Tag Archives: horror

Book Review: Yes Trespassing by Erik T. Johnson

Yes Trespassing
by Erik T. Johson
Written Backwards Press
April 2017
436 pages
*** Review disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***  

I hadn’t heard of Erik T. Johnson before reading Yes Trespassing, but after reading the glowing endorsement from horror writer John F.D. Taff, whose work I do respect and admire, it set up the short story collection for me in a good way. Rather than give a story-by-story breakdown, what I will say is that Johnson is a writer who knows how to play with the reader’s expectations. One story, “The Black Tree’s Box,” in particular, was well done. It used various elements, including a possibly unreliable narrator, to spin a pretty good yarn. It also plays with chronology of the characters and of events in a very interesting way.

Rather than suffering from the fate of some short story collections that have stories that are all too similar or thematically not very different or make the reader question whether they’ve just read something very similar recently, Johnson’s collection offers a wide variety of stories on different themes and keeps the reader guessing as they make their way through the collection. In addition, the use of hand-drawn illustrations made this book reminiscent of House of Leaves or other books that have creatively incorporated hand-drawn notes and marks to give the overall design a feel as though it has been written down on lined paper, similar to a student’s notebook.

It is fitting that Michael Bailey and his press, Written Backwards, is the publisher of this superb collection. Johnson’s work has appeared in other Bailey anthologies, including Qualia Nous and the recently launched You, Human as well as Chiral Mad 2. From a print culture perspective, this collection makes an interesting use of marginalia or readers’ commentary and annotations as part of the text, not necessarily on the main pages of the stories, but in the front matter and the end matter as well as for the story and chapter titles, which uniquely uses typographical elements and creates a dynamic overall aesthetic element that runs as an undercurrent throughout the book.

If you prefer the type of slipstream or Weird horror, you will thoroughly enjoy Johnson’s short story collection. If you’re looking for a horror collection that features the standard tropes of vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts and so on, then you should likely look elsewhere because you’re not going to find anything cliched or overdone, or “been there done that” about these stories. Instead, you will find originality, good storytelling, and a compelling collection of tales.

Book Review: The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling

Todd Keisling

The Final Reconciliation 
by Todd Keisling
Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: Feb 3, 2017
*** Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review***

Description

TAKE OFF YOUR MASK. Thirty years ago, a progressive rock band called The Yellow Kings began recording what would become their first and final album. Titled “The Final Reconciliation,” the album was expected to usher in a new renaissance of heavy metal, but it was shelved following a tragic concert that left all but one dead.

The sole survivor of that horrific incident was the band’s lead guitarist, Aidan Cross, who’s kept silent about the circumstances leading up to that ill-fated performance—until now.

For the first time since the tragedy, Aidan has granted an exclusive interview to finally put rumors to rest and address a question that has haunted the music industry for decades: What happened to The Yellow Kings?

The answer will terrify you.

Inspired by The King in Yellow mythos first established by Robert W. Chambers, and reminiscent of cosmic horror by H. P. Lovecraft, Laird Barron, and John Langan, comes The Final Reconciliation—a chilling tale of regret, the occult, and heavy metal by Todd Keisling.

Review: I’m not sure why, but a good chunk of horror readers, myself among them, tend to be big fans of heavy metal music. Years ago, I reviewed a fantastic anthology called Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories edited by David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke, which was put out by Acid Grave Press, and each of the stories had the name of a heavy metal band, like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, and they were amazing. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered that Todd Keisling’s new release from Crystal Lake Publishing, The Final Reconciliation,  is another book that combines metal and horror.

Aidan Cross is an aging former rock stair who was in a band called The Yellow Kings. A producer is speaking to him about the band’s history, something we are told from the get-go is a rare phenomenon, and it’s all to do with something horrible that happened years ago to Aidan and the rest of his bandmates. He has spent most of his life after this incident trying to reconcile what they all went through. It doesn’t take long for us to discover that whatever it is that has happened, Aidan is the only one who walked away.

Interestingly, I thought that this story would have been set in the 70s as it started off with that kind of a vibe, but The Yellow Kings are a relatively recent band, which Keisling suggests by including names of other more recent metal acts, such as Mastodon and Opeth (two of my very favourites!) Aidan speaks about how the band’s music consists of 15-minute epic rock journeys, which is something that has not been popular for a long time. In spite of this, the band gets word  that they’ve received funding to go on tour.

Another name for them is King Crimson 2.0, which I found interesting because the other vibe I got from The Yellow Kings is that they would be British (like King Crimson), but they’re from Texas as it turns out. Aidan paints an interesting portrait of his bandmates, including the lead singer, Johnny, whom he describes as being the sort of fellow that would have become a creepy horror writer if he had not picked up a guitar in his youth.

One of the best things about this book is the authenticity factors–Keisling has a very good knowledge of band experiences, details of being on tour, as well as the dynamics between bandmates. When the band gets its first dose of success, the “groupies” are not far behind, including one memorable girl in particular, Camilla. Aidan sets her up for the reader as the reason why everything went downhill for the band, and it was certainly interesting to see how it all unfurled. I had some theories about whether she was a succubus or a siren or another vixen type of mythological creature, but regardless of that, she makes it clear that there is a dark master the band can help her serve, and it doesn’t take long for things to spin out of control after that.

The lead-up builds to a high crescendo at a concert, the results of which are devastating and highly impactful. So, if you’re a huge fan of the King in Yellow mythology and stories or if you’re craving another hit after watching the first season of True Detective, then pick up Keisling’s book. It’s a phenomenally well-told story delivered in the form of a quick but memorable read, and it’s something that horror readers will enjoy even if they’re not huge fans of metal. With each release, Keisling gets better and The Final Reconciliation is no exception.

About the Author

todd-keisling

Todd Keisling is the author of A Life TransparentThe Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the forthcoming collection, Ugly Little Things.
He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and trio of unruly cats. Visit his website, and connect with him on social Facebook or Twitter.

Book Review: The Eighth by Stephanie M. Wytovich

the eighth stephanie wytovich book cover

The Eighth
by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Dark Regions Press
November 2016
***Review copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review***

Description: After Paimon, Lucifer’s top soul collector, falls in love with a mortal girl whose soul he is supposed to claim, he desperately tries everything in his power to save her from the Devil’s grasp. But what happens when a demon has to confront his demons, when he has to turn to something darker, something more sinister for help? Can Paimon survive the consequences of working with the Seven Deadly Sins-sins who have their own agenda with the Devil—or will he fall into a deeper, darker kind of hell?

Review: Having been a fan of Stephanie Wytovich’s poetry, I was very excited to see her prose in the form of her novel The Eighth, recently released by Dark Regions Press. The author is known as an amazingly gifted poet, so it was no surprise to me that right away her word choices and descriptions struck me as vivid and magnificent.

Although I was a bit confused as to the fact that the main character, Paimon, is, in fact, a demon (some of the initial descriptions suggest a monk or priest with a flair for sado-masochism), it quickly became apparent that our setting was Hell, described as having a “chilled embrace,” which I thought was neat.

Paimon punishes himself because he feels it is the only way he can atone for his sins. He serves none other than the Devil, Lucifer, but is at a point where he is conflicted about that, having done it for so long. He doesn’t particularly like doing assignments on mortal ground, i.e. Earth, so when his next assignment is there, we know it will be a bumpy ride for him.

He is haunted by the death of a woman, Marissa, and more about this mysterious relationship is revealed as the book goes on. His fellow demons don’t make things easier for him either, getting quite gleeful when he is in pain. I liked the incorporation of Greek Mythology in the form of making the ferryman, Charon, a character.

Essentially, Paimon is a soul collector, and he specializes in women who come from troubled backgrounds. The demonic clan he belongs to also demands a certain number of souls for him to harvest per year.

We then meet our other main character, Rhea, a human woman, who is dealing with a boyfriend she suspects is cheating with her best friend. Anyone with depression will recognize that the voice she hears in her head is the inner critic that torments and pesters at our brains daily.

One part of Paimon that was challenging to sympathize with was the fact that he comes from a background of having been rejected quite a lot by women when he was human. He uses that as a justification of taking pleasure in exacting revenge on the women whose souls he harvests. His dialogue was a bit too informal at times, as well, so while more consistency would have made his speech stand out more, his lines are wonderful for the most part.

Another minor quibble I had was the detail about how Rhea had supposedly never been intimate with her boyfriend after a relationship of seven years. Nonetheless, Paimon uses this point as one of the chief things to mess with Rhea’s head and it’s good ammunition.

Paimon wonders why women are so blind to seeing when they’re being manipulated, but one of the big reasons he points to in order to account for this is his view that they trust too much and fear too little. I wish the author had gone even deeper with conveying Rhea’s pain and showing more of how destructive her depression is.

“The girl was so desperate for affection that she’d turned to a complete stranger for help.”

Switching gears, I want to talk a bit about the demons of this universe. They have fangs and sometimes act more like vampires, but there are definitely interesting and distinct ones among them. One of the more unique demons apart from Paimon was Arazel, a female demon of lust that I took a shining to. She wasn’t over-the-top or mean for the sake of being mean and although we meet her midway through the book, she ended up being one of my favourite characters.

In this version of Hell, there is also a group of demons called The Seven. They are “keepers of the deadly sins”, as in the seven deadly sins, Paimon says of them: “You need to fear them more than the Devil,” which is interesting because at a few points in the novel, he also refers to Lucifer as his saviour so there’s an interesting duality to their relationship.

Speaking of the Devil, he’s a no-holds-barred kind of representation–jealous, vengeful, violent, angry, manipulative. Basically, all the things you would want to see in a Devil. I also enjoyed the tongue-in cheek reference to Virgil, citing the Pit as one place in Hell that not even he knew about.

Dante’s Inferno is, of course, one of the clearest influences on this novel as well as Milton’s Paradise Lost so take those two texts and mix them with a Barker-esque twist and you’ve got The Eighth. This novel also reminded me of The Monk by Matthew Lewis with some interesting parallels there, as well. If you love any of those books or just love horror novels about hell and demons, definitely pick up The Eighth.

Book Review: Renovation by Sara Brooke

renovation book cover by sara brooke

Renovation by Sara Brooke
File Size: 
403 KB
Print Length: 113 pages
Publisher: Sinister Grin
Publication Date: September 1, 2016
*** Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review *** 

Synopsis:

It all started with a leaky roof. Or did it? Something bad is happening in the small picturesque town of Oak Shade, Florida.

The Brennier family has just moved into their new home, and they are excited about the prospect of a new life. A new beginning. But things don’t always go as planned.

Almost immediately, their beautiful home starts to fall into disrepair. And there’s that strange thing happening in the attic…

Their call for help to a local repair company quickly becomes a different cry for help. And their lives begin to crumble as the situation gets stranger and more disruptive. It soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems, and a simple renovation could mean the deconstruction of their lives.

Praise for Sara Brooke:

“Sara Brooke has written a nice Gothic horror story that has twinges of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives with a twist of Bentley Little, but on a much darker, sordid level.” – HellNotes on Kransen House

“This novel is taut, well-plotted, and well-characterised…” – Mallory Heart Reviews on Still Lake

Renovation by Sara Brooke starts off with a familiar premise: a family has just moved to a new house, but lo and behold it seems the home inspection didn’t catch that the roof is leaky, which the family finds out soon after settling in.

Most home renovations in our ordinary lives can have nightmarish elements for different reasons: astronomical costs, uncovering other problems that previously did not manifest, the timeline of repairs, making sure a person has hired the right crew to do the job–not to mention the fact that one home repair seems to beget more items on the list.

In Renovation by Sara Brooke, things go wrong right from the outset. Mike, the father of the Brennier family, notices a construction crew has conveniently appeared right as he is surveying the damage from his leaky roof. They tell him they’re on their way to another job but that they could take a quick look if he wanted them to and provide him with an estimate of how long it would take to repair the roof as well as the cost. With not much other choice, Mike agrees.

The crew members of the construction team all seem odd from the start and it begins to affect the members of the family differently. Mike’s wife becomes far more sexually deviant and it’s not long before she abandons any inhibitions about sleeping with another man. Their teenage son, Greg, grows more and more suspicious. At one point in the book, all the family members have horrible nightmares that do end up materializing.

Suspense builds as the reader wonders whether Mike and his family will be able to escape the clutches of the “renovation crew” that has descended upon their house and is wreaking havoc. The interpersonal relationships between each family member begin to fray as the renovation crew wreaks havoc on them in different ways, which definitely made for an engaging read. Brooke does a masterful job of chipping away at the sanity of each character and showing the manifestations in unique ways.

If you like your horror with a hefty dose of creature feature mixed in with some highly erotic elements, you will definitely enjoy Renovation.

Sara Brooke author photo
Sara Brooke is an international Amazon bestselling author who writes horror and suspense novels. A lifelong avid reader of all things scary, Sara’s childhood dream was to write books that force readers to sleep with their lights on. Her first novel, Still Lake, was released Spring 2012. Among her other novels, she had The Gardens of Babylon published by Sinister Grin Press in December 2015 and The Zyne Project in March 2016. Sara’s influences and favorite authors include Bentley Little and John Saul. She is presently working on her next novel and an upcoming documentary film. You can find Sara online at her website.