Ginger Nuts of Horror
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.....
Mother by Philip Fracassi
Philip Fracassi is a relatively new voice on the horror scene, lurking along the fence line that marks where "traditional horror" and "Weird horror" meets. The man lets his dogs water both lawns, so to speak.
With his first chapbook, Mother, a man and his wife move to the country. Their marriage is strained and he is full of a myriad of reasons and thoughts as to why this is happening. His artist wife grows increasingly distant and withdrawn. He urges her to rekindle her passion for painting and cast aside the yoke of depression she feels at their life. She agrees and takes furtive steps towards this...spidery steps.
Without giving much away, this short read is full of palpable dread. The emotions rendered here are realistic and very human. There's hopelessness and guilt, blame and regret all twisted in fibrous webbing to catch us up when we want to sprint to quickly ahead of the story. The ending is a slap across the face.
Altar BY PHILIP FRACASSI
With this second novelette, Fracassi comes out swinging again. A splintered family outing to the local pool is the somewhat normal setting for a story that ends up as far from typical as it can be. A woman who happens to be the mother of two children but really just wants to do her own thing, takes them to the pool for some sun and fun. The brooding teenage Abby is the only one who seems to care and dote on her younger brother, Gary. Once at the pool they begin their childish rituals. Wading and splashing, talking with friends, but unknown the them there is a crack at the bottom of the pool. A crack in the bottom of the world and what is about to enter is monstrous.
Again, as with his other chapbook, the characters are richly drawn and quite like someone you probably know. The everyday events are tinted with a gray of unease as we watch the simple things slowly bind and mutate into a terrifying beast of a tale. One that leaves you dripping and scared on the cold concrete edge of the pool.
Both of these books are available from the fine folks at Dunham's Manor Press.
YOU DON'T PLAY IT... IT PLAYS YOU.
The prolific and talented Adam Millard is back, this time with a rolloking action horror tale set in a seaside town. DISCLAIMER The publisher of this novel, The Sinister Horror Company, also published my debut novel GodBomb! That said, my normal review rules apply - I only review books that I a) finish and b) enjoy.
The Bad Game was simply a joy from start to finish. It’s got all the hallmarks of quality I’ve come to expect from Millard’s work - superb pacing, believable and well rounded characters that are economically drawn, and a gloriously fun premise. I found the style overall to be played a bit straighter than some of his more aggressively humorous work (like, say, Larry), but there’s still a joy in storytelling that comes through in the infectiously readable prose and occasional sarcastic aside.
I particularly enjoyed the characters of Jamie and Scottie in this book. Jamie was a kid I found to be almost too relatable - nerdy, hooked on classic arcade gaming, with the typical small town bully problem, allied with the wider issues of being a teenager, no prospects, no obvious way out… yeah, I’m pretty much hardwired to like this kid.
Similarly, Scottie I found to be a flawed but deeply sympathetic character, with genuine humanity and pathos, even before his deeper backstory was revealed. This is a book firmly in the pulp/splatterpunk tradition, but Millard still takes the time and care to craft characters you like, enjoy, and root for.
Likewise, once the plot starts rolling, it basically doesn’t stop. Millard does a superb job of both raising the stakes and propelling events forward to a satisfying and gripping climax. There is brutal violence and gore a-plenty, but also a deep rooted sense of fun,and yes, love - love for genre, and love for story.
Ultimately, that loves runs throughout this novel. Yes, it’s fast paced, pulpy fun, with a plot straight out of a classic 80’s horror movie. It’s also a novel with great characters, some genuinely touching moments, and ultimately, lots of heart. Highly recommended.
As a book reviewer you encounter books of many different styles, some good, some bad, some generic, some not so, and some that defy you place a label on them. It is one of the reasons why you go on, the eternal quest for a book that piques your interest in a sea of banality. It happens not as often as you would like, and when it does you get a real buzz, you want to tell everyone how good it is, you want everyone to read it, and you want everyone to agree that it is the best book ever. Then you get a book like Clown Wars: Blood & Aspic, a book that doesn't so much as defy the reader from putting a label on it, it is more a case of the book stuffing all the labels in its clown sized pants and daring you to pull a label out from one of its pockets.
Bizarre, grim, and darkly funny, Clown Wars is an ambitious novel that honks its big red nose at the readers expectations.
“Hex” is an astoundingly good read and I’d like to think that it’s going to make quite a few top ten lists this year. That said, I suspect it may be a “Marmite” type of book, in that you either love this new take on horror or you hate it.
The novel is set in Black Spring, a town haunted by Katherine, the Black Rock Witch. She is a seventeenth century woman who was accused of witchcraft then forced to murder her own son before she was killed herself. When she comes back to haunt the townspeople, her whispering drives people to commit terrible suicides, so a brave band of men sew her eyes and mouth closed. Effectively, her threat is eliminated, but she still continues to haunt them.
We join Black Spring in the modern age where Katherine, unable to whisper evil suggestions into anyone’s ear, has diminished to more of a nuisance than a real threat. She can appear any time anywhere, from your garden to your living room or your bedroom. People hang tea-towels over her to stop her creeping them out, but they tolerate her rather than fear her.
I bought this book on the strength of two prior acquaintances with Mr. Everington’s work. The first was his novella The Shelter, which I read and reviewed last year. The second was his late night reading at FCon last year, where he read part of the story ‘The Man Dogs Hated’ from this collection. I so enjoyed the reading that I bought a copy of the collection in the room.
Having finally gotten around to finishing it, I can state that it is, so far, my short story collection of 2016.
The prologue of Rich Hawkins’ The Last Soldier is a harsh statement of intent about the world that his protagonists exist in. I had thought that the book’s predecessor, The Last Outpost was bleak but the opening strike of The Last Soldier hits you like an emotional sucker punch that leaves you bruised and reeling. That much is made abundantly clear within the first few pages of reading as the survivors of The Last Plague are faced with the nightmarish reality and stark choices of being a species on the brink of extinction. After reading the introduction I just sat staring at my Kindle in an attempt to process what I had read. I think a far more accurate description would probably have to be “stunned” to be honest.
In my last review for Ginger Nuts of Horror, I compared horror fiction to being like like a tree where different stylistic branches and roots all feed into the central trunk of the horror genre. Where James Everington's Trying to be so Quiet is a perfect example of quiet horror, J.R. Park's Upon Waking is a blood soaked extreme horror novel, you couldn't find a more disparate pair of books if you tried, and yet they are linked in many ways to the parental trunk of the horror tree.....
Tales from the Flip-Side: The Adventures of Big Daddy Cool and the Bombshell Kittens Written by John Pyka, narrated by J. Scott Bennett
Honestly, I’ve never struggled more with a review.
See, here’s the thing - for me, there were a lot of flaws in the writing. For example, there was an opening scene where an entire extended cast of characters is introduced, complete with exposition, backstory, and digressions, such that by the end of it I honestly couldn’t remember who all these people were, what room they were in, or why. Similarly, the narrative voice for the entire first section of the story is prone to narrative ticks of repetition and digression - you never meet a new character without an immediate digression containing a physical description, explaining how they first met, and their current relationship, and these digressions are often lengthy, again leading to frequent confusion for me about the main narrative. This was clearly intentional, and to add to the confusion, sometimes it worked well---
KIT POWER REVIEWS ADAM NEVILL'S FOUND FOOTAGE HORROR NOVEL
Having recently picked up (and been thoroughly traumatised by) No One Gets Out Alive, I was eager to jump into Adam Nevill’s back catalogue to see what other dark delights were in store. I’ll confess to a touch of concern, too - after all, NOGOA won the British Fantasy Award for horror novel of the year. Did that mean it represented a career high - a leap of quality over the past? Would the back catalogue feel, by comparison, unformed, less strong, somehow unsatisfying?
I should have known better.