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.
A mix of cosmic horror, sci-fi, feminist themes, and diversity in the character pool, Snyder offers a wonderful collection of horror tales that would please any aficionado.
The first four stories were my favorites. The second person narration of the first story, "That Which Does Not Kill You," is perfect in a world where second person generally makes me roll my eyes. It felt wholly original in Snyder's hands, and that quick little tale of a woman snubbed by her girlfriend is just perfect horror.
"Sunset on Mott Island" was a very human tale, a woman trying to survive at the end of the world and give her dying mother the care she needs. It turns in a direction I was not expecting, but it worked so perfectly, and the juxtaposition of the strange apocalyptic times with the character's personal struggles was really compelling.
"The Gentleman Caller" was an interesting one, following a disabled woman who works as a phone-sex operator. I thought the path the story took offered a unique perspective on her condition and how it must be to live a life where people are constantly judging you poorly just for the way you look and not what is inside.
"Executive Functions" offers a unique tale that would be at home on the show Black Mirror. I loved the unexpected (and fairly gross) twist in this piece following a not-so-nice guy in an office.
Because of my love for these first few stories, I thought the collection was fairly frontloaded. The last three stories especially did not have the same polish that much of rest of the collection had, and they started to lose me. The last two are straight fantasy stories, which is the genre that speaks to me the least, so you might have a different opinion if you love fantasy!
I will say that it is so impressive that she manages to fit so many genres, themes, and types of characters into one collection. There is a very unique vampire story, some sci-fi, the Lovecraft-inspired tales, a more action/adventure-type tale, the fantasy ones, and some just plain weird horror. Snyder is definitely very versatile and feels comfortable bending genres to her will.
This is one that I definitely recommend to horror readers everywhere. Lucy A. Snyder is one to watch!
My thanks to Raw Dog Screaming Press for sending me a copy of this one to read and review.
A perfect narrative, from start to finish. I loved everything about it: the cover is beautiful and haunting, the trim size is so unique, the structure of the tale with all the dialogue run-in worked perfectly, and the slow build-up of tension throughout adds an ominous sinking in your stomach that you just can't ignore.
This one is added to the pile of horror-adjacent books I read (and loved!) this year, including The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg, The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette, and The Bus on Thursday by Shirley Barrett. Like those, this book was highly literary, incorporating multiple themes, ideas, and motifs, while also being a dark tale with components crucial to (good? Well, perhaps that's debatable) horror.
Main character Sylvie is our eyes into this narrative. Her father is enamored with the ancient history of Britain, and has dragged his wife and child to a summer excursion with a class of college students studying the Iron Age and reenacting how life would have been by living off the land for several weeks.
This short book is full of mirroring and symbolism. Molly, a student on the trip, acts as the foil of Sylvie. She is willing and even eager to break every rule, has grand plans for her life, is an action-taking character, and throughout tries to help Sylvie break down the walls that she (and her parents) have built up around her. Molly's repeated attempts to help Sylvie grow into her own are mirrored in a discussion of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the oppressive forces that it stood for, and the building by the campers of a ghost wall—something that ancient Britons made and enforced with skulls of their ancestors as a spiritual attempt to keep out enemy forces.
And it isn't just all held together with symbolism. This is a very character-driven tale, with Sylvie and her father's relationship the main source of tension. Her father is an overbearing and violent man, using the excuse of history and his blind passion for the subject as an excuse for the constant abuse of his wife and daughter. Though it is begins subtly, the oppressive nature of his relationship with them and how both mother and daughter are caught up as victims, trying to cover up and justify his actions, is threaded throughout the narrative in a sadly believable way.
The writing throughout, and especially the descriptions of nature and Sylvie's internal stream-of-conscious narrative is flawless and brilliantly rendered. Moss is an extreme talent and wordsmith.
The ending was not at all expected, but I think it snuck by me because of the slow, ominous build of the narrative. It was perfect and I couldn't be torn away from it.
Ruminating on nature, how collective and personal history shapes us, and what comes from prejudice and extremism, this is a masterpiece despite its short length. Highly recommended
My thanks to FSG for sending me a finished copy of this one to read and review.
This book is a bit small town cult, a bit cosmic horror/Lovecraftian, and a lot character-driven. That is a lot to pack into one book, especially a horror novel with a lot of action in it!
The beginning of this book is flawless: a perfect introduction to each of the main characters ending with a bit of a wild confrontation that then segues back into how all this started. I thought it was great and I was completely invested.
I was not completely captivated by the writing style, which felt a bit under-baked at times and didn't hook me into the story the way that I generally expect a character-driven story to read. I think the narrative could have done with a bit more development along those lines. I also wanted to see more of the town and its inhabitants—I wish we could have spent more time there before we really knew what was going on. It would have been a great way to build tension.
A little ways into the narrative a female joins the male trio of main characters, and I never really understood why she was involved in the narrative. She felt under-used and unexplored as a character, just sort of tacked on to scenes, and she could have easily been replaced with one of the other characters throughout. I wish that she had mattered more, and her character had been developed further.
By the end of the book, I think I was speed-reading, really needing to see how it was going to turn out. So Hayward knows how to turn up the heat for the climax of the book and it speeds along with plenty of gory description!
I think I've said this before, but I find it a real bummer to read Sinister Grin titles for pure aesthetic reasons. Their covers are great, but the interior design of their books leaves much to be desired. They basically look like manuscripts set on the page, double-spaced (too much space between lines for a novel), and with little attention paid to how the page is laid out. I also consistently find punctuation, style, and other types of errors in their books that would easily be caught by a proofreader. These things don't have any bearing on what I think of the work itself, but it is definitely distracting to read. Hopefully interior design and typesetting will become a more important part of their process as they move forward with publishing, as they have so many good authors and stories to promote.
My thanks to Sinister Grin Press for sending me this one 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
Nice to see a couple of ladies of horror fiction on the Flame Tree Press list for spring. There are so many great women penning horror novels, and I'd like to see a bit more even representation, especially from presses that only publish genre fiction.
This one immediately caught my eye as it is set in Edinburgh, a city that is close to my heart since I studied abroad there. I'd love to go back to Scotland. One of my favorite things I did in the city was a tour of the Mary King's Close. How crazy is it to think that while you're walking the streets of Edinburgh, there is a whole city beneath it, the city of many centuries ago, that they just bricked up and built over? To get to go down and see a bit of that history, hear the stories, and (fingers crossed!) see a ghost is just everything.
This story centers around Hannah, a new tour guide at the Henderson Close. But strange and spooky things begin happening to her and her coworkers and there's no other way to explain them: they are being haunted.
I really loved the beginning of the book: there is a great historical element with a short prologue that sets up one of the main stories that they talk about on their tours, and the description of the tour and the ghost stories really delivered me to the setting.
Once the book gets about halfway, I started feeling overwhelmed with how many different elements were at play. There are multiple different ghosts with different agendas, there is some time travel weirdness that I didn't feel was fully explained (and played by different rules for different characters), there's a demon creature, many different perspectives telling the story, and multiple time periods, settings, and character arcs. It all began to feel a bit jumbled and just too much.
There is one chapter featuring a little boy and the girl ghost so far out of time and place with the rest of the book I completely forgot it until it slotted into place toward the end of the book, and it just felt so obvious that the chapter had been written specifically to create that moment. It just felt so manufactured and out of place. There was just so much going on that I felt the narrative could have been parred down into something more streamlined.
Overall though, it was a fairly interesting ghost story, and I did like the way it all wrapped up. I'm always on the lookout for good haunted tales!
My thanks to Flame Tree Press for sending an advance copy of this one to read and review.
Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.