[Double-Feature -Review] – Skullface Boy

By Chad Lutzke

Published in 2018, Skullface Boy is the epitome of blended literary genres, encompassing horror and gothic fiction, to coming of age, with a constant undertone of autobiographical fiction elements. Similar to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the RyeSkullface Boy evoked emotions and themes around isolation, freedom, and adolescence.

Born with a skull for a face, sixteen-year-old Levi runs away from his foster home to make the journey to find a man he’s been told is just like him; possessing a skull for a face. The reader follows Levi on his quest, a quest that promises the unexpected and encountering people of all walks of life. Like Levi, the reader is living a life on the road in this story. Lutze transports the reader into a world of nostalgia, one that forces the reader to look back and remember adolescence and what it means to look different and be different.

If you choose to follow Levi, to be a fly on the wall as he discovers people and places along the way, you won’t be disappointed. The blending of horror, coming of age, and autobiographical fiction is done so well, leaving enough room for each element to work together to create a story that feels genuine. It works because you can feel Lutzke’s heart and soul in this book.

Lastly, if you’ve ever experienced isolation, being different, or misunderstood, Chad Lutzke says it himself in the dedication; this book is for you. It was the moment I read this that I knew I was going to love this book, that it was for me, the teenage punk rocker runaway that I once was and that always has a place in my soul.

The dedication reads:

“Dedicated to the bullied, the parentless and the unique. May the shallow assholes one day envy you.”

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Skullface-Boy-Chad-Lutzke/dp/1724864815/

Review by: Stephanie (Sterp) Evelyn
writersterp@gmail.com
Twitter: @iamsterp

[Review] – Creature

By Hunter Shea

Chronic illnesses, incurable diseases, doctors and experimental treatments are all part of Kate’s life. Leaving Kate mostly confined to her house with her dog, Buttons, and her husband Andrew. Though Kate puts a brave face on everything, the battle with her own body has taken its toll, not just on her but on Andrew, too, as he struggles with anger issues and mounting frustration at the world.

In an attempt to give them both a slice of happiness, he rents a remote, lakeside cabin in Maine for the summer, but dead animals and strange night-time noises soon make it clear this isn’t going to be the idyllic retreat they both hoped for.

The horror in the first part of this novel is quiet and, for many people, very, very real. The inner turmoil for both Kate and Andrew is laid bare for the reader, making it at times difficult to read, but completely drawing the reader into the lives of these characters. Andrew does everything he can for Kate, but there are moments things just become too much for both of them. The dual POV is used to great effect, letting the reader not just see from Kate’s fantastically written viewpoint, but to gain a deeper understanding of how this situation affects Andrew, too.

The relationship between Kate and Andrew is a big strength, showing a very realistic couple dealing with a complex situation. The banter and affection allow us to see some real, tender moments between them. Despite their frustrations, it’s clear they would do anything for each other. The arguments feel real too, as they both grabble with the situation, and the moments where we see Andrew slip into blaming Kate, or Kate’s jealously, don’t impact negatively on the characters, but enhance them.

When the more overt horror comes in, we’re so deeply invested in the characters we really do care what happens to them, and are completely caught up in the events and outcomes.

It’s hard to convey just how powerful this novel is, with genuine, heartfelt moments alongside the deeper horror when the title Creature emerges, terrorizing the couple in what should be their peaceful, ideal cabin. The strength definitely comes from the quiet moments, the relationship between Andrew and Kate, and the story of this couple played out against the background horror.

A fantastic novel, Creature is definitely one not to miss, and I’m eager to read more of Shea’s work.

I should also add, staying in a wooden cabin while reading this (not remote, luckily, but at the bottom of a garden) made it that much more atmospheric, with creatures scratching and skittering across the roof and at the sides of the cabin in the middle of the night. Hard not to get completely absorbed in the novel with that backdrop. Maybe not something I would recommend, especially if you’re staying on your own with a fairly big garden between you and the main house where the rest of your family are.

Amazon link for Creature

Review by Elle Turpitt
Twitter: @elleturpitt

I received a copy from the publisher for review consideration


[Review] – Grief Is A False God

By Gemma Amor

* Minor spoilers ahead

If you don’t know it by now, I have become a bit of a connoisseur of the writing of Gemma Amor. Since discovering her about nine months ago via Cruel Works of Nature (one of my favorite reads of 2019), I have devoured everything she has out there since (in printed form – I am still trying to find time to listen to her via the popular The No Sleep Podcast). Every chance I get, I recommend her and her books to friends and strangers. But I digress.

Grief is a False God is her new illustrated novelette, featuring the drawings of Anibal Santos. It’s the kind of story you read in one sitting, and not just because of its length – this story executes sharply without hesitancy, making for a quick and emotional scare. If you read Till the Score is Paid, then you probably remember “The Strangler.” Dealing in postpartum depression, that story and Grief…have something to share: the unexplainable desire to evacuate following the birth of a child. This sort of sadness can become debilitating and fatale, as seen in this story.

There’s a conversation at one point in which the lead character (Elijah, the father/husband) is startled to learn his deceased wife had been mentally ill with such a depression, claiming she’d always seemed happy playing with their daughter. Here’s the thing about depression – people can be strong enough to hide it from others until, finally, it becomes so heavy that they take life into their own hands. Having had a happy-go-lucky friend blow his brains out a decade ago, I know how confusing it can seem to friends and family.

The point I am trying to make is Gemma has a way with emotional distress. She has written it well before and has done so again here. Seeing as the villain of Grief is some sort of magical, vampire-like being (feeding off the sadness of others), you’d have to have such experience in the depression-devil to do the theme justice on paper. Gemma bares her soul, in other words (and this isn’t the first time).

Grief is a False God is an excellent novelette well worth your time. And better yet, Gemma could easily return to this story with a sequel following the daughter. Let’s hope she does, because that farm and demon left an impression on me!

Review by Aiden Merchant
contact@aidenmerchant.com
Twitter: @AidenMerchant89

I purchased this book myself for review.

[Review] – Obliquatur Voluptas

By Death’s Head Press

Maybe Death’s Head Press can corroborate, but I believe that Obliquatur Voluptas is Sumerian for “this is some f’ed up sh*t.” 

This is the last anthology review from the Death’s Head Press bundle (thank you!) sent to me from DHP.  It’s a collection of erotic horror stories, which I’ve never tried (unless you count Barker’s Books of Blood?).  Nevertheless, I was looking forward to reading some stories that would both scare me AND turn me on. *note* If you read this on your lunch break at work, you will have an added layer of fear:  that one of your coworkers will do a little shoulder surfing while you read. I don’t need that. My coworkers ALREADY think I’m weird.

The anthology swings for the fence on the first pitch: a novelette by Wrath James White and Monica J. O’Rourke. These two are absolute titans of the extreme horror movement and have written tons of great stuff. Seek out The Resurrectionist by Wrath and Suffer the Flesh by Monica. I should also mention that they collaborated for the excellent duology, Poisoning Eros. Their entry in this one, “Chinara,” isn’t quite as good as what I’ve come to expect from them, but is still a strong introduction to the anthology.  However, the real highlights for me were:

“Ministrations” by Michael Patrick Hicks. Excellent revenge story.

“It Only Comes if You Want It” by Alex Gonzalez. A horror-filled coming-of-age sexual allegory. Very unique

“My Doll Likes to Eat” by Ralph Robert Moore, a horror themed satire on parasitic relationships.  Bizarre, yet relatable.

Despite the strength of these four stories, there were also 13 other stories that did not resonate with me.  Perhaps erotic horror isn’t for me? I’m not sure. Regardless, it was fun to try something new.

Grade:  C

Amazon link for Obliquatur Voluptas

Review by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter: @pinheadspawn

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

[Review] – Little Paranoias

By Sonora Taylor

4.5 Stars – I initially put this at 4 stars – but after taking the time to actually write this review – I realized that 4 wasn’t enough – so 4.5 is rounded up for the sake of Goodreads and Amazon.

This was an absolutely wonderful collection of short stories and the perfect way to start off 2020 with my #LadiesFirst20 selection.

There were 20 stories in roughly 140 pages. The formatting and flow of the book was nice and felt different than most collections I have read, in that there were five 20+ page stories and the rest were very short stories or pieces of flash fiction. Most of these were two pages or less. So it was really broken up nicely.

I spoke with a couple of Twitter friends upon starting this. Their favorite story was “Weary Bones”, they actually told me this after I had read it, liked it, but kinda moved on and hadn’t thought a ton about it. One friend actually said it was their favorite short story, like ever. So guess what, I went back and read it again. It really is a beautiful story, and while I really liked it, I don’t think I can say that it was my favorite.

Ones that really stood out to me:

“Weary Bones” – We all get a second chance at life when we die, but we come back as skeletons. The second life wears out its welcome with the first lifers, and the skeletons are treated as second class citizens eventually sent to the cemeteries to live. Our lead, Brandon spends his life caring for these second lifers. It’s a very touching, “hit you in the feels” story.

“Always In My Ear” – Two girls/women have a secret. They are bffs, they do everything together, even murder. Their opinions on how to move forward in this technologically advancing world begin to differ.

“Cranberry” – Body image story. Haunting in its own right. That’s all I am gonna say.

“Quadrapocalypse” – Cool rendition of an end of the world apocalypse scenario. One of our characters is trapped in a train tunnel and another is watching it all happen from her high rise apartment. Is this a prequel to “Seed”?

“Hollow” – Creepy little doll story.

“Stick Figure Family” – Super short story based on those car decals you see everywhere, but twisty as hell – freaky in an almost funny sort of way.

“Hearts Are Just “Likes”” – a loose reinterpretation of a Poe story for the modern world. You are reading this yeah? bet you are on other social media, yeah? – We all love those hearts… Some might even kill for them.

“Salt” – I am starving now.

“Seed” – followup to Quad? Great story – delves deep into solitude and loneliness and having the courage to let somebody in again. HOT love scene. Seriously, HOT.

So if I had to say, my favorite short short was “Stick Figure Family”. My favorite longish story was “Seed”, or maybe “Weary Bones”.  

Review by Kevin Whitten

Twitter: @wellreadbeard
Video review on: Well Read Beard’s Youtube Channel

I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration.

[Review] – All The Things We Never See

By Michael Kelly

Kelly’s All the Things We Never See is a compelling collection of unsettling short stories. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this collection was the quick-read literary snack I was looking for.  It is filled to the brim with everything from haikus to one-pagers to chapter length yarns. Stories range from the horrors of the human condition such as apathy, greed, and loneliness, to ghosties and ghouls from other worlds. It was nigh impossible to pinpoint a singular theme throughout this collection, but that is precisely what makes it so enjoyable to read; with the turn of each page new horrors lie in wait. Reading each of the unique stories within All the Things We Never See one after another leaves you unnerved like that mysterious chill that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  You can’t quite pinpoint what it was that unsettled you, but you most assuredly know that you are.

The opening story in this collection, “The Face That Looks Back At You”, Kelly introduces us to a couple whose relationship is on thin ice, and follow them along as the cracks build and build until they lose themselves within it; the result of their apathy is a self-imposed and inescapable prison. Aside from the obvious visuals, the underlying terror found within this tale lay hidden  in the horrors of unspoken truths, miscommunication, isolation, and losing sight of oneself within the context of a relationship. One never knows what secrets someone may be keeping.

“October Dreams” was my personal favourite within the collection.  This very short story threw a one-two punch at the dead center of my soul. In the beginning I found myself relating to the imaginative young girl, only to be dragged through the mud and my wildest fears realized by the very end.  It’s a subtle little message, but a strong one! The titular story, “All the Things We Never See,” follows Susanna as she searches for her missing husband after finding bizarre discarded notes; we join along as Susanna experiences a shift from her usual jaded, privileged viewpoint and begins to view life from a new perspective finding mystery and intrigue in the familiar. (Plus, what’s not to love about a story which mentions mythological mole-people in the subways?!)

To summarize any more of these narratives would be robbing the reader of a wonderfully weird reading experience. Kelly manages to employ many well-known horror tropes, and yet executes them with new, refreshing perspectives. I loved the rollercoaster-like experiences of the slow-burn as the stories ascend to the top and then immediately upon reaching the climax would hit the sudden death drop. Interspersing the haiku between everything else was a bit jarring yet also quite fitting in a collection of stories that often focus on upsetting the balance of things. At the risk of referencing cliche movie quotes, reading this collection was a bit like opening a box of chocolates; you just never know what you’re going to get. Although All the Things We Never See might not be every reader’s taste, it was certainly the delicious literary snack I was looking for in between my current TBR stack of hefty novels.

 Review by Ellen Avigliano
Twitter: @imaginariumcs
Instagram: @thejackalopes.warren

I received a paperback from the publisher for review consideration.

[Review] – Till The Score Is Paid

By Gemma Amor

There has been a lot of discussion in the horror community lately about trigger warnings contained in books labelled as horror.  Whatever side of the fence you may fall on, Gemma Amor’s introduction serves as an establishment of theme, as well as notifying readers that potentially troubling subjects will be covered in the stories they are about to read.  Amor gives us enough warning that any reader who find themselves wanting to avoid spoilers can get out before they arrive and skip right to the stories.

Personally, I loved the introduction. It caused me to think a little bit deeper about everything I was reading as I went through the collection.  There are supernatural elements in some and hints sprinkled here and there in others, but the stories as a whole are very down-to-earth, and very human. Gemma Amor’s illustrations accompanying each story also add a very much appreciated personal touch, and give every entry their own unique character.

“Have You Seen My Dog?” is a strong opening story which makes us think: if we have a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, are they restored when they pass?  On the surface it’s a frightening story, inducing paranoia in the reader who waits for a surprise around every bend.

“Justine” was my favorite story in the collection. This is one of the prime reasons for the introduction Amor wrote, and although I’ve never personally experienced the events the titular character goes through, it’s all too easy to empathize with her plight. The vivid imagery contained on the character’s trip through hell was exceptionally well-detailed and conceived.

“The Strangler” was another favorite.  Again, I can only relate from an outsider’s perspective, but having known women who experience postnatal depression, reading about a tangible vision of this depression and anxiety is difficult.  Amor reaches into our chest with this one, grabs our heart, and shakes it around a bit for good measure. This is a great example of what I meant earlier when I wrote about causing me to think deeper.  This piece brought out some serious feelings in me.  I can only imagine how it might affect someone who had experienced it first-hand.

I could write a discourse on every story in this bunch.  There’s not a bad one in here, and when a story collection doesn’t have any skips, it’s pretty much an automatic 5 star for me.  It’s a rare occurrence. I will highlight some other favorites before I leave you to order it from Amazon or straight from Giles Press, though.  “Pure Water” is a quick fun read that reminded me of something from an early Stephen King story collection.  “Rat Girl” is a poignant story that gets more empathy out of the reader than the reader might expect to give up.  “Heart of Stone” covers a lot of potential themes, and I found myself examining the events of the story in a multitude of ways.

Maybe someday I’ll read something by Gemma Amor and find it worthy of less than 5 stars, but it’s not today.

5/5 stars

Review by Brennan LaFaro
@whathappensnex5

Giles Website
Till The Score Is Paid

I was given an e-book by the publisher for review consideration

[Review] – Cruel Summer

By Lucas Mangum

When I first was looking into reviewing Cruel Summer, I saw a few write-ups saying that it was inspired by Richard Laymon and his works. I’ve not read any of Laymon’s works, but I do know that there was always a gratuitous amount of T&A and overuse of the word “rump.” With the exception of “rump,” though, copious amounts of T&A always remind me of early to mid-80s slasher films, which I happen to have a soft spot for. So instead of approaching it like a Laymon homage, I envisioned this quick summer read as a sun-soaked slasher, which worked out well given the cinematic feel of the narrative.

The story begins with Willow filming a couple on the beach having sex. She has a very specific kink in that she can only enjoy herself when she’s filming those that don’t know she’s there. In the midst of filming, though, her camera captures a double homicide, complete with the murderer’s face in full view of the lens. He eventually sees her, and she rushes off into the community to escape. Her frantic running leads her to Sarah’s house, a romance author and fan of swimming naked. Sarah, seeing the camera, catches Willow under the assumption that Willow had been filming her. As Sarah and her husband decide what to do, the killer draws ever closer to their house.

What I liked most about this story is that it is truly a beach read. It’s straight-forward, quick, and fun. Though the story itself doesn’t go too deep into the characters and their backstories, it gives just enough that you can draw some conclusions with where things are heading. And despite the speedy wrap-up of the novella, I really did enjoy the ending. It’s a gory summation that aligns all the character arcs into one believable path on a secluded beach.

I’d love to see this as a short film set in the Hamptons.

3.5/5

Review by Regi Caldart
Twitter: @ignatiastrigha

I received this book from the author for review consideration.

[Review] – True Crime

By Samantha Kolesnik

When Grindhouse released the cover for True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik, it caught the attention of just about everyone in the horror community. Seriously, it’s a thing of genius. Go ahead, scroll back up and look. I’ll wait. 

No matter how good the cover, the blurb from Brian Keene, and the synopsis are leading you to believe this book is, it’s better. 

True Crime focuses on Suzy, and sets the tone for what she’s been forced to live with up to this point by page 5. It’s not easy to wade through, and it doesn’t get any more palatable as it goes. At its’ heart, this book tells the story of a broken human being. Two kids that have been driven to become monsters, and never had a chance. 

At various points throughout the story Suzy, and her brother Lim, make choices that don’t make sense to the reader. Rather than try to put myself in the mindset it might to take to make a similar choice, I accepted that the characters I was following had been dealt a broken moral compass by circumstances in life, and this was not something I’d be able to understand. Honestly, comprehending this concept broke my heart. Littered throughout the book, Samantha Kolesnik provides some creative and telling examples and demonstrations of Suzy’s lack of self worth. 

At 143 pages, this is hypothetically a book you could read all the way through in one go, but it’s simply so unrelenting, I needed to put it down around the midway point and digest. It’s fascinating to observe how Kolesnik deals with opportunities for redemption and change, and the character study contained within these pages is of the highest degree of quality. 

I anticipate, and sincerely hope, that True Crime is going to be one of the most well-received books of early 2020. If you have not yet pre-ordered a copy, do so immediately. Despite the fact that this book has yet to officially come out as of this writing, I am champing at the bit for the next offering from Samantha Kolesnik. 

5/5 stars

Review by Brennan LaFaro
brennan.lafaro@gmail.com
Twitter: @whathappensnex5

I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration.