Six is a mixture of an emotional coming-of-age tale and a raw and disturbing story of demons and exorcism.
Quite the interesting combination, right?
There are two stories at play: the present-day secret basement of a church where a long-tortured man and a priest are being held by a demon named Six; and their pasts: the childhood memories that formed them, the shames they'd prefer to forget, and how they intertwine.
Though these narratives may not seem overly compatible, what I kept coming back to while reading was the power of the personal demon, how we all walk around with something on our backs, something whispering in our ear that we aren't good enough or reminding us about the times that we've made mistakes in the past. Of course, that is just our own selves trying to keep us down (for what reason??) and not a demon from hell like the one the characters in this book deal with, but isn't that always the metaphor of exorcism? Taking out that bad part that is making us less than we are, less than we could be.
In this sense, Six is a very dark and very personal book. I definitely felt the emotional resonance of many scenes, felt the characters bleeding their stories out.
The book did feel like it needed some tightening up to me. Stylistically, I did not find myself fully engaging with the work; it was often overly wordy when concise language would have cut out some of my confusion with what was actually happening. It also kept me at a distance from really getting to know the characters and living inside their heads, because no one really thinks like that in the privacy of their own mind. It just felt overwritten at times.
If you are into tales about demonic possession, this is definitely an interesting and unique read to add to your list.
My thanks to author Lucas Graeves for sending the Night Worms copies of this book to read and review.
A novella that delves into the true horror of death and what happens to those left in its wake.
I wasn't expecting this quiet though realistically disturbing story, told from the perspective of an elderly mortician who is deeply mourning the unexpected loss of wife. Though he has a lot of experience being around dead people and dealing with people who have lost loved ones, his own loss has left him empty and adrift.
There is such an honest truth in Lutzke's main character, a man you might easily pass on the street and not give a second thought to. But here, the reader experiences every thought, every emotion he hides away. I was completely captivated by his interior story, and despite the dark and morbid place the story goes, I was with him the whole way. That was the power of Lutzke's storytelling.
I'm not sure that closure is something that ever truly happens when we've lost someone important. But there is a mending, a rebuilding, that occurs if we allow ourselves space for it. This story is about that process and the true horror that so many people have to face alone as they find a new way to live in the world. There is a great emotional strength behind the horror that Lutzke creates that serves as the backbone to the story, and that real-to-life emotion is what makes his work resonate so chillingly deep.
Highly recommended. And I'm looking forward to many more books by this author!
As a true crime buff and new fan of horror poetry, this combination of both was a must-read for me!
The collection reads more like a story, following Holmes from his beginnings, to his first forays into crime and other ill pursuits, to the building of his murder castle in Chicago, and beyond. I thought I would read a few each day, but I got sucked into the narrative flow of the poems and ended up reading through it mostly in one sitting. It isn't the type of poetry book you would want to dip in and out of at random, at least until you've read it all the way through once.
Tantlinger bases the work on fact, but isn't afraid to let imaginings and possibilities fill in the holes where we don't really know the truth of what happened with Holmes and his victims.
If you are into true crime, you are probably already aware of the strange interest, that weird compulsive magnetism toward serial killers—those enigmatic and eminently terrifying monsters whose minds we just can't quite comprehend. What is it about them that compels them to horrifying acts and yet allows them to seamlessly blend in with everyone else?
If you are perhaps a bit afraid of poetry, this collection is a wonderful example of how poems don't have to be obfuscating. Tantlinger's use of language is measured, image-driven, and often playful, and her attention to line breaks and spacing give the lines fresh readings upon closer inspection.
I think the whole project could have dug deeper into the psychological component of what makes the man a monster, as it instead stay fairly narrative in structure and substance. There is space in poetry for wonderings, lucid dreamings, what-ifs, and whys that you just can't explore the same way in fiction.
I loved the poems and the story they told, but I'm left with an unfinished feeling as to what the collection was supposed to represent. It could be a lot of things: hidden evil or the cycle of evil, the psychological underpinnings of psychopaths, a study in victimology. . . But I didn't feel that the collection left me pondering a specific great question. I don't think this detracts from the collection at all, hence my 5 stars, but it could have added another dimension to an already strong piece of writing.
Just like the intricate paths, secret hallways, and hidden trapdoors of Holmes's murder castle, The Devil's Dreamland twists through the life and mind of one of America's most infamous serial killers and is sure to leave you with plenty of nightmares for your next trip to dreamland.
A slim horror tale, Tamer Animals has a lot packed into it. The story delves into themes of bullying, homophobia, domestic abuse, racism, and worse—basically all the ways humans are horrible to each other—while following a group of young boys who are just trying to figure out how how to fight these larger violences, or at least how to support each other and get through the days while surrounded by injustice.
Who wouldn't want to get away from all that, if even for a weekend? So get out of town, go camping with your friends. But what happens when the evils you face every day just going to school or even waking up in your own house are not the only evils in the world you have to be afraid of? There might be something worse, something you've never had an inkling of, even in your worst nightmares.
That's what's waiting for the boys in the woods in Tamer Animals, and it's waiting for you too, if you dare to take a look.
The narrative is separated into three distinct sections. The first sets up each of the characters, letting the reader peek into their minds, lives, insecurities, hopes, and failures. The second is the camping trip, which quickly turns bad as one boy, then another, goes missing and strange things happen in the night. The third act is something entirely different, when the boys stumble on something else deep in the woods.
While the mythology of the Goatman is threaded throughout the story, it definitely is not the point of this story, and that is one thing that makes Tamer Animals such an interesting read.
After the initial set-up, the story reads much like a deliciously twisted and action-packed B-horror story. Woodward has a propulsive and gut-wrenching flow; he pours it all on the page, from suspenseful delusion to gooey, chunky gore.
But the story underneath has so many layers—one of the boys has a younger brother who confesses he is unsure about his sexuality. Another boy lives on the wrong side of the tracks, one gets flack about his mixed race. Are these the things that make them who they are? Aren't people all just people? Where does the division, the hatred come from? These are the questions that the book digs into.
One flaw of the storytelling for me was a character who becomes pivotal in the last third of the book who was only in a short scene at the beginning. I had completely forgotten about him by the time he comes up again. Perhaps that was just a failing of my own, but I was so confused by this character and how it reads like we should know who he is, that I had to flip back through the book to see where he was introduced. I thought that more weight should have been given to his first scene, or perhaps something to call back to it later on.
Overall, Tamer Animals is a wonderful horror read, not just for the level of nightmare-inducing viscera, but also for the attention and thought put toward the themes of the book. To me, that is what makes a well-rounded novel, and it shows a lot of promise for what's to come for this writer.
My thanks to the author for providing copies of his book to the Night Worms to read and review.
I was drawn into this little novella by the intriguing cover, and I am always attracted by psychological horror, so it sounded right up my alley.
The true-to-life elements were perfectly sculpted; I was completely with the story from the beginning with the description of Kevin's life as a soldier abroad to the fade to his life after and the trauma that is left behind.
Even though no one can see Kevin's wounds from the outside, he is scarred by his experiences, experiencing loneliness, crippling self-doubt, and issues with medications that leave him in need of help that no one seems willing to offer, which is probably the true horror of this tale.
When he begins seeing something lurking outside his house, is it really any surprise? What's real and what isn't? Is it in his head? Is it PTSD?
Where the narrative lost me was with the relationship between Kevin and Samantha. It felt so unrealistic to me, so rushed, underdeveloped, and leaving me feeling like it was Samantha who was the husk instead of Kevin since she felt more like a cardboard cutout rather than a real person adding import to the story.
I think their story could have been fleshed out more, and I could actually imagine this as a much longer work, delving into the psychology of his mind and how it affects those around him as the horror in his mind mounts.
. . . [R]emember only that this virus in your blood makes people afraid of you. Any time someone is afraid of you, you can use it to your own advantage."
Whew! This is a tough ride, but I'm so glad I finally got to it.
I first encountered the term "exquisite corpse" in a writing class, where everyone would start writing part of a story for a few minutes and when the timer rang, you'd fold to conceal all but the last line of your writing, pass your paper to the left, and pick up someone else's story where they left off. This continued until there were complete stories. Apparently it's a technique adapted from surrealist artists, who'd do basically the same thing, but with drawing people—severing the body into four or so sections that all looked entirely different, but connected, when the image was done.
In the book, we are shown all the layers to the characters, from what they present to society, potential lovers, their parents, their friends, peeled away to reveal who they really are not only in their deepest, innermost thoughts, but in their private actions too.
There is a perfection that we're all searching for, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that we ourselves are flawed.
I actually loved that the chapters from serial killer Compton's perspective were all in first person, while all the other characters were from third person. It gave him this nasty immediacy, thrusting the reader directly into his mind and actions even though that's the last thing anyone wants to be associated with.
In the end, I am still trying to contemplate what the book was about, what it was trying to say, and I'm not quite sure what that is. I don't mind violence and gore, but when there isn't a point, some ultimate goal to explain the sacrifice, I generally am left feeling empty. But I didn't leave the pages of Exquisite Corpse feeling as though there wasn't a point.
There is definitely a commentary about the dehumanization of people, specifically of gay men with HIV/AIDS, which at the time this book was set in the late 80s to mid-90s was a crisis. All of the characters who have a voice in the book are gay men, and each of them have a different relationship to the virus. Compton uses it virus to his advantage (see opening quote), while Luke can't come to terms with the disease and has torn his life down around him, pushing away those he loved and becoming an angry furnace spouting hatred for the mainstream American way of life. Tran, on the other hand, is HIV-free and young, feeling more than a little invincible until he realizes how real death can be. His explicitly graphic and horrible death at the end is a final release from all ideas that we are safe from death, that goodness will prevail, that youth can be preserved.
Our bodies are supposed to protect us, encase us, provide for us. But what if they only provide an incubator for our own destruction? Ultimately, this is a dark and gritty story, offering not much in the way of hope for its characters, but it's one that will keep you thinking.
I am reminded of the lines from a Thom Yorke song:
This is a waltz thinking about our bodies
What they mean for our salvation
I was an instant fan of JoAnn Chaney after reading her first novel, What You Don't Know, a fantastically captivating serial killer novel that is a cut high above the rest of the thrillers out there. I also love that it is set in Colorado, since it's always fun to read a book set where you live.
To be honest, if I hadn't read Chaney's first book and been so blown away by it, I probably would have passed this one up. The cover is terrible, the title forgettable, and I am not generally a fan of domestic thrillers, which is the box this book is weirdly and desperately trying to shove itself into.
But it's so much more than that.
Chaney has this brilliant way of creating a narrative that is about so many different things that when they all tie together it's like a bucket of cold water coming down on you—you didn't realize how closely all the threads were really connected, how all the themes, the characters inner struggles, the mysteries of the plot lines all came together. Brilliant.
This book instantly drew me in: it begins in alternating chapters set in Colorado in 1995 and 2018, following two women. One finds out her husband Matt is cheating on her, and she's going to confront him—but it all goes terribly wrong. The other is going on a romantic getaway weekend in Estes Park with her husband Matt, and things take a turn for the worse when she stands a bit too close to the edge of the cliff.
Yep, you guessed it. Both women wind up dead and the husbands are the same guy. Did he get away with murdering both his wives? What is going on here? Nothing is as it seems in this book, and you really have to read it to untangle all the mysteries!
As a murderino and Colorado native, I recognized that this book has to be based in part on one of our pretty famous murder cases: that of Toni Henthorn, who was pushed off a cliff in Rocky Mountain National Park by her husband. There are lots of similar details: this couple was hiking to celebrate their anniversary, one piece of evidence was a map marked with an X where she fell that investigators found in his belongings, a huge life insurance policy was taken out before her death, and evidence also suggests he killed his first wife in a staged accident in 1995. (He was sentenced to life in prison in 2015.)
Though the book diverges from the true crime events quite a bit, it is interesting to see where Chaney got her inspiration from!
I highly recommend both of her books and look forward to reading more from her in the years to come.
My thanks to Flatiron Books for sending me an advance copy of this one to read and review.
If you’re in the market for a wintry creature-feature to snuggle up with by the fire while you watch the snow pile up outside, Ahlborn has written The Shuddering for you. Also, it would be a great choice to take on a weekend ski trip, especially if you’re staying in a secluded cabin in the woods.
The first scene of this book is so beyond good—wow! I was completely hooked. I wished that the book could have kept up with that sort of momentum throughout, because with this style of book, what I really want is to spend time with the creatures, with the horror, and for me, this one didn’t deliver on that.
The scenes that you do get with the creatures are great—I loved the descriptions of their physical features, how they stalked and attacked, and even their personalities. The slow realization of the characters that what they are dealing with is not just some wolves but a completely unknown quantity is a great, tense ride.
Where the narrative got bogged down for me was that it spent a lot of time focusing on the romantic entanglements of the characters, and in particular the will-they-won’t-they tug of war between main character Jane and her old boyfriend. To be honest, I just didn’t see the point of all that runaround and it dragged for me. Of course the characters need some sort of background, some reason for being there, but I felt like that narrative just went around in circles without creating any fresh tracks. None of the characters, their decisions, or their life struggles felt unique or all that interesting to me.
But once the action kicks in, it really kicks in, and I found the second half of the book to be much more engaging. It goes to interesting and innovative places—for characters that are literally trapped in the snow far away from anyone or anything that might be able to help them, once they know what sort of dire situation they are in, they work every angle and it is great.
This was a quick read for me and though it isn’t perfect, it is definitely great as a winter read, and I always enjoy reading books set in the state where I live!
I am always on the lookout for a nice, fun slasher book. For someone who is a fan of slasher movies, there is something especially satisfying about reading those stories translated to the page—the blood, the screams, the stalking—bring it on. If you are nodding your head, then you get me, and you’re going to dig this book.
Set at a summer camp for boys with eating disorders, Fat Camp follows overweight teen Phillip and his few friends as they navigate the festering pool that is life as outcasts, and as if that isn’t bad enough already, take on a crazed killer with a machete.
If you’ve ever looked at yourself in the mirror and felt you didn’t fit in for any reason—and who the hell didn’t have that experience as a teenager?—something in this book will speak to you. Sabata does a great job of conveying life as an overweight teen, from the obvious, like feeling self-conscious about the way clothing fits or having to shower with other boys around, to more detailed observations, like how carrying a suitcase up several staircases can be a huge obstacle.
The main character is also very believable: he wants to fit in and get the pretty girl, but it’s really hard to work out and run and eat almost nothing, and he misses the easy life of vegging out with a bag of Doritos. I can relate. His relationship with his friends is also great; their dialogue and interactions together felt very natural.
I also liked the exploration of social hierarchy, and I thought that this could have been explored and pushed even further in the book. Even at Fit Camp there is a hierarchy of bullies, and Phillip and his friends are on the bottom rung.
While the teenage boys seem to be more fully explored and developed, what I found lacking was the characterization of the women in the book. Phillip’s sister and her friend that come to visit were confusing to me. They were not overly important to the plot and it felt like they were mainly just there to be objects to be stared at and lusted over. The therapist was also a mystery. She was such a helpful presence, but all Phillip seemed to be able to focus on was how attractive she was and it really cut her down as a person. I would have liked to see more well-rounded characters, and women that mattered not just as functions to move the plot forward but as people.
The book is written mainly in first person from Phillip’s perspective. There are a few sections that go to slasher POV, which I really liked—that made it feel like watching a movie. But sometimes in order to forward the plot, the story would need to follow a character other than Phillip, so the narration would switch to third person. Since the setup from the beginning makes it clear that Phillip is telling this from a point in the future, it really did not make sense to me to interrupt his narration with these third-person scenes that he wasn't a part of. The switch in narration was jarring and really did not work. If a book is going to be written in first person, it should be written entirely from that character’s perspective.
Overall, I found Fat Camp to be a fun slasher, like a pretty good B-horror movie from the 80s—one you find yourself laughing at, cringing at, and reveling in the gooshy practical effects. If those types of movies are your jam, you’re going to want to read this one.
My thanks to the author for my copy of this one to read and review.
I love finding an author that you know when you turn to the first page and start reading, you are in good hands. Is there anything better?
Malfi is like that. From the moment I began his short story collection We Should Have Left Well Enough Alone I knew I had stumbled on something special. (And “stumbled on” really is not the right phrase, as Sadie of @mother.horror has been championing Malfi’s books for ages. I’m just a bit slow on the uptake.)
It’s not just that he’s telling a good story, though he definitely is—more on that later. There is just something so real that resonates through his work, something that makes you lose yourself within the pages when you start reading. Isn’t that why we all read? We want to forget about the background noise and just dissolve into another story for a while, one where things might be falling to pieces, but where there might be a logic, a key, something we can try to figure out before heading back to the mundane reality of our own existence.
That’s why I read, why I’ve always found solace in books. And there is something special about a book that cuts through everything like that, that puts you fully in the story.
As far as the narrative itself, there is definitely something to coming-of-age-in-small-town tales. I have a lot of love for the types of stories that depict ragtag groups of latchkey kids going about on their own and solving some kind of mystery that is far above their pay grade. There is a certain mystique to stories depicting kids in general—I think we all miss those days. And children are in a unique position for horror: they believe easily in the boogyman. Their belief makes them a vulnerable target, but it also makes them able to see clearly enough to fight back.
December Park is about the missing children of Harting Farms in the early 1990s and the mysterious figure of the Piper, whom everyone believes to be a serial killer picking off kids, though only one body has turned up. Angelo and his friends are determined to figure out what’s going on by using what they know about the town, its secret places and shortcuts, and any information they can dig up on their neighbors. Everyone is a suspect.
But this book is about so much more than the investigation. It is about the boys and their personal lives, their aspirations for the future, what they share with each other and their families and what they keep secret. It is about the divide between being a child and being an adult, how they see differently, the trust that is lost, and all the forgetting that you do along the way to adulthood. It is about small towns and the way that horrific crimes impact the people who live there. It is about trauma and how events affect people differently. It is about perception and memory.
Though the investigation into the Piper is the main plot thread, I found myself almost more interested in the characters and their lives, which I think is the key to good writing that most authors ignore. So many mystery/thriller books just seemed shoved through a tube where the plot has to go from A to B to C without letting the story develop naturally.
And I really felt a kinship with the boys—their late-night bike rides, their walkie-talkies, how they caused some mischief and chaos, how they stood up to bullies, how they alternately supported and ragged on each other. Getting to know them and watching them grow throughout the narrative is one of the highlights.
When it gets down to the horror—you won’t be disappointed. I wouldn’t consider this book heavy on action, but it has perfect narrative flow, letting tension ebb and flow and ratcheting up the suspense when necessary. By the last 200 pages, I couldn’t be torn away and had to finish. Malfi has a great descriptive voice and you can see each scene—in all the gruesome detail you could ever hope for.
This is such a phenomenal book. I can’t recommend it more highly. On my shelf, it sits beside other great horror coming-of-age stories like King’s It, McCammon’s Boy’s Life, and Simmons’s Summer of Night. I can’t wait to read more of Malfi’s work.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.