Thursday, December 31, 2020


"A ghost is something that fills a hole inside you, where you lost something. It's a memory. Sometimes it can be painful, and sometimes it can be scary. Sometimes it's hard to tell where the ghost ends and real life begins."
The best work in the horror genre is usually described as stories that use the terrifying, sometimes supernatural qualities of the genre to highlight and comment on the emotional turmoil that the characters go through and more real-world, personal horror. In the best horror tales, these scary elements are just a delivery system for the character work. This impressive collection illustrates this idea the best. 

The stories here feature disillusioned waitresses, lonely little boys, grieving parents, and widowers refusing to let go, and mix them with vampires, werewolves, fallen angels, Nazis, and other monsters to tell moody stories that are equal parts skin-crawling and deeply emotional. Sometimes the horror is very overt and other times extremely subtle, but each story has a strong effect, with my favorites being: “The Monsters of Heaven,” “The Good Husband,” “Sunbleached,” and “Wild Acre.”


FUGITIVE RED by Jason Starr

Noir is sometimes defined by the terrible decisions that the loser "heroes" make. In the latest book by crime author Jason Starr, this protagonist stands out, making some of the dumber decisions I've read in a while. But that's not a terrible thing as it was fun reading about this dumbass flounder with every decision he tries to make, digging himself deeper and deeper into the shit after he tries to spice up his love life by cheating on his wife on a dating app and then subsequently getting caught up in a murder plot. 

It's an entertaining, if modest, thriller that takes interesting turns and moves at a great pace. But it doesn't really go far with its drama, chickening out at the end and missing exciting opportunities to take advantage of its cool twists in favor of a disappointingly tidy ending. It was all a little too safe and I wish it was a bit more courageous in its choices. 


Tuesday, December 8, 2020

SAYING UNCLE by Greg Gifune

"The truth. Everybody wants the truth. Problem is nobody ever knows what to do with it once they get it."
I don’t mean to presume to know anything about author Greg Gifune personally, but out of the work that I’ve read from him, this full-length novel feels the most personal. Maybe it’s not autobiographical per se, but the writing heat has a tragic familiarity that really struck me. Maybe that’s simply just a testament to how talented the guy truly is. 

Telling parallel stories of a man returning to his childhood home after the death of an estranged uncle as well as the summer that changed his family forever in a wave of violence and tragedy, the book slowly reveals not only its secrets but also the heart on its sleeve, culminating in a resolution so mournful you can almost feel the tears on the page. 
I am her child, her baby, and she is my mother, and yet, in this odd territory between reality and dreams, we're the same. The blind mice reaching desperately through darkness for some sense of the divine and all the promises such a destination surely holds.

Friday, November 13, 2020

SUMMER FROST by Blake Crouch

If you loved Blake Crouch’s recent novels, Dark Matter and Recursion, there’s a great chance you’ll enjoy his latest novella. Focused on the discovery of a minor, non-playable open-world game character that gains independence and explores her world, the book is smart, speculative science fiction that explores the increasingly fickle idea of what it means to be human. 

Although the danger of AI with a growing awareness has been told many times before, it’s still told well here, using the story to present interesting looks at gender identity and how what we see as life isn’t that much dissimilar to a computer program. It’s all well-conceived with clever twists, by an author still at the top of his game. 


Thursday, November 5, 2020

GREENER PASTURES by Michael Wehunt

“You ready to go into the mouth? It goes far and maybe all the way to forever.”
I wanted to read a collection of good horror stories during the Halloween season and while this wet my palette, I was also treated to some of the best writing that I’ve seen during my reading this year! While each story in here is undoubtedly horror, there’s a poetic, romantic tone to the prose, giving the stories a texture and a weight that I haven’t seen in a while in the genre. 

While the stories do vary based on subject, there are common themes throughout, themes like transformation, as in the best stories in the collection:  

“Deducted From Your Share of Paradise,” about a town’s obsession with a group of fallen angels, with this opening line:
The women fell from the sky, silhouetted as dying eagles against the sunset. They struck the huddled trailers of Twin Firs and buckled thin ceilings, the sound of their impacts like God drumming His fingers on the earth. 
and “A Discreet Music,” about a widower’s journey toward something beyond grief. 

Another running theme is the burden of loss, as seen in the devastating breakup in “The Inconsolable” or the breakdown of a marriage in “Dancers.”  Other stories veer into pure cosmic horror territory that sneaks under your skin but they all have the same urgent lyricism that I’m excited to see in more of Wehunt’s work. 


Tuesday, October 27, 2020

MY PRETTIES by Jeff Strand

I thought I knew what I was getting into when I cracked open My Pretties, but holy shit was I wrong. I expected a straight-forward serial killer thriller-diller, and while the book is that on a basic level, it is constantly surprising. It’s about two waitresses orbiting a depraved serial killer who gets his kicks off observing brunettes starving to death in cages. But the story took me in directions that I have never expected. I don’t want to go into details and spoil the discoveries so this review won’t be that long. But you should read it and see how deep the depths of depravity goes! I should have known that this book would be something else entirely because of the endlessly exciting author behind it, who’s anything but generic. 


Monday, October 12, 2020

THE HOUSE ON ABIGAIL LANE by Kealan Patrick Burke

There is something terribly wrong at 56 Abigail Lane.

The seemingly unremarkable house is now infamous due to a large number of unexplainable events that have occurred there and this novella details its mysterious history; yet another attempt to unlock its secrets. Much of this book's effect comes from its cold, academic tone, as if we were reading an impersonal thesis paper researching the subject and its 60-year history. It adds to the creepy factor because it presents these hair-raising events without emotion and it feels almost like watching a documentary.

I was home, in the dark, but not alone. The living room was a conspiracy of shadows and among them I could hear a man speaking backwards in a low voice.

I love how subtle much of the horror feels. Instead of floating ghosts or monsters chasing characters down the stairs, we get small occurrences, like mysterious disappearances, weird sounds, and creepy figures staring out of windows. It's enough to definitely raise some goosebumps. It's also impressive the way that Burke weaves American history in with the house's legacy, and the horror moves right along with it, giving us different lenses through which to study the house in each era, from the 1960's to present day. 

Another home run by a consistent author and a great way to kick off Halloween season!

We stepped over the threshold of an ordinary house in an ordinary neighborhood and over the threshold of modern knowledge. It is not a place steeped in old evil. It's a calamity of physics. There's a fissure, a gaping cosmic wound, a door to places we can't begin to fathom.


Monday, September 28, 2020


This book is dressed in the trappings of a mystery novel, following the heinous murder of two little girls in a tiny town in the Ozarks. But at its heart, it’s a thoughtful, moody tragedy where we witness a mother work out her grief while dedicating herself to finding her daughter’s killer. 
Little girls were never safe. I should know; I used to be one of them.
A reviewer described this book as Sharp Objects meets Winter’s Bone, which is a pretty accurate description, but I’ll also add that it also has the atmosphere of Mystic River, and that’s pretty high praise indeed. More than just a murder mystery, it’s also an exploration of grief and a sharp critique of the unfair expectations of women during times of mourning. All of this is written with real skill and a memorable, complex protagonist in Eve Taggert. But the most fascinating thing about this story is its look at the legacy of motherhood. Eve resents her abusive mother and knows that she’s responsible for much of the hardship in her life, but at the same time, Eve knows that the hard darkness in her mom might be the only thing that could lead Eve to any sort of justice. It’s a challenging tale of morality and retribution and is the best book I’ve read so far this year. 
The baby snuffled a little, burrowing against her chest, seeking. She had the sudden urge to pinch her daughter, show her, right from the start, that the world was full of ugly things.

Monday, August 17, 2020


Two life-long friends hide out in a tiny survival bunker after the world gets taken over by mutant zombies. There's blood, madness, and lots of guts and body parts. But there's also casual sex, cans of beans, and it's also funny as hell. Not only must our heroes struggle with now being friends with benefits, but also with how the hell to survive this. 

This is a story that could only come from the mind of Jeff Strand and is suitably entertaining. But it doesn't balance the tone as well as his more successful books and leans a little too much on the jokey side of things, where it lost some of its urgency. But it's still a laugh-out-loud read that will be a good way to spend an afternoon!


Monday, August 10, 2020


At first glance on the surface, S.A. Cosby’s new novel is your run-of-the-mill crime tale. It focuses on a talented getaway driver who’s gotten out of the crime life to become a dedicated family man and mechanic and is pulled back in for another heist once the bills start piling up. You might think that you’ve read something like this before and you’d be correct. This story has been written before, but the big difference is that I doubt that it was written with such heart and soul. This is a standout, breakout novel that not only is impeccably paced and completely entertaining, but it also dives deep into character, creating a protagonist and a supporting cast that linger long after the last page.

Beauregard Montage is a great protagonist, a man struggling to reckon with his past and with his unexplained abandonment by his father, and a man whose desire to make a better life for his children comes into conflict with his suspicions that he can never outrun his violent life and criminal tendencies. Beauregard carries the story, but every other character is just as well-drawn, whether it was the sleazy brothers Reggie and Ronnie or even the unseen but just as impactful character of Beauregard’s long-gone father. 

Anchored by confident writing and well-conceived, riveting action and car chase scenes, this is a quick, entertaining read that should launch S.A. Cosby as a must-read crime writer.


Tuesday, July 21, 2020


Lee Thompson seems to be an author who is constantly challenging himself, dabbling in a
variety of genres, and forcing himself to explore difficult themes with increasing ambition. He reminds me a little of Walter Mosley in that way. That alone makes him an exciting writer worthy of notice. He's written respected work in horror, dark supernatural, mystery, and inner-city crime drama. I wouldn't be surprised if he dabbled in some erotica next. With this novel, The Lesser People, he tackles a coming-of-age historical drama, and racism in rural Mississippi. It's about a dying old man who tells the story of the dark days when he was a child and discovered the body of a lynched and mutilated young black boy in the woods. This discovery not only haunts him but causes a chain reaction that threatens to destroy his innocence and break apart his town and his family. 
His eyes were filling with tears, and I knew he was going to tell me a story about the love that got away, for as strong as men try to appear, it's love like that and all the questions it brings, that hounds them until their final day.
Thompson's work walks that jagged line of being both staggeringly brutal and beautifully touching, as if he believes that those two facets are two sides of the same old coin; you can't have one without the other. That's what I like the most about his work and that characteristic is still on display here. And although this book has some of the best prose that I've read from Thompson so far, this one wasn't as all-out enjoyable as the other books I've read by him. It sports a great beginning and an emotional ending that really brought everything together in a great way, but much of the middle of the novel gradually lost much of the story's urgency and momentum. But that ending definitely made up for it. 

I can feel that there's a true masterpiece or six in Lee Thompson's mind that's just boiling, ready to jump out. And who knows, there's still some work of his that I haven't read so maybe they're just sitting there waiting for me. And if they haven't popped up yet, his work is still awesome enough that I'm having a great time witnessing his journey to get there. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

TRUE CRIME by Samantha Kolesnik

Everyone called you sweet before they defiled you. A virgin was nothing if not ripe for the teeth.
This shocking debut novella follows a young girl named Suzy and her brother Lim, on a killing spree after escaping their abusive mother. It's an intense character piece exploring what might lead to the creation of a sociopath like Suzy. With staggering and powerfully insightful prose, Author Samantha Kolesnik is unflinching, pulling absolutely no punches here, forcing us to go on this journey with Suzy and to have some sort of relative empathy for her. 
I wondered how the world made its villains and why it never apologized for making them.
Featuring a protagonist that’s a killer with very little remorse is a tricky line to walk, but in my opinion, Kolesnik really pulls it off. I felt her connection to her brother, which is not exactly love, but a primal bond of mutual understanding and protection. I saw that pain is the only true feeling she could recognize and I understood that seeing the desperation and survival instinct in other victims was the only thing she could relate to. Although it’s disheartening and uncomfortable, I found myself understanding her pain and inner corrosion and by the second half of the book, hoping that at some point the little girl inside the damaged shell would have a chance to come out and be free. 
When people prayed to God, I wondered, were they praying to Him or were they praying to me? I couldn't quite see a difference in that moment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

DETOUR by Martin M. Goldsmith

A violinist named Alexander Roth is hitching rides across the country on his way to Los Angeles to be with his actress girlfriend and gets waylaid along the way by unfortunate circumstances. This essential, classic noir stands out because of its strong writing. Many of the pulp novels back then, because of their quick turn out, felt hastily written, but this one really feels like a little more time was taken to craft the work. Another thing that stands out and that I expect felt different back then was the parallel storytelling, jumping back and forth between Roth's predicament and the story of his girl Sue and her life in Hollywood as a struggling actress. I loved the way the twists in each story revealed themselves and what they meant for the other plotlines. I wish there was a little more substance to Sue's story beyond her pining for love though. But with a cool plot, good writing, a ruthless fatale, and doom-filled atmosphere, this one should definitely be included on any noir bookshelf!


Tuesday, June 9, 2020


When I was kid, I went through Hurricane Marilyn in the Virgin Islands and when it got really bad in the night, I hunkered down with my parents, grandparents, and sister in my grandparents’ guest bathroom as the hurricane raged outside. It was one of the scariest times in my life. This truly unsettling novella brought back many of those memories, as it takes place completely in a bathroom after a Texas family finds refuge there when a major storm comes through their town.

The story starts off tame enough, with a little tension between the family and discomfort with the conditions. But soon, things get more surreal and more terrifying. As the time in the bathroom crawls on, Booth’s writing provides a palpable unease where I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t. I don’t want to get into too many details as it’s best to go in blind so that the events in here have maximum impact, but I read most of this with a real sense of dread as I began to feel the claustrophobia, smell the odors, and, once things started to go truly bonkers, I began to read all of it with bulging eyes. 

Did any of this really happen in the story? Some of it might have. Some of it might not. Based on how horrifying this was, I would hope it was all just a bad nightmare for the main character. But deep down, I feel like I know the truth.
it’s going to be okay it’s going to be okay it’s going to be okay it’s going to be okay it’s going to be okay it’s going to be okay

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

THE LANTERN MAN by Jon Bassoff

This creative and fascinating novel blends murder mystery, horror, small-town rural legends, and family secrets into a highly satisfying tale coming in just over 200 productive pages. It tells the story of a small-town detective named Russ Buchanan driven to reopen the cases of recent violence in his Colorado town, including the fire-suicide of a girl named Lizzy Greiner. As Buchanan investigates, the story is told with a variety of narrative conventions, including Lizzy's journal, Buchanan's footnotes, articles, photographs, etc. All of this provides an absorbing tapestry that builds as the story unfolds.
"I was not looking for a confession. I only wanted her soul to be freed."
It was awesome getting sucked into this short novel. The epistolary and multiple-point-of-view style it's presented in makes everyone an unreliable narrator and you never quite know what's true and what's not as you're reading. And while it has elements of horror and crime, it ultimately tells a story that shows the tragic disintegration of a family and tackles mental health issues like depression and obsession. The author's innovative style lends an interesting mood throughout the novel and a tense, uneasy reading experience. This is my second novel by author Jon Bassoff and while it couldn't be any more different than the first one I read, it's further proof of how much of a singular talent he is.
"It's only flesh my darling. And flesh is meant for the fire."


Wednesday, May 20, 2020


After falling in love with Jeff Strand's work on a number of his novels and novellas, and really appreciating his witty, dauntless, irreverent charm, I should've known that his style would be perfectly suited for short stories. This collection happens to be pure Strand, all guns blazing and zero fucks given, which is everything that we want from the author. He hits the reader with stories about a conscious soft drink with a bone to pick, fingernails that grow at a dangerous rate, murderous bathtub drains, and middle school serial killers. As always with Strand, there's a great mix of horror, the profane, and jet-black comedy that is a style all his own, with some stories even totally breaking the fourth wall with complete awareness that they're stories. But then, he can turn it all around and write a tear-jerking autobiographical story about the death of his dad.

Although, the majority of stories here are enjoyable, my favorites happened to be in the first half, including "Cry," a really original tale about an emotionless man who goes to extreme lengths to cry, including rubbing habanero peppers in his eyes,  "The Tipping Point," about a date night taking a violent turn for the worst, "Fair Trade," where an adulterer must face the consequences, and both "John Henry, the Steel Drivin' Man" and "The Eggman Falleth," stories that tell the untold stories behind the John Henry folktale and the Humpty Dumpty poem.

Jeff Strand once again proves to be a natural-born storyteller in a class all his own, and his work is so consistently entertaining. He's quickly becoming one of my favorite writers and this collection further proves that he can tell a story about anything.


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

NUDE ON THIN ICE by Gil Brewer

Pulpy tagline: “A red-hot hellcat in the frozen night—and murder on the prowl!”

Yep. It’s another potent cocktail of greed and lust by noir master Gil Brewer! This one stars one of his most sleazy protagonists, a womanizer and scam artist who drops the ladies he uses like a bad habit and skips out on the hotel bills. After an old friend dies, Ken McCall concocts a plan to seduce his widow and take her for all the money he left behind for her. But a wrench is thrown in his plans in the form of a pretty young thang named Justine who steals his heart and has plans of her own as well.
"My father. I always called him Daddy. He was the first. He was the only one, other than you."
This is a pretty standard pulp novel for Brewer, but what really makes it memorable is how truly crazy the entire cast of characters is. And if you've read Brewer's other books, that’s really saying a lot! Once you get to Justine's kinky daddy issues and all the ruthless blackmail and double-crosses, you’ll find yourself actually rooting for that poor asshole McCall!
I suddenly wanted to leave this house, fast. I didn't, though. Somehow you never do. It's so damn easy to ignore wisdom when it whispers.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

UNIDENTIFIED by Michael McBride

It should be no surprise that I once again really enjoyed a novella by Michael McBride. The author really knows how to entertain, engage, and frighten with a well-molded story. Its set-up has elements that recall Stephen King's IT but obviously much more compressed at less than a hundred pages. It tells parallel stories of childhood friends when they're younger and 40 years later, confronting an inexplicable terror that slowly revealed as the story progresses. It's tight and efficient, and suitably creepy. It's definitely not as effective or as memorable as other works like Sunblind or Snowblind, but  I definitely recommend this as a quick read.


Tuesday, April 7, 2020


There was a place where all light tends to go, and I reckon that was heaven.
After reading The Line That Held Us, I was stunned by David Joy's writing and I wanted to read more of his work. I decided to go back to the beginning and, wow, what a fantastic debut novel! Joy is now, to me, an author that demands to always be on the must-read list. His work isn't merely country crime or grit-lit. There's something else going on here.

The novel is told from the point of view of Jacob McNeely, a young man growing up in his father's North Carolina meth ring business, resigned to his lot in life. But the aftermath of a brutal murder and the rekindling of an old flame force him to consider the fact that he has other options and can change his life.
Blood's thicker than water and I was drowning in it. I was sinking down in that blood, and once I hit bottom, no one would find me.
I was surprised by how little the book focused on the murder or the crystal meth business. For a crime novel, very little time is spent on the actual big crimes. Instead, the focus is all on Jacob as a character and his struggle to change his legacy. It's a sad, mournful novel that's emotionally resonant and beautifully written by David Joy, with a terrific and fitting conclusion. Jacob's feeling of helplessness in his situation touched me, as well as his awakening and eventual dreams of escaping this life. There's a running theme in the book about what it means to be a man and the virtues of being  "hard," with Jacob's father constantly saying that Jacob is weak. I found Jacob to be much more of a man than his dad was, with his self-awareness and honesty being the virtues that truly mean something.
Some souls aren't worth saving, I thought. There're some souls that even the devil wants no part of.

Friday, March 20, 2020

MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite

This debut novel follows Korede, a nurse who, after helping her sister Ayoola dispose of her third dead body, is now beginning to discover that Ayoola might be a serial killer. I love how efficient the writing here proved to be: the short, clipped chapters, the bare, no-nonsense prose that gets right down to business with character development, and the nimble and direct first-person narration all led to a speedy, effective read. Not only is it an entertaining little thriller but it also develops both lead characters in effective ways and is also an astute look at this particular sibling relationship. The one big thing I think is lacking is a full arc for Korede. In the end, I wish that there was more of a complete journey for her. The ending felt a bit meager and anti-climactic in regards to character. But I enjoyed the writing so much that I'm excited to see what Braithwaite does next.


Monday, March 2, 2020


Many of these aren't stories in the traditional sense. They are mere portraits, moody snapshots, fragments of broken lives, each one sharp and dirty with rust. They're short, bold, uncompromising pieces that pummel you in various ways, leaving you stunned. Basically, the kind of short fiction that I adore. Even though they're unconventional, they are all still highly engaging and satisfying. This is a collection of some of the most original stories I've read in a while.

I was extremely impressed by the creative talent shown here, whether it's the chronicling of a "Twenty Dollar Bill" as it travels a grimy and depressing journey, the look at fight clubs as a new form of criminal justice in "Victimized," a bizarrely sad take on the author's fate in "Stephen King Ate My Brain," after an encounter with the titular author, a dark, uncomfortable "Interview" for a babysitting job, or a twisted take on the choose-your-own-adventure story in "Splintered."
Every time she looked at me, she saw him, our son, that generous boy, and it was another gut punch bending her over, another parting of her flesh, and I was one of the thousand, and my gift to her now was my echo.
If you like work that focuses on building atmosphere and tone, work that sinks under your skin and lingers way past reading, then buy this and dive in. I can't wait to read more from Richard Thomas. I've been reading many great short story collections in recent years, with very clever and fascinating writing. But I have to say that Thomas's work is definitely some of the most exciting and stands out in the crowd.

Friday, February 7, 2020

CYCLOPS ROAD by Jeff Strand

Jeff Strand is not only one of the most idiosyncratic writers working but he’s also one of the most dependable. I found this latest book to be a real treat. Strand is capable of giving us terrifying material with graphic images that linger and also finding a perfect blend of comedy and terror. No matter how silly they seem, all his books have a true heart and a potent sense of creativity and this story is no different.

It’s about a recent widower stumbling into a mysterious young woman who claims to be fulfilling her destiny and hunting a deadly cyclops and who takes him on an adventure of a lifetime across the country. It was laugh-out-loud funny, equal parts sad and hopeful. It’s a story of friendship and of taking a leap of faith. There’s a running question throughout whether the cyclops is real or not. But you’ll find yourself not caring because it truly is about the journey and the friendships that are made.
What a nutzo way to die, huh? Not that it’s a competition, but my demise is going to be far more spectacular than my wife’s.


Friday, January 24, 2020

THE HANDLE by Richard Stark

*Book 8 of the Parker Series*

This book had a lot to live up to after the last installment, The Seventh, which I thought was the best Parker book to date. So maybe I'm not being fair when it comes to my opinion. But this one was just... alright. I can see myself easily forgetting this in a few weeks. To be honest, it's not at all terrible, it's just a bunch of ideas we've already seen before in other books. Parker gets a job, has doubts, forms a team, fucks a girl, discovers some obstacles along the way, and then must deal with the heist falling apart. But what really bummed me out was how boring and anticlimactic the resolution was. Oh well, on to the next one.