Ugly Little Things – Todd Keisling

IMG_0451

 

A collection of shorts and a novella from Todd Keisling. His novella, The Final Reconciliation, I reviewed back in January. To make this review complete, I’ve included it. Here we go –

 

A Man in Your Garden – A clever telling of seeing something out the window through the raindrop while fighting off the effects of a hard night of drinking. What’s real and what’s not?

4 out of 5 stars

 

Show Me Where The Water Fills Your Grave – Losing your spouse after all of those years together is the hardest thing Jonathan has ever had to endure. That is, unless she comes back.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Radio Free Nowhere – When couples can’t agree on what to listen to on the radio, beware of the road trip.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Otherland Express – Gregory is running away from home and his abusive father. When his destination suddenly becomes no longer viable, where will Gregory go? Luckily for him, he crosses paths with John Doe who offers him the option to become someone else. All he has to do is take a ride with him on the Otherland Express. Very Twilight Zone-y and a fun read.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

Saving Granny From The Devil – A child makes a deal with the devil to save his beloved Granny. What he gains is more than his Granny’s soul. A very engaging story.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Darkness Between Dead Stars – Maxwell Foster volunteers for a one-way mission to Mars. Half of the way there, he starts hearing knocking and strange voices from outside the space capsule. What’s out there? What if we’re not meant to know? An excellent, EXCELLENT short story. One of the best I’ve read in years!

5 out of 5 stars

 

Human Resources – You don’t see an email like that from HR every day. A fun, little read.

4 out of 5 stars

 

House of Nettle and Thorn – If a bunch of hot girls are coming onto you and your chucklehead friend like you’ve never experienced, there probably is a good reason for it. A sorority party like none other. Another fun one.

4 out of 5 stars

 

When Karen Met Her Mountain – Karen would do anything for her husband, Martin. He’s been there for her during her darkest times. But beware, if you cross Karen, you may not live to regret it. I loved the twists and turns in this one.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Harbinger – Felix is assigned to meet and interview the CEO of a doll making company in West Virginia. The town seemed odd from the moment he set foot in it. Little did he know how right he was…and they were waiting for him. A cross between Children of the Corn, Stuart Gorden’s Dolls, and one F’d up episode of the Twilight Zone. A great story!

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Final Reconciliation – So, as a fellow metal-head, I feel a kindred spirit with Todd as he unfurls The Final Reconciliation, a story about a journalist who is interviewing Aidan Cross. Cross is an aging guitarist who is institutionalized for going off his nut over the tragic show his band played 30 years ago. Aidan was the guitarist of the prog-metal band, The Yellow Kings. After hardcore touring in support of their EP, the band lands a two-album deal and head to Los Angeles to record their official first record. After a show in Texas, they pick up a groupie named Camille, who was waiting behind the club for the band. She immediately takes a shine to their lead singer, Johnny. Soon, the band learns that Camille is not your ordinary groupie trying to sponge of the band in hopes that they’ll be famous. No, she has a different agenda and the band are simply pawns in her evil plan.

The Final Reconciliation pulls out it’s inner Lovecraft and marries it with story about a heavy metal band. Metal bands have been influenced by all things macabre and Lovecraft is a favorite of many, i.e. Metallica. Keisling has done his homework. As someone who knows a thing or two, not much more, but a thing or two about metal bands, touring, and recording, he executes the story flawlessly. This is where so many writers can go astray – writing about something that they don’t know enough about and the cracks show. This isn’t the case here. Kudos to Keisling. Not only did he get his facts right, but he delivered one hell of a story, in the process.

5 Guitar Solos out of 5

 

Keisling is such a force to be reckoned with. There wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. All were 4-5 star reads. When was the last time you came across a collection of that caliber? Exactly. The thing I like most about this collection is Keisling’s voice. He has such a smooth and easy writing style. You get lost in his words way too easily. On more than one story, I found that I had been reading for an hour and it felt like only 10 minutes had passed. Grab this collection and make sure you set your alarm, so you don’t miss your appointments.

Overall – 4 1/2 stars out of 5

 

 

This ARC was provided by Crystal Lake Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

https://kenmckinley.wordpress.com

http://intothemacabre.booklikes.com

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5919799-ken-mckinley

Advertisements

For Fear of the Night – Charles L. Grant

IMG_0450

 

The term “quiet horror” gets thrown around everytime you read any review of a Charles Grant story. What exactly is quiet horror. Simply put, its a moniker created by Charlie himself, as a way to describe his writing style. Quiet horror is a slow crescendo of dread that builds in the story. It’s subtle, not in your face. Its a creepy feeling that something isn’t right. It’s also not for the person who has the attention span of a highly caffeinated squirrel with ADD. You’re not going to find blood spattered on every page of a Grant story. Nor will you find non-stop action. This isn’t a Marvel comic. Grant’s stories are all about the ride and not necessarily the destination. Patience is key. If you have it, chances are you’ll see what he’s trying to create and you’ll enjoy it. Now, is every one of his stories a hit? No. But, there is always a certain level of quality in every Grant tale. For Fear of the Night is no exception. Is it his best? No, again.

As Labor Day nears, a group of teenagers are preoccupied with the big changes that have already shaped their lives and the ones that are about to. Going off to college looms in around the corner. Couples are about to become apart and wonder whats in store for them. Career decisions have to be made. Their friend, Julie, was recently killed in a fire that happened in a building near the pier. Devin, the groups older photography friend, receives a message on his answering machine from their dead friend. Was it really her? Is it some sick prank? He doesn’t know, but it sparks off the mystery of what really happened to Julie.

For Fear of the Night is not Grant’s strongest story. Very little action happens for the first 100 pages. It’s his typical slow burn. The storytelling and atmosphere are still there. The ending strikes me as a bit muddied and leaves more questions than answers. If I were looking to read Grant for the first time, this wouldn’t be the one I’d start with. But, if you’re looking for that quiet horror that he specializes in, you could do a lot worse.

 

3 Popped Balloons out of 5

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

https://kenmckinley.wordpress.com

http://intothemacabre.booklikes.com

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5919799-ken-mckinley

The Devil’s Woods – Brian Moreland

IMG_0449

 

Brian Moreland is simply money in the bank. I have yet to read anything of his that I didn’t love and The Devil’s Woods is his best yet. Kyle and his brother and sister, Eric and Shawna, grew up on the Cree reservation until their mother divorced their father. Eric and Shawna have grown distant from their father, a university archeology professor and an alcoholic, but Kyle has still kept in touch with him through the years. When the siblings receive a call from their uncle Ray inviting them back to the reservation for a visit, Kyle thinks this may be a good way for all of them to reconnect after all these years. Unfortunately, when they arrive, they learn that their father is missing. Kyle attempts to piece together his father’s last whereabouts with what he was investigating. What he learns is that their idyllic Canadian hideaway in the woods has an evil buried deep within where things are not as they would seem.

You can tell that Moreland did his research for The Devil’s Woods. Its all in the details and his writing is spot on. You get invested in the siblings. Kyle is still mourning from the loss of his wife and you root for him to find happiness. Shawna is the free spirit rebellious type that shows her immaturity from time to time. Eric is the obnoxious womanizer that you want to see get what he has coming to him, yet there are times when he shows his human side and you almost sympathize with him. All of Moreland’s characters have depth, no two dimensional cardboard stereotypes here. He also brings the Canadian woods to your doorstep. It feels like you’re crunching over leaves, swatting the occasional mosquito and seeing that shadow disappear behind a tree trunk out of the corner of your eye. He really immerses you in his story. He also has done his homework to get the Cree culture and Canadian landscape just right. Moreland delivers another fantastic read and I can’t wait for the next one.

5 Float Planes out of 5

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

https://kenmckinley.wordpress.com

http://intothemacabre.booklikes.com

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5919799-ken-mckinley

 

Children of Chaos – Greg F. Gifune

IMG_0446

 

Philip, Jamie, and Martin are young teenagers when they stumble upon the mysterious stranger in the rain. The encounter ends with the stranger mumbling odd ramblings about destinies and then, before their very eyes, the children see the scars that line his back move and change shapes. In an act of self defense, the boys murder the stranger. Their lives were never the same again. Fast forward to the present. Philip has failed at his marriage, is failing as a writer, and is worried that he’ll fail as a father to his teenage daughter. The only thing he seems to succeed at is being a full-blow alcoholic. Jamie has failed as a priest due to his inner demons with girls that aren’t of age. And Martin? Well, let’s just say that Martin is not of his right mind. His last destination was at the end of a lonely stretch of road called the Corridor of Demons. It’s because of Martin and his cult of followers that the road gained it’s nickname, and reputation. Martin’s ailing mother back home pays Philip to bring her mentally ill boy back to her. Is this a suicide mission or something more?

The description of Children of Chaos is that it’s an homage to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I’ve never read Heart of Darkeness, so I wouldn’t be able to tell one way or another. (Put your pitchforks away, literature snobs) One thing that I do know is that Children of Chaos is Gifune clicking on all cylinders. It has the trademark shadowiness, for which I have come to know him. It has disturbed and flawed characters with layers and layers of depth within them. It has a story that slowly unfurls itself and makes you turn the page to see what’s on the other side, not quite figuring it out until the last act. It makes you ask the question, What are we? Are we the masters of our own destiny or simply pawns in a game played by higher powers? Is everything chaotic and random or preordained? These are question I’ve often pondered in my own life, as I’m sure many of you have as well. The ending kind of ties things up with a neat little bow, maybe a little too conveniently for some, but I still enjoyed it. For myself, I pulled bits and pieces of Mystic River and Angel Heart from the story. This is one that will stick with me for a while and that’s the sign of a good one.

 

4 1/2 Cult of Personalities out of 5

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

https://kenmckinley.wordpress.com

http://intothemacabre.booklikes.com

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5919799-ken-mckinley

Optical Delusion – Hunter Shea

IMG_0444

 

Hunter Shea has tapped into our childhood for his latest offering of fear. Remember those ads in the backs of comic books? Muscles like Charles Atlas. Sea monkeys. Joy buzzers. Fake ice cubes with a fly in the middle. Gum that turns your mouth black. Oh, and the ever popular, X-ray glasses. I certainly remember them. More specifically, I remember wanting them and my mom saying “absolutely not”. Well, what would happen if she did allow me to get those x-ray glasses and after 10 minutes of making my eyes hurt, I tossed them aside only to have my dad pick them up and put them on. And, what if, in between the fuzzy-eyed headache it produced, he saw a glimpse of a girl’s panties she had on underneath her clothing? And what if, in desperate attempts to get more than a glimpse or two of what the females looked like under their winter clothing, it caused something else? Something more hideous, more macabre, and it wouldn’t let you turn away?

Optical Delusion was a fun ride into every boy that grew up in the 1970s and 80s past and warped it with a Twilight Zone twist and an EC Comic turn. My last couple of reads from Shea have been my favorites. He’s honed his chops the last few years and is churning out nothing but quality lately. So much so, that he’s quickly become one of my go to writers that can’t miss.

 

5 Victoria’s Secrets out of 5

 

* This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

https://kenmckinley.wordpress.com

http://intothemacabre.booklikes.com

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5919799-ken-mckinley

Worlds Between My Teeth – Tim Meyer

IMG_0443

 

Another short story collection from a new-to-me author, Tim Meyer. Let’s jump right in and break each story down one by one.

The Dream Eaters – It’s all a dream. Nothing can hurt you in a dream, right? Some familiar elements with a twist or two.

3 out of 5 stars

The Lemures – A brother and sister running from a crime boss who made a deal with the devil and can summon dead spirits. The story has a nice voice, if not the most satisfying ending.

4 out of 5 stars

The Cherry Collectors – Being a player can come back and haunt you.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Worlds Between My Teeth – The night just keeps getting stranger and stranger for a mall security guard. Shades of King’s The Drawing of Three and The Twilight Zone. Good stuff.

5 out of 5 stars
Gingerbread Death Machine – Revenge doesn’t always taste sweet. A macabre Christmas tale that seems familiar but doesn’t work as well as it could.

3 out of 5 stars
Under New Skies – A high school boy writes about love and the world becoming Jurassic Park overnight. I liked the uneasiness in this one.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Ice King – Emmett is sure that his wife, Gertie, is slipping him an extra pill in his daily stash, trying to kill him. When he sees something humongous under the ice while fishing, he becomes convinced. Lovecraft meets Grumpy Old Men. This was a fun one.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars
Box Game – Yikes! That’s some game!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

Armala’s Hunt – Armala’s sister has been abducted by an unknown assailant. She recruits her world’s best tracker for hire. They follow their trail to a cave where the grisly realization of why he kidnapped Armala’s sister unveils itself. A nice tale of fantasy that feels like it’s the start of a story rather than the whole tale.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Old Church – Umm?!? Am I missing something here? What seems like a fragment of a setup to a story.

1 out of 5 stars

 

The Pumpkin Tree Giveth, The Pumpkin Tree Taketh Away – The pumpkin tree has been rumored to grant wishes. For 10-year-old Jeffie, he better watch what he wishes for. Again, it feels like a scene instead of a story.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Man Who Never Frowned – A used car salesman, who is down on his luck, is about to have a really bad day.

 

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Organ Harvest (An October John novella) – In 2052, a plague has hit the world and decimated 95% of the population. Detective Callahan is breaking in a rookie partner while investigating a strange case of murders. The victims bodies are barely recognizable save for one distinguishing feature, a tattoo of a white rabbit on their ass cheek. Every clue runs into a dead end and with nowhere else to turn, Detective Callahan is forced to turn Johnny Webster (aka October John), a down-on-his-luck bum that has a knack for this kind of work. You see, 12 years ago, Johnny used to be Callahan’s partner.

A fun novella that introduces us to some interesting characters with October John being right up at the top. Think of Riggs from Lethal Weapon.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

All in all, a very solid collection of shorts and a novella. Meyer has an easy writing style with some good characters and plots. There were a couple that were too short for me to really get into, but that’s my preference and not necessarily a dig on Meyer’s writing. Definitely worthy of space on any horror fan’s bookcase. Meyer looks like he has the chops to make a real name for himself in the horror community.

 

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

https://kenmckinley.wordpress.com

http://intothemacabre.booklikes.com

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5919799-ken-mckinley

Wrath of the Ancients – Catherine Cavendish

IMG_0440

 

Adeline Ogilvy, a young widow from Wimbledon, has accepted a job in Vienna. Her assignment is to employ her skills as a typist and transcribe the memoirs of the late Dr. Emeryk Quintillus, an archeologist with a most peculiar hidden history. When she begins her recording the doctor’s notes, she learns that, five years earlier, he claims to discover the tomb of Cleopatra. Even more astonishing, it seems that he has brought more than secrets back from Egypt. Strange occurrences begin to happen at the mansion. Is what Adeline seeing before her eyes real or a hallucination?

This is my first read of Cavendish and I love the slow burn in this Gothic chiller. I also like how blends an archelogical curiosity and characters with her own original take on what happened all those thousands of years ago. As the story unfurls, I can’t help be reminded of the quiet horror writing style of Charles L. Grant. The characters are interesting and I’m drawn to keep turning the pages to see where they go in the story. If I have any criticism it’s that there are parts where the pacing seems off. In one instance, things are doing a nice slow burn and then it closes in way too much of a flurry. But, it’s a small blemish in an overall fun story. If you haven’t had the pleasure to stumble upon Cavendish, Wrath of the Ancients is a great one to introduce yourself.

4 1/2 Green Glowing Apparations out of 5

 

You can also follow my reviews at the following links:

https://kenmckinley.wordpress.com

http://intothemacabre.booklikes.com

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5919799-ken-mckinley