a team of soldiers are tasked with escorting a small group of civilian contractors into a national park where a number of people have gone missing.
Whilst not the most original of stories, INTO THE MIST succeeds due to the fact that Murray can clearly write, and write well. The action scenes are exciting, characters are three dimensional and the atmosphere; particularly during the second half of the book is excellent, evoking a real cinematic feel. The other area of success for this book lies in its location. If I had a dollar for every story I have read where a team of soldiers are hunting, or being hunted by something in the jungles of South America, Africa or Asia then I could’ve retired by now. Instead, Murray chooses New Zealand; an area she is obviously familiar with (being from New Zealand) and creates a story filled with culture, myth and difficult to pronounce words.
I did enjoy this book. It’s man vs monster. This sort of stuff never gets old or boring for me. I had a slight grumble with the pacing during the first half of the book. I was itching for more creature carnage, and it didn’t really ramp up until the second half of the story.
INTO THE MIST is another fine example of the sort of books being published by COHESION PRESS. It is a tightly woven tale that has a highly original setting and features some great scenes of gore as the beast begins to pick off the team one-by-one. Who will survive and what will be left of them? Read INTO THE MIST and find out for yourself.
Greener Pastures, Michael Wehunt’s remarkable collection of short stories, opens with a neat introduction by Simon Strantzas describing the evolution of horror. To paraphrase, horror must adapt to survive, and Wehunt is a survivor. Strantzas knows something about the genre too. He’s written and edited a number of collections, including 2014’s lauded Burnt Black Suns.
Wehunt’s debut moves beyond the typical horror tropes—you know, conceits like final girls, urban legends, and overnight stays in haunted houses—and into new territory. His brand of horror absorbs other genres, permeating Blob-like through the fiber of familiar fictional classifications. It wants to become something different, something enhanced. Greener Pastures wants to become something better, and it succeeds on so many levels.
The subtle writing gives the story an almost whisper-like quality that makes the reader draw in close to the story,
Every now and then a book a book comes into your reading life that has the power to move you in a profound and deeply personal way. It doesn't happen that often, which in a way is a good thing as it doesn't dilute the impact of reading a powerful and talented author.
Bodies of Water by V H Leslie is one such book, a split narrative story that links Victorian London with modern life in a newly redeveloped London residential property. Where the use of a water as a narrative device allows the two narratives to diffuse together to create a wonderfully evocative modern Gothic story of the highest caliber.
“A dark teenage family drama for children which bleeds into an unsettling dream world”
Straight off the bat I would like to point out that this is an exceptionally odd book, and because of this oddness it’s pretty difficult to gage who it is actually aimed at, or who might enjoy it. It’s one of those novels that when you read as an adult, you pick up on lots of subtleties that child readers will either miss or ignore. I have a ten year old who reads a lot and I think she’d struggle with this novel, so I’d probably recommend it to slightly older kids, twelve plus probably. Having said that, it’s one of those books which a parent and child could have fun talking about together as it deals with a number of complex issues including death, illness, loneliness and loss very sensitively. It’s not strictly a horror novel, but merges effortlessly into several genres.
The novel opens with Steve realising that his new born baby brother has a very serious illness, either fatal or life-changing, but his parents wont engage in conversation with him about it. As the baby weakens Steve is failing to cope and his parents don’t really notice as they’re wrapped up in the sick sibling. Having other OCD type problems, which aren’t ever specified and previous stints in therapy which are deliberately not explored, the novel drifts into Steve’s dreams and it becomes increasingly difficult to separate reality from make-believe and fantasy. The dreams act as a type of safety net for Steve which worsen when his distracted parents fail to remove a large and dangerous nest of wasps from the side of the house. The wasps infiltrate his dreams and as he fears the worst for his baby brother the wasps offer to help the baby. The nest is certainly real, as is Steve’s allergy to their stings, the rest is left deliberately blurry. The conversations he has with the Queen Wasp in the dream sequences are great and the reader quickly realises Steve is incredibly lonely as he talks to the wasps more than he does to his own family. He lives with this, eats with them, and he loves his baby brother, but his connection to them weakens as the wasps dominate his dreams. So the Queen offers a solution to the baby’s illness, but at a terrible price.
I enjoyed the blurring of reality and dreams, but I have a feeling a lot of younger readers might struggle with this as you’re not offered a cut and dried answer on what is real and what isn’t. I didn’t feel cheated by the ending, a child reader might though. It’s one of those books that adults probably think kids might like, and a certain type will, but if your child likes a crash-bang-wallop type of read this probably isn’t it. The dynamic of the family is very realistic, I particularly liked the side-story with Steve’s little sister who he struggles to relate to and deals with the sick baby in her own way. I have to point out that the book had some similarities with both David Almond’s classic “Skellig” (sick sibling and help from an angel) and Patrick Ness’s “A Monster Calls” (sick mother and a monster tree). Actually, the beautiful and atmospheric illustrations by Jon Klassen reminded me of the drawings in “A Monster Calls” which won the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal. It’s a briefish read which is beautifully packaged in a small square hardback format with the exquisite drawings adding much to the book.
Kenneth Oppel is a highly distinguished Canadian author of 15+ novels aimed at kids of varying ages, who is probably best known in the UK for “This Dark Endeavour” and sequel which looks at the formative years of Victor Frankenstein. He’s an exceptionally clever writer who is impossible to pigeonhole and effortlessly moves around the fantasy, horror and science fiction genres with confidence. “The Nest” is fine addition to an already impressive body of work.
Chad Lutzke is a new voice in the caverns of horror. An unassuming voice, that does not scream or holler but simple states its piece in an assured and steady tone and waits for your reaction. His work tends to be on the bite-sized end of things, rarely more than two pages but they're often fun and with a poignant thought as punctuation. With his self-published debut, Night As A Catalyst, he gives us a double-fistful of horror.
We open with "One Up A Tree," wherein two old friends try to recapture some of their old and fading chemistry via a weekend in the woods, but when they find themselves lost and trespassing, things take a very interesting and violent turn. "Collecting Cats" is a short tale of a good Samaritan, who is sought out by the wounded cats of his neighborhood but when he finds out what exactly has been doing the wounding, things get strange. "Moving Made Easy" is one of my favorites and presents one of the most unique angles on teleportation as I've encountered. "Birthday Suit" is a coming-of-age tale that is swaddled in Serling and Bradbury. It works quite well and packs an end punch that will leave a mark.
"Apple Sauce" tackles an urban legend, and "Chow" is a familiar tale but with a nasty streak. "Quilted" is a short one with an image that will stay for a while. "Deprivation" while one of the longest pieces in the volume, is one of the best. It's about breaking down and falling apart, in more than one way. The stories here are good, and while a few of them walk familiar ground, they offer a fresh enough voice to allow that fact to pass. I've been lucky enough to read some of Chad's newer material and he's only getting better.
Night As A Catalyst can be obtained through Amazon or by contacting the author himself.
As beautiful as the night can be, it often plays a role in something more foreboding, supplying the catalyst for things both terrifying and imaginative. Utilizing this hallowed time of the day, author Chad Lutzke has written and compiled 18 stories, with creature features, sleep deprivation, hiding the undead, revenge, cannibalism, morbid habits, and executions of karma being just a handful of the themes covered in this book. Read on and discover what the mind produces when using the night as a catalyst.
Purchase a copy from Amazon UK
A quick recap on my review policy - I only review books that I a) finish and b) enjoy. I mention this because I realise I’ve produced a string of glowing reviews lately, and you may fairly be wondering ‘is there anything this kid doesn’t like?’. To which the answer is ‘yes, lots’, but I tend not to write about it. Also, it just so happens that the last few titles I’ve picked up have at least thoroughly entertained me and at best utterly blown my mind.
Skullcrack City has not broken that pattern. Skullcrack City is bloody fantastic.
It’s also surprisingly hard to write about why. Some of that at least is down to the plot, which is very twisty indeed and I don’t want to spoil, with at least two utterly gigantic twists at roughly the third and two thirds mark that send the narrative hurtling off in a new direction, effectively re-aligning the genre of the piece in the process. In addition, genre is very tricky - it’s basically a pulp cyberpunk sci-fi magical realism crime caper drug/conspiracy thriller near future dystopian horror. It is also, as you may have surmised, gonzo as fuck.
It’s another one of those rare novels where just about everything works right, all the many, many moving parts and genre influences blending into a super smooth and potent brew. It’s one of those cocktails that goes down so easy that it’s only as you approach the bottom of the third one that you realise how lethally drunk you are - and by then, of course, it’s too late. By then, you’re strapped in and along for the ride.
It’s also, as again you may have gathered, paced at a breakneck level. As a writer, I found myself thinking ‘he’s going to run out of plot at this rate’, and then the story would take a massive narrative left turn, and suddenly a whole new vista would open up before you. This is not done in a cheap manner, by the way; every twist, no matter how huge, has just enough foreshadowing to feel earned within the story. Indeed, there’s nothing at all to distract you from the madcap tale unfolding in your mind - the prose is as slick and readable and just plain enjoyable as you could wish for, shot through with both an escalating anxiety and tension (courtesy of the narrator) and a lovely wry humor that compliments, rather than distracts from, the ever increasing pressure of the story.
And what a story! The writer throws concepts and ideas at the reader at an incredible rate, trusting to his own ability to communicate, and his audience's intelligence and willingness to keep up. It works magnificently, and leads to what amounts to, amongst other things, a crazy taxi thrill ride through an amazingly well realised near future dystopia. I was frequently left in a state of both joy and admiration at the sheer tonnage of brilliant ideas on casual display here - all in service to the story, not an ounce of wasted world building for it’s own sake.
Skullcrack City is an exhilarating, explosive, brilliant novel, and I highly recommend it to simply anyone who likes fun. Brilliant.
Purchase Skullcrack City on Amazon
I’m starting to think that this book may actually be, in it’s own way, as important and valuable a book for the aspiring professional author to read as ‘On Writing’.
Well, this is kind of awkward admission time. Here goes - this is my first encounter with Brian Keene’s work. Basically, Keene broke about a year or two after I dropped out of reading horror. Since beginning to reconnect with the scene in the last couple of years, his name has come up with crushing regularity. And I’m a huge fan and regular listener of his ‘Horror Show’ podcast: as well as being an entertaining listen, it’s also consistently essential community broadcasting.
So when Mr. Keene mentioned in passing that ‘The Girl On The Glider’ was one the books he was proudest of, and then coincidentally announced a price drop on the ebook edition on his blog, I figured it was time to take a long-overdue look. The fact that ‘The Girl..’ is a short novella also played into my decision making - a quick hit to give me an idea of his style, a palette cleanser in between the longer works I’m currently reading.
Well, it’s been over a week, and I’m still struggling to get to grips with this story, and the impact it’s had on me.....