<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FICTION REVIEWS]]>Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:47:34 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[A LONG DECEMBER BY RICHARD CHIZMAR]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2017 11:35:46 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/a-long-december-by-richard-chizmarBY ADRIAN SHOTBOLT 
'A Long December' by Richard Chizmar is a huge book! A novella and 30+ short stories means that you get some serious bang for your buck! As I do with anthologies and short story collections, when I've finished the book I look back through the story titles and see just how much I can remember. It is testament to the quality of the storytelling here that many of the tales included can be considered good to excellent. In fact, I don't believe there were any that didn't elicit some sort of emotion or enjoyment.
Chizmar's prose is very easy to digest. He has a wonderful narrative voice that is almost conversational in tone at times. It is as if you are propped up at a bar or sat around a camp fire listening to his stories and it is a style I really enjoy. I'd call Richard Chizmar a natural storyteller in the way that you're captivated by his stories from the first page. His characters are life-like and believable, you probably know somebody yourself just like them!

'A Long December' covers a variety of genres and perhaps the great Stephen King sums up Chizmar's tales best of all in the blurb where he describes them as "terrific stories served with a slice of disquiet pie". Certainly, opening story 'Blood Brothers' typifies the sort of journey you're about to take. It is brilliant and was one of my favourites in the collection. It is the story of two brothers who chose very different paths in life. When one of them returns home seeking money to get him out of a hole a meeting takes an unexpected twist, and in true Chizmar style the rug is pulled from under your feet. To go through every story would take too long so I will just pick out a couple that really worked for me. 'Ditch Treasures' was really superb. A clean-up crew on I-95 come across something truly bizarre, something otherworldly whilst working by the road side. Once again, Chizmar does a complete u-turn with this one at the end leaving you with an unusual taste inside your mouth.

'Brothers' with Ed Gorman is also superb. It's another look at the dynamics of family, and in this case two brothers who are also police officers (police officers are a regular occurrence in this book). The two couldn't be more different, one is a womanizer, whilst the other is more of an overprotective father figure. As the story progresses the relationship sours, other people are dragged into the mess and things become increasingly strained. I thought this was a great story, a sad end, but another high-quality tale.

The final story is the novella, 'A Long December', and, much like its predecessors it is an excellent tale that makes you question just how well you think you know your neighbours. A fantastic and fitting way to end a sublime collection of fiction.

'A Long December' really is a great collection of tales. It's good for getting lost in for a couple of hours or even just dipping into a couple of short stories if/when you have a break. Chizmar takes you on a journey, touches on taboo subjects, but always leaves you feeling hugely satisfied when you have finished reading. A lot of the stories feature only a couple of characters, but it's what Chizmar does with and to these characters that make his work so interesting to read. The focus of many of the stories is the relationships between people and how easily they can come apart. These are ordinary folk who are often caught up in extraordinary situations where you are never quite sure of the stories' outcomes. 'A Long December' certainly is a high-quality book, for sure. I loved it. Highly recommended.
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In 1996, Richard Chizmar’s debut short story collection, Midnight Promises, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Publishers Weekly called it “a sterling collection” while singling out “The Silence of Sorrow” as “an understated masterpiece.”

Two years later, Subterranean Press published a mini-collection from Chizmar entitled Monsters and Other Stories. In his introduction, acclaimed genre critic Edward Bryant said, “When all is said and done, this book should leave you in utter silence, giving you time and opportunity to contemplate what you just read. Tough storytelling from a tough writer; but a writer who is not calloused. Chizmar possesses a finely honed gift of empathy. With utter grace and loving kindness he’ll put you right inside the life (and soul) of the monster.”

Now, nearly two decades later, Chizmar assembles thirty-five stories, including a previously-unpublished novella, and presents us with A Long December. This massive new collection features more than 150,000 words of Chizmar’s very best short fiction and includes 8,000 words of autobiographical Story Notes.

Eerie, suspenseful, poignant, the stories in A Long December range from horror to suspense, crime to dark fantasy, mainstream to mystery.

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<![CDATA[THE GRIEF HOLE ILLUSTRATED BY KEELy VAN ORDER]]>Mon, 17 Apr 2017 12:31:34 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/the-grief-hole-illustrated-by-keely-van-order
Kaaron Warren's The Grief Hole has just won  the Best Horror Novel category in the 2016 Aurealis Awards, it's a worthy winner and a one I fully endorse.  Her novel is exceptional, and featured in my top 5 novels of last year, you can read my review of this exceptional book here.  When the book was first announced there weer a number of options available for purchasing the book in a hardback format.  One of the options was to have to included a copy of The Grief Hole Illustrated: An Artist's Sketchbook by Keely Van order. IFWG publications now have this book available as a seperate purchase.  And much like its source material this is a fascinating and gorgeously put together book.  

If you have ever wonder what goes through an artist's mind when they come up with the cover and interior artwork concepts  for a book, then this is an essential read.  

The illustrated guide tracks the passage from Keely's initial concepts right through to the final drafts of the images, aided by deeply inciteful notes that reveal the lengths  a great artist will go to find the perfect style and tone for the book, and it's not just the art that she ponders over, the development of the fonts for the cover shows that the artist really connected with this book.  
My personal favourite section of the book was the one that dealt with the development of the Sol Invictus, the books big bad guy.  When reading a story we all have a mental image in our heads about what the characters look like, however if like me you have a hard time picturing people's faces, you are often left with a character with a blank face.  

And while Keely's illustration of him doesn't actually give anything away, her drawing of him captures the spirit, desire and motivations of this most menacing monster.  
The production quality of this book is exceptional, sharp detailed prints of the original artwork reveals a lot of hidden dept to Kelly's drawings as a look inside the mind of an artist this is a fascinating read, but as a companion to deep and moving novel this is almost a required reading. 
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<![CDATA[THE RAGE OF CTHULHU BY GARY FRY ]]>Wed, 12 Apr 2017 06:24:11 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/the-rage-of-cthulhu-by-gary-fry
Lovecraft's reach and influence can still be felt almost 100 years since his death.  With new novels and anthologies hitting the shelf almost every week, the cosmic horror fan has never had so much material to choose from to satisfy their needs for adventure from the other realms.  However, as is the case with most genres, the Lovecraftian genre is filled with so many substandard works. Poor pastiches that fail to understand what source material was trying to convey, or even worse, where the author tries and fails to sound like the source material and ends being Cthulhu played by Dick Van Dyke.  

Luckily for us, there are a few writers that are capable of writing an authentic, yet original story based on the Lovecraft Mythos, Gary Fry is one such author and his novella The Rage of Cthulhu the latest in Horrific Tales fine line of premium novellas brings a new update to  Call of Cthulhu.  
George Cox, after being forced to retire from his work as a University Professor, due to a life-threatening medical condition, chooses to travel the world with his wife, and fulfil a dream that they both shared.  While on his travels he comes across a disused Foghorn station in England, that has suffered massive damage.  With his interest piqued George and his wife continue on their travels while he tries desperately to unearth the truth behind the Foghorn, and the legends of the mysterious tentacled faced being that appears to have been the cause of the damage to the Foghorn.   

The Rage of Cthulhu captures much of what made source materials so endearing.  Fry clearly understands and more importantly is respectful of Lovecraft's legacy.  This is what some people would call a slow burner story; I prefer to call it carefully plotted story designed to layer on an increasing sense of dread and fear of the unknown.  As George learns more of the legend and succumbs to both its spell and his illness the reader is treated to a smart updating of one of Lovecraft's most famous and loved stories.  Fry captures the essence of Lovecraft ably, while still allowing his own writing style to shine through, preventing The Rage of Cthulhu from becoming just another typical Lovecraftian story. 

The measured sense of dread and foreboding as the story unfolds and the way in which Fry uses George's medical problems as a mirror for the descent into madness that befalls so many of Lovecraft's protagonists is handled with a deft touch.  George's condition allows Fry to explore the unreliable narrator approach with great success.  This is George's story, and this made evident by the limited character development of the subsidiary characters of the book, even George's wife is painted with broad narrative strokes.  That's not to say that this is a bad thing, as this approach allows the story to focus on George and journey into mythical madness, and Fry's development of George as a character is strong enough for anchor point of the story.  

The Rage of Cthulhu is a worthy entry in Lovecraft mythos, one that retains the essence of the source material while allowing Fry to add is own unique and strong voice to the story.  A dark and brooding novella that evokes the sense of dread and despair that is required from a Mythos story with great success.  



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When George Cox chances upon a disused foghorn station on the English coast, he wonders what could have been big enough to cause so much damage to it. His investigations take him and his wife all around the world, tracking down stories about an ancient creature rumoured to have occupied the planet hundreds of thousands of years ago. 

Even if such a creature existed, it had to be dead now, hadn’t it? At any rate, it couldn’t be haunting George’s dreams. It couldn’t be summoning him from its immense grave. But the closer George comes to the truth, the more he learns that all the travel guides lack one vital piece of information: In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming

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<![CDATA[BEHOLD THE VOID BY PHILIP FRACASSI]]>Tue, 11 Apr 2017 03:40:33 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/behold-the-void-by-philip-fracassiReview by  John Boden 
Philip Fracassi painted his name on the wall last year with a fistful of wonderfully horrific novellas, Mother,  Altar and Fragile Dreams.  He lets no moss grow under his feet, or fingers I guess we should say as he now graces us with his debut collection, Behold The Void.

There are 9 stories contained here.  Some are more in the weird/cosmic horror end of the pool while others have an almost pulpy tone to them. All are wonderful. And I mean, really, if you can get Laird Barron to write your introduction, you must certainly have the goods, no?

On to the stories, We open with "Soft Construction Of A Sunset"  a wildly bizarre Dali-esque tale of a lover scorned and the brutal and surreal revenge he exacts with his newly  gained yet bizarre powers.  This is followed by "Altar," where a simple afternoon trip to the community swimming pool turns into something monstrous and vicious. "The Horse Thief" is a razor-gash of a tale concerning a thief and his fight with the Yakuza over control of a horse god's soul.

"The Baby Farmer" is a hauntingly creepy tale about a priest who is researching the local history of a serial killer and opens up a very dark and damning chapter to the story.  This one if superb.  "Mother" gives us a heart-breaking tale of a marriage dying, slowly bloating and decaying into something horrible.  Something that skitters and spins silk.  The collection ends with "Mandala" a harrowing story of boys playing on the beach when the harmless game they play becomes anything but and the circumstances escalate into a custody battle that goes beyond death and the grave.

I skipped touching on a few of these, not because they are bad in any way, but I have to leave some surprises, right?  Fracassi works in film and his style shows it. It's a lean prose but not simple. He gives you so much to pay attention to, rich and realistic characters, expansive settings and set-ups and plots that are as twisty as John Merrick's skeleton (I'm a terrible man...)  He's definitely one to place your bets on. 

Behold The Void is available from Journalstone.
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BEHOLD THE VOID is nine stories of terror that huddle in the dark space between cosmic horror and the modern weird, between old-school hard-edged horror of the 1980’s and the stylistic prose of today’s literary giants.

Revenge takes a monstrous form when a scorned lover acquires bizarre, telekinetic powers; a community swimming pool on a bright summer day becomes the setting for a ghastly nightmare of sacrifice and loss; a thief does bloody battle with a Yakuza for the soul of a horse god; a priest must solve the mystery of a century-old serial killer or risk the apocalypse; a newly-married couple discover that relationships-gone-bad can be poisonous, and deadly; a child is forced to make an ultimate choice between letting his parents die or living with the monsters they may become; and when a boy is trapped on a beach at low tide, he must face death in many forms – that of the rising water coming to consume him and the ghost of his dead mother who wants him back, reaching for him with dark, longing arms…

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<![CDATA[A STUDY IN GREY BY JOHN LINWOOD GRANT]]>Sun, 09 Apr 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/a-study-in-grey-by-john-linwood-grantby George Ilett Anderson
Slightly Supernatural Sleuthing
 
From looking at the cover of “A Study in Grey”, one would suspect that this is a tale about Sherlock Holmes. However, much like Holmes’ penchant for disguise, appearances can be very deceptive and as such he is but a background character in this solidly entertaining novella from John Linwood Grant.
 
Set during the twilight of the aforementioned detective, the story follows Captain Blake Redvers of the mysterious Section 17 of the War Department as he is tasked with protecting the realm from a potential nefarious plot to destabilise the empire. An influential and high ranking Member of Parliament has claimed he’s receiving advice from his deceased son via a series séances that he’s been attending. With storm clouds gathering on the horizon and the threat of war brewing, the government is understandably perturbed at this turn of events and seeks to find out if there are insidious forces at work behind the scenes.
 
I have to say that overall I rather liked the style of the novella. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination overtly supernatural or horrific in tone, at least to these eyes. Much like Sherlock’s presence, the supernatural is a subtle background element that intermittently weaves in and out of the story, adding an extra layer of mystery and ambiguity to the proceedings. Grant excels at painting a vivid picture of Edwardian life, rich in the culture and society of the age and peopled with characters familiar to readers of Arthur Conan Doyle and William Hope Hodgson. If sleuths, séances, psychics and subterfuge tickle your fancy then you could do a lot worse than lose yourself in this gripping and tense slow burn of a novella for a couple of hours. Good stuff!
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The Edwardian Era has begun its rot into modernity, exchanging all the virtues of Dr. John H. Watson for the vices of Captain Redvers Blake. But a case from Watson's era resurges in the present, ensnaring a high official in what may be a ring of German spies. Not any mere ring of bombs and petrol, but a ring of spiritualism and séances.

The former case was one of Holmes' failures. Despite an illustrious employer, despite Holmes' warnings, and despite a vengeful fire, a young woman married a monster and slipped beyond the Great Detective's ken. Now, she returns to his notice, hostess to the seance ring.

As England prepares for war, Sherlock Holmes and Captain Redvers Blake must solve these two entwined cases at once. 

All this, to say nothing of 427 Cheyne Walk's new residents and their role...

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<![CDATA[PRINCE OF NIGHTMARES BY JOHN MCNEE]]>Tue, 04 Apr 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/prince-of-nightmares-by-john-mcneeBy John Boden 
 
Victor Teversham is one of the world's richest men. He is not a bad man, necessarily, but a man who has done some bad things, or more accurately a man who has allowed bad things to be done to further his ventures and investments.  While on the phone one night, his wife commits suicide in the bathroom.  It is this event that starts the troubling tale squirming.

The late Josephine Teversham made a reservation for her husband at Ballador Country House Hotel in Scotland.  So, Victor is compelled to honor the request with no knowledge of why .  Research informs him and Harry (his right-hand man) that the Ballador is like no other hotel. Guests are guaranteed terrifying dreams and horrific nightmares., as well as gorgeous rooms and gourmet food.   They are proud of their "Haunted Hotel" shtick and  play it to a T...except when they aren't playing at all.  You see, something evil lives at the Ballador. It's been living there a very long time and it has a plan to get out and see the world.  A violent plan that is writ in sweat and blood and draped in dreams and grief and despair.   A plan that needs Victor Teversham.

Prince of Nightmares by John McNee is a firecracker of a novel.  Fast paced and wonderfully grim.  I would describe the imagery and tone as Hell House meets Thirteen Ghosts  as recounted by Clive Barker but with a sliver of Wall Street.  It's the fine characterization that cements it. Victor's almost humble denial of the fact that he has allowed very dark deeds to transpire in his name, his despair over the loss of his wife.  The frets of his advanced age and mortality.  There is so much going on here.  And the climax that it builds to is ferocious and not easily forgotten.

Prince Of Nightmares is available from Blood Bound Books.
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Welcome to the Ballador Country House Hotel. Nestled in the highlands of Scotland, it is unlike any other lodging. Guests can expect wonderful scenery, gourmet food, and horrifying nightmares—guaranteed. Daring travelers pay thousands to stay within the Ballador’s infamous rooms because of the vivid and frightening dreams the accommodations inspire.

Before Josephine Teversham committed suicide, she made a reservation at the hotel for her husband, Australian magnate Victor Teversham. Once he arrives at the hotel, Victor finds himself the target of malevolent forces, revealing the nightmares—and their purpose—to be more strange, personal, and deadly than anyone could have guessed.

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<![CDATA[THE GIRL FROM RAWBLOOD BY CATRIONA WARD]]>Sun, 02 Apr 2017 03:44:03 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/the-girl-from-rawblood-by-catriona-wardby Jonathan Thornton 
"The dreams are coming thick and fast. She's impatient for me now. There are no words to express it - the terrible freedom, the malice and rage. To look through her eyes is to know the dark centre of the world. I dread it and it is thrilling."
Catriona Ward's The Girl From Rawblood (2017) is a striking and powerful gothic novel. With its themes of hereditary illness, madness and death, a haunting female spectre and the central domineering presence of Rawblood itself, a crumbling, sprawling ancestral home, the book vividly evokes the tone and feel of the gothic, with loving tributes to classics of the genre from Frankenstein (1818) through to Gormenghast (1946-1959). However The Girl From Rawblood is more than an expertly executed pastiche. Ward uses the tropes and trappings of the gothic to really dig down into what makes the genre tick, exploring and exposing the genre's neuroses to discover what makes the genre so compelling after over a hundred years of gothic fiction, and why the concerns of the gothic are still resonant to us today.
Iris Villarca lives alone with her father in the family mansion Rawblood. She is the last of her line, a family cursed by tragedy and the disease Horror autotoxicus. Her father has given her a list of rules to live by to mitigate the effects of the disease - above all she must not form attachments to others, which can only end in pain and misery - but Iris breaks her father's rules and falls in love with Tom Gilmore, the son of a local farmer. As her father struggles to protect her and she fights for her freedom to choose her life, the curse of the Villarcas strikes and Iris learns about 'her', the terrifying spectre that is the true force behind the downfall of generations of her family.


Across a range of narrative voices, but always circling back to the central perspective of Iris, The Girl From Rawblood tracks the misfortunes of the Villarcas across the generations. Ward deftly weaves together a complex plot, which as it evolves creates both a sense of preordained doom reminiscent of a Nordic saga and a feeling of atavistic, primal terror. The evils of the past and the ghastly mistakes of her ancestors compound down the generations, culminating in Iris and her conflict with her father. The novel is not just an exploration of a family haunted by a terrifying spectre, but the process by which this spectre is brought into existence.


The large cast and the decades spanned by The Girl From Rawblood allow it to explore the concerns and obsessions that have shaped the gothic down the years, but very much on Ward's own terms. Sections of the book are narrated by Charles Danforth, friend and colleague of Alonso Villarca, Iris' father. As we read through his diary entries, it becomes clear that Charles and Alonso were more than just friends, and used to be lovers. Sublimated and repressed homosexual desire recur throughout gothic fiction, from J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872) to Shirley Jackson's The Haunting Of Hill House (1959). Ward is interested in exploring this sexual repression; Charles and Alonso's relationship has disintegrated because of a society that labels their orientation "degenerate". The frequent quotations of Bible verses during moments of distress show how Charles has tried to turn to religion to repent for what he sees as a sin. The book clearly shows that it is this repression, and the resulting inability of these two passionate men to process their feelings openly and healthily because of the demands of the society that they live in, which causes their relationship to curdle into destructive co-dependence.


The gothic has always had a fascination with science, with works like 'Frankenstein' born out of the dawn of new scientific understandings that threatened to upend humanity's worldview, even as it was achieved with outlandish and grisly methods. Charles and Alonso are both students of medicine, and work together on hereditary diseases in an attempt to understand the Villarca curse. The cool, rational reasoning behind their wrong-headed ideas about inheritance is contrasted with the horrific animal experimentation they carry out in Rawblood's basement. These echo the real experiments from the early years of modern medicine that inspired Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson to write horror stories. Alonso says,


"The science of life is a superb and dazzlingly lighted hall, which may be reached only by passing through a long and ghastly kitchen."


It is by this reasoning that Charles and Alonso justify their experiments. However, the modern reader will know that Alonso's theories about heredity are wrong, and that the experiments he is doing cannot give him the information he needs. Similarly, the curse that haunts the Villarcas is something supernatural, and cannot be understood by the laws of science and rationality.


The darker side of an age without medical ethics is explored during Iris's stay in a mental asylum. Insanity is a favourite theme of gothic fiction, and The mad woman in the attic is a gothic staple, but here the plight of the mentally ill is explored with sympathy, the horror coming not from any overused tropes about asylums and the mentally ill being scary, but from the horrendous abuses suffered by Iris and the other patients. Iris is heavily sedated as punishment, strapped to her bed, and worst of all subjected to experimental lobotomy treatment without her consent, all in the name of "curing" her. Again this reflects the real suffering of people committed to asylums in very recent history.


Gothic fiction developed over a period of history which saw bigger conflicts and wars, and ultimately the technological horrors and mass deaths of the two world wars. Thus the destructive potential of technology and the fear and trauma of these wars is something that worked its way into the mode. The Girl From Rawblood opens in the run up to World War I, and the spectre of the impending conflict hangs heavy over the book. Alonso decides to remove the temptation of Tom by sending him off to join the army; he returns psychologically scarred by the horrors that he has seen on the front. Part of the novel is told from the point of view of Frank Coulson, Tom's cousin, who is sent to the same asylum Iris is held at to recuperate after losing his leg in the war. The butchery of soldiers at the front is compared to the butchery of the mentally ill in the name of cures and the butchery of animals in the name of science.


As Iris's story spirals out backwards and forwards through time towards its brutal conclusion, the novel explores the anxieties, fears and horrors that have shaped gothic fiction over the years, bringing to it Ward's modern perspective. Exorcising the spectre that haunts the Villarcas involves engaging with the nightmares that have plagued the past two centuries. However the novel's powerful conclusion brings us back to focus in on the novel's central relationships, between Iris and her father and Iris and Tom. In a story in which love frequently winds up being a force for destruction and pain, it is fitting and moving that it ends by exploring the possibility of redemption through love

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For generations the Villarcas have died mysteriously, and young. Now Iris and her father will finally understand why. . .

At the turn of England's century, as the wind whistles in the lonely halls of Rawblood, young Iris Villarca is the last of her family's line. They are haunted, through the generations, by "her," a curse passed down through ancient blood that marks each Villarca for certain heartbreak, and death.
Iris forsakes her promise to her father, to remain alone, safe from the world. She dares to fall in love, and the consequences of her choice are immediate and terrifying. As the world falls apart around her, she must take a final journey back to Rawblood where it all began and where it must all end...
From the sun dappled hills of Italy to the biting chill of Victorian dissection halls, The Girl from Rawblood is a lyrical and haunting historical novel of darkness, love, and the ghosts of the past.

Please note this is the American Version of Rawblood 

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<![CDATA[​BEAUTIFUL SORROWS BY MERCEDES M YARDLEY]]>Fri, 31 Mar 2017 05:55:44 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/beautiful-sorrows-by-mercedes-m-yardleyby Joe X Young
I’m about to read a collection of short stories by Mercedes M Yardley. With my regular policy of being upfront about everything I can state that I move in such circles where her name is spoken with reverence, yet to date I have no connection with her and have never read any of her work. Obviously this is about to change, but I have concerns as I have read the foreword by P. Gardner Goldsmith. It gives such an over-the-top build-up of gushing praise to the stories and the author that I fear no one mortal could deliver on the promise. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect an over-enthusiastic stage-school mom to say about her little darling to anyone within earshot. Makes me wonder what I have let myself in for. Wish me luck


Well. I’ve now read the collection. It doesn’t fully deliver on the promise for reasons I’ll go into later, however I believe it comes as close as anyone could. I only got five stories in and was already charmed by the simplicity and mastery of the storytelling. It’s not often that I can devour a book in one sitting but Beautiful Sorrows is hard to put down.

The first story in this collection is called “Broken”. At first I was somewhat taken aback by the brevity of the story, which in all actuality is left mostly to your own making. I think the cool kids these days call it a “Flash” and this is one of the shorter ones. What it lacks in length it makes up for in the implications, how horrific they are is left up to you. It’s a fitting start to what has turned out to be a quite exceptional first collection of short stories. It didn’t leave all that much to go on as far as what Mercedes can do with longer tales, but “Black Mary” the second story in the collection, was more fully fleshed out. It’s a very familiar subject matter, that of an abducted girl dealing with the all-too-real horror of the situation. While the first story makes one think the rest out, this one has a very simple structure which although is nothing truly new, is absorbing, beautifully crafted and an indication of why Mercedes M Yardley is so highly praised. There are 27 stories in this collection, I won’t comment on all of them as it would be such an enormous task of not tripping into spoiler territory that I fear I couldn’t do it, especially when there are many stories here about which I could be wholly enthusiastic. Her reputation as a ‘Whimsical horror and urban fantasy’ writer is somewhat firmly established, many of the stories I wouldn’t class as horror, more as dipping a toe into the fantastical before plunging both legs in. I hasten to add that even staunch horror readers won’t be disappointed. It is becoming apparent that I need a thesaurus so I don’t use the word beautiful too often, but I have to face facts, the prose, even in the more horrific content, is beautiful. There’s a fairy-tale simplicity behind much of the work, no evidence of heavy-handedness or bending to public influence here, and whether it is humorous or tragic, horrific or enlightening, it all reads as if it is effortless and heartfelt.
Criticism time…

There are several stories in the collection which are just too damned short. There’s way too much good about the author’s handling of material that it’s practically shameful to see a lot of the stories not expanded upon. That’s not to say that the majority are not perfectly fine in of themselves, more that when the quality is so high the desire is to binge, indulge, let the greed take control as it’s not often enough that we get to see collections of such a calibre. Several of the stories could have been at the very least a novella, but that’s just my opinion, instead many of the stories echo the content of one of the most powerful tales ‘Show Your Bones’, as it’s what the book does, shows us the barest of truths in the most Spartan of styles in what is truly an exceptional collection.

If one’s only niggle is that the content is often too damned short then that’s about as good as it gets in a collection which is something of a privilege to have read. I am grateful to Jim and the Gingernuts of Horror for giving me the opportunity and ability to see just what is possible with the written word at its finest.
 
 
I’m about to read a collection of short stories by Mercedes M Yardley. With my regular policy of being upfront about everything I can state that I move in such circles where her name is spoken with reverence, yet to date I have no connection with her and have never read any of her work. Obviously this is about to change, but I have concerns as I have read the foreword by P. Gardner Goldsmith. It gives such an over-the-top build-up of gushing praise to the stories and the author that I fear no one mortal could deliver on the promise. It’s the kind of stuff you’d expect an over-enthusiastic stage-school mom to say about her little darling to anyone within earshot. Makes me wonder what I have let myself in for. Wish me luck.

Well. I’ve now read the collection. It doesn’t fully deliver on the promise for reasons I’ll go into later, however I believe it comes as close as anyone could. I only got five stories in and was already charmed by the simplicity and mastery of the storytelling. It’s not often that I can devour a book in one sitting but Beautiful Sorrows is hard to put down.

The first story in this collection is called “Broken”. At first I was somewhat taken aback by the brevity of the story, which in all actuality is left mostly to your own making. I think the cool kids these days call it a “Flash” and this is one of the shorter ones. What it lacks in length it makes up for in the implications, how horrific they are is left up to you. It’s a fitting start to what has turned out to be a quite exceptional first collection of short stories. It didn’t leave all that much to go on as far as what Mercedes can do with longer tales, but “Black Mary” the second story in the collection, was more fully fleshed out. It’s a very familiar subject matter, that of an abducted girl dealing with the all-too-real horror of the situation. While the first story makes one think the rest out, this one has a very simple structure which although is nothing truly new, is absorbing, beautifully crafted and an indication of why Mercedes M Yardley is so highly praised. There are 27 stories in this collection, I won’t comment on all of them as it would be such an enormous task of not tripping into spoiler territory that I fear I couldn’t do it, especially when there are many stories here about which I could be wholly enthusiastic. Her reputation as a ‘Whimsical horror and urban fantasy’ writer is somewhat firmly established, many of the stories I wouldn’t class as horror, more as dipping a toe into the fantastical before plunging both legs in. I hasten to add that even staunch horror readers won’t be disappointed. It is becoming apparent that I need a thesaurus so I don’t use the word beautiful too often, but I have to face facts, the prose, even in the more horrific content, is beautiful. There’s a fairy-tale simplicity behind much of the work, no evidence of heavy-handedness or bending to public influence here, and whether it is humorous or tragic, horrific or enlightening, it all reads as if it is effortless and heartfelt.

Criticism time…

There are several stories in the collection which are just too damned short. There’s way too much good about the author’s handling of material that it’s practically shameful to see a lot of the stories not expanded upon. That’s not to say that the majority are not perfectly fine in of themselves, more that when the quality is so high the desire is to binge, indulge, let the greed take control as it’s not often enough that we get to see collections of such a calibre. Several of the stories could have been at the very least a novella, but that’s just my opinion, instead many of the stories echo the content of one of the most powerful tales ‘Show Your Bones’, as it’s what the book does, shows us the barest of truths in the most Spartan of styles in what is truly an exceptional collection.

If one’s only niggle is that the content is often too damned short then that’s about as good as it gets in a collection which is something of a privilege to have read. I am grateful to Jim and the Gingernuts of Horror for giving me the opportunity and ability to see just what is possible with the written word at its finest.
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There is a place where sorrows pile up like snow and rest in your hair like cherry blossoms. Boys have wings, monsters fall in love, women fade into nothingness, and the bones of small children snap like twigs. Darkness will surely devour you—but it will be exquisitely lovely while doing so.

Mercedes M. Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows is an ephemeral collection encompassing twenty-seven short tales full of devastation, death, longing, and the shining ribbon of hope that binds them all together.

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<![CDATA[ALL OF THE FLESH SERVED BY TERRY M. WEST ]]>Wed, 29 Mar 2017 07:51:01 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/all-of-the-flesh-served-by-terry-m-westBY CHAD LUTZKE
 
Sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing.  If your town was nothing more than a neon-lit cluster of pizza parlors and VHS rental stores in the 80s, then you know what I’m talking about (actually, that doesn’t sound so bad right now).  But sometimes something comes along wearing the skin of something else seemingly quite familiar, only to be stripped down to reveal you haven’t actually seen this before.  For me, that skin was Terry M. West’s All of the Flesh Served.
 
When it comes to both zombie and/or post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction, I think it’s safe to say the market is embarrassingly saturated with it.  However, some can never get enough, some just feel comfortable there, and others are searching for the same doomed planet but with different tasting tropes that give a fresh flavor to the otherwise dead horse.
 
For me, All of the Flesh Served does just that--adds flavor to an increasingly bland scenario.
 
West paints an ugly (or beautiful, depending on how you look at it) dystopian world impregnated by the lies of its government, establishing values in a paranoid breed of men who are doing what they can to both survive and appease their god.  This doesn’t feel like any kind of post-apocalyptic bandwagon being jumped on but a unique world with fresh ideas and characters that are easy to root for (and despise).  Plus there’s cannibalism!    
 
While I normally stay clear of rehashing synopses in my reviews, I will say this:  Along with the cannibalism, there is action, drama, and a heavy underlying commentary on the world we live in with the author presenting an interesting “what if” scenario.
 
In the 70s, Black Sabbath wrote doom-filled anthems warning us about the dangers of war and political demons.  The 80s brought us punk rock angst as the anger went up a notch, the youth declaring war with their voice.  In 2017 Terry M. West lays down his own rebellious medium with a dark picture of the future if man can’t get along and continues to keep on the blinders.
 
All of the Flesh Served is an intelligent, fresh and tasty dish that every fan of the subgenre should consume before drinking more of the Kool-Aid.
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Any record of the 45th that does not recognize him as a prophet is propaganda and a lie. False history. The truth is with the 45th. His word is absolute for it is God's word…

Hundreds of years after the great cataclysm, the Ministry of the 45th survive in a network of scientific bunkers. The last bastion of the old holy order, the 45th are bent on rebuilding the scorched earth and eliminating God's enemies. The Ministry wages a war against the mutant topsiders that occupy the dead states of the Soviet Union of America. Defending the 45th are the Red Guard, genetically engineered soldiers who are programmed to obey through their lifebrand. Dr. Morgan is a serviceman for Unit 468 of the Red Guard. His lifebrand being medicine, Dr. Morgan is the longest surviving field medic to serve. But Dr. Morgan is a deeply conflicted man with violent fantasies that contradict his pledge to preserve life. After escaping an abduction by the topsiders, Dr. Morgan's faith is cracked. During a furlough in the high Chancellor's bunker, Dr. Morgan is hailed a hero and taken off the front lines. But he soon realizes that someone has altered his lifebrand and lifted the veil that concealed the greatest deception ever perpetrated. Dr. Morgan has just become the most dangerous man in the wastelands. And when he discovers who the real enemy is, the revelation unleashes a fury strong enough to destroy what is left of the earth. 

All of the Flesh Served is a disturbing vision of what could one day come.

Included as bonus material: the original short story that would become All of the Flesh Served: A Novella. 

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Chad lives in Battle Creek, MI. with his wife and children where he works as a medical language specialist. For over two decades, he has been a contributor to several different outlets in the independent music and film scene including articles, reviews, and artwork. Chad loves music, rain, sarcasm, dry humor, and cheese. He has a strong disdain for dishonesty and hard-boiled eggs. He has written for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Rue Morgue and Scream magazine. He is a regular contributor to Horror Novel Reviews, Halloween Forevermore and Heavy Planet. His fictional work can be found in several magazines and anthologies including his own 18-story anthology anthology, NIGHT AS A CATALYST. He has written a collaborative effort with horror author Terry M. West, THE HIM DEEP DOWN. In the summer of 2016 Lutzke released his dark coming-of-age novella OF FOSTER HOMES AND FLIES. Later in 2016, several more releases will be added to Lutzke's body of work, including his PALE WHITE coming-of-age vampire series, CAR NEX: FROM HELL THEY CAME, 47-16, A David Bowie Literary Tribute and AMERICAN DEMON HUNTERS: BATTLE CREEK with J. Thorn. Stay tuned! Chad can be found lurking the internet at the following address: www.chadlutzke.weebly.com



Check out Chad's Books on Amazon 

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<![CDATA[FINAL GIRLS BY MIRA GRANT]]>Mon, 27 Mar 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/final-girls-by-mira-grantBY TONY JONES 

“Fancy some virtual reality total emersion healing? Zombies included free of charge….”

My kindle informed me that reading Mira Grant’s latest novella “The Final Girls” was going to cost me 135 minutes of my time, having read a few of Mira’s books in the past I was happy to reacquainting myself with her new release. I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint and was an highly efficient mix of horror, speculative and science fiction. This author is particularly effective when she mashes up horror with these other genres. Great examples are the “Newsflesh” series which begins with “Feed” (2010) which has news hungry and techy brilliant teens fighting it out after a zombie holocaust. Also very entertaining is the “Parasite” series, a complex blend of hard science and horror, in which a genetically engineered tapeworm eradicates illness, but the tapeworms soon get nasty and mankind is in serious pearl. Both these sequences are great examples of what Mira can do. However, her real name is Seanan McGuire, and this highly prolific author also writes urban fantasy under that name.
 
 
My kindle informed me that reading Mira Grant’s latest novella “The Final Girls” was going to cost me 135 minutes of my time, having read a few of Mira’s books in the past I was happy to reacquainting myself with her new release. I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint and was an highly efficient mix of horror, speculative and science fiction. This author is particularly effective when she mashes up horror with these other genres. Great examples are the “Newsflesh” series which begins with “Feed” (2010) which has news hungry and techy brilliant teens fighting it out after a zombie holocaust. Also very entertaining is the “Parasite” series, a complex blend of hard science and horror, in which a genetically engineered tapeworm eradicates illness, but the tapeworms soon get nasty and mankind is in serious pearl. Both these sequences are great examples of what Mira can do. However, her real name is Seanan McGuire, and this highly prolific author also writes urban fantasy under that name.
 
“Final Girls” has a whiff of both series mentioned above. Pulling in at just over 100 pages, it’s a good length for this compact and tight story which has a high technological drive. I also think it is a very assessable book for YA readers as this brisk read has no excess flab at all. Be prepared also for a VERY cool opening sequence. Two young women are being stalked by something nasty in a dark wood, imagine your innermost fears (scarecrows here…), and when death is just about to arrive….
 
END PROGRAM? You wake up….. Welcome to a new type of therapeutic healing that is based on total emersion therapy, which is pretty much the same as living in a computer game. However, waking up from this particular type of therapy means that what you have experienced feels real and remains with you beyond the dream. So whatever experience you had in the therapy also changed you because it is in many ways real. The whole story is set within the Webb Virtual Therapy Institute who have pioneered this new type of technology and are using it to help people with psychological, family and mental problems. Everything from arachnophobia to siblings who have hated each other since they were children. By having shared psychological experiences through the Virtual Therapy the company claim they can overcome all psychological problems.
 
This leads to the main thrust of the plot, science journalist Esther has arrived at the company to interview the lead scientist Dr Jennifer Webb and believes it to be a load of dangerous rubbish, this is partially to do with an issue from her past and previous scientific trails that failed. We soon realise that for Esther to truly write honestly about Virtual Therapy must experience it first hand. Dangerous stuff… As Dr Webb also has her own very dodgy agenda…. Throw in a few other curveballs and you have a very nippy little story which can easily be read in one sitting.
 
I really liked the way the plot manoeuvred between the real and the virtual world, the blurrings of it all, not to mention at various points you’re not entirely sure who is shafting who.   The flip back to the teenage versions of the characters were also great, equally so an ending that will definitely make you smile. Through much of it the author successfully projects the virtual reality world as a type of computer game, the problem being someone is in charge of the computer code and it’s definitely not you. A very good read.
 
The Final Girls is being released by Subterranean Press towards the end of April and is well worth the £3.99 price tag for the kindle version. I really would avoid the £32 price being quoted on Amazon for the hardback though!
 
Tony Jones
 

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What if you could fix the worst parts of yourself by confronting your worst fears? 

Dr. Jennifer Webb has invented proprietary virtual reality technology that purports to heal psychological wounds by running clients through scenarios straight out of horror movies and nightmares. In a carefully controlled environment, with a medical cocktail running through their veins, sisters might develop a bond they’ve been missing their whole lives—while running from the bogeyman through a simulated forest. But…can real change come so easily?

Esther Hoffman doubts it. Esther has spent her entire journalism career debunking pseudoscience, after phony regression therapy ruined her father’s life. She’s determined to unearth the truth about Dr. Webb’s budding company. Dr. Webb’s willing to let her, of course, for reasons of her own. What better advertisement could she get than that of a convinced skeptic? But Esther’s not the only one curious about how this technology works. Enter real-world threats just as frightening as those created in the lab. Dr. Webb and Esther are at odds, but they may also be each other’s only hope of survival. 

With her new novella Final Girls, bestselling, award-winning author Mira Grant has conjured a heart-stopping, gut-wrenching story filled with as many twists as it is versions of reality. Grant offers a chilling exploration of how surviving horrors might define us all.

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