Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales, by Christian Baloga

448836415_640Christian Baloga is an artist, and able to take the reins in nearly all aspects of production unlike many horror authors today. I was impressed by his body of work and multi-faceted nature. As such, Wake The Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales leads us beyond a plain spooky read. On realizing the labour in writing, packaging, and creating the visuals and teasers that surround the launch of this horror fiction gem, Baloga is able to do it all with frightening finesse. The book trailer intrigued me, and I had the suspicion the author was behind the creative drive for it as well. Soon enough, I confirmed my suspicions, interviewed Baloga, and reviewed the trailer on dreadfultales.com. Then, it was to wait anxiously for the book release.

Included in the paperback only, there are additional illustrations which I was lucky enough to see beforehand. Yet another skill this artist holds; bringing print stories to life in more ways than one.

Stand out favorites of mine include; Flesh Boots (I have an affinity for the German, dogs, and cleaning), Psycho Pharm (so terribly distressing and beautifully written in the tradition of Plague Dogs), Tremble For Me (which struck me as the most violent while being a commentary on popularity in the digital age), Savage Games (if anything, as a child, I avoided being monstrous and this lesson reminds me why), Dusk to Dust (fascinating visuals of powerful and wonderful women that remind me of the Soskas, Canada’s Twisted Twins), and Ripped to Ribbons, where curiosity caught the cat, but you will have to read on to see what dies.

Without going overboard too often into visceral or grotesque horror, Wake the Wicked dips in and out of terror, letting us peek around shadowy corners into nightmarish landscapes. In delightful dark moments the reader is plunged headfirst into brilliant gore and at times relentless brutality. All the while, an air of tenderness whispers through the prose making every moment personal and vividly imagined. Intensely descriptive, it’s easy to take walk in his characters shoes, though the faint of heart may try to stop or run away from what they face.

Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales will be available in paperback soon. Get the ebook or check cbaloga.com for updates.

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N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

51783ed84aeda.preview-300I’m in awe of Joe Hill.

Few authors today continue to impress me book after book. Perhaps it’s  a cynical view, but I generally start each new book expecting disappointment. i’m going to have to rethink that approach.

If you have yet to introduce yourself to Hill’s writing, you have no viable excuse. His previous outings, including Horns, Heart Shaped Box, and the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, have rightly secured him in the company of today’s strongest horror writers. Like his contemporary peers, Hill knows horror isn’t just about monsters – it’s about life, it’s about love; and it’s about characters we, as readers, gravitate towards – flaws and all.

It’s an approach he exercises well in his newest presentation, N0S4A2 (work it out, it’ll come to you).

A proper summary of this hefty tome’s plot is difficult, admittedly. Hill introduces one of his most likable characters in the form of Vic McQueen, a spunky kid with an odd ability to travel anywhere via and old, dilapidated covered bridge and her bike. That gift – if that’s what it is – seems more like a curse, lands her in the cross-hairs of Charles Manx, a notorious child killer who collects children to take them off to the mystical Christmasland. Manx is anything but a Jolly Old Elf as he travels the countryside along with his Renfield-like henchman, Bing, dispatching parents and killing kids. And once the kids are killed, they become creepy, soulless remnants of their former selves.

However, at its heart, N0S4A2 is an examination of dysfunction, mainly that of families. We watch Vic grow from that adventure-seeking tot to a recovering drug and alcohol addict who struggles not just with the demon that Manx is, but also with the personal demons present with addiction; an estranged son who joins her in her quest; and a marriage that seemed plagued with failure from its beginning.

It’s here that Hill shines. His depiction of a mother trying to reconnect with her son while also realizing a past she thought was nothing more than a twisted dread is, in fact, reality, is not only believable, but is also fraught with a raw emotion seldom seen in today’s fiction.

Don’t assume that means Hill has skimped on the scares in return for sentimental scenes, though. This man knows how to paint mental images that are burned onto your frontal lobe and will bore through your brain like a slow burn.

Bastard.

I refuse to get into Hill’s lineage and gene pool, but let’s say readers in the know – which should be just about everyone these days – may find themselves forgetting just whose book they’re devouring. That’s meant as a compliment, not a cop out.

Book are made to last, not just in their physical form, but in the mental state of the reader as well. Hill either knows this, or just has the knack for presenting his readers with a universe that fully envelopes them and sticks with them long after that last page is lingered over.

N0S4A2 won’t be leaving your memory any time soon and, let’s hope, Hill certainly won’t be exiting the horror scene in the near future if he continues to travel the path he’s on.

The Girl on the Glider by Brian Keene

Glider-e-book-2-662x1024It’s veritably impossible, right now, to go through the usual intro/pre-review spiel that I’m wont to do with every single blabbering piece that I write. There’s really no need for it here.

You’re either familiar with this author’s previous work, or you’re not.

Most average horror/speculative fiction readers that inhabit the hallowed, stinky halls of this genre can admit to reading one, if not at least a few, of Keene’s novels, but there are a few of us who have followed his work for a long time who finally get to a piece that we aren’t familiar with, or that doesn’t tie into something else he’s done… something larger and more “labyrinthine”, for lack of a better word.

Simply put – The Girl on the Glider is Brian Keene’s best piece of work to date – something I would hate to see going unnoticed in the awards circuit. A piece this powerful deserves more recognition beyond the Keene brand, and very well could be one of the modern classics of our time. Continue reading

Brain On Fire by Susannah Cahalan

bof-cover_homeIt’s hard to figure out where to approach this review from since this definitely isn’t a horror novel, or even a freakin’ work of fiction at all. In an effort to expand our readership, and to reflect the variety of literature that the staff here in DT-land are interested in, you’re going to see more and more of this sort of content gracing the pages of our humble (pffft) site from here on out.

To get back on topic: Brain on Fire is the very shocking, very real, and very terrifying memoir of a young woman faced with the worst possible thing I can think of outside of losing someone incredibly close to you – the loss of one’s self.

It’s hard to believe that this beautiful young woman, a New York Post reporter, and current New York Times best selling author, has suffered the horrific events that litter the better part of this book. Some of the events chronicled in this word seem vaguely comical in their grandiose displays, but the most unsettling part of the whole story is, with this particular disease, they’re also so damned possible. Continue reading

Click-Clack The Rattlebag by Neil Gaiman

Happy Hallowe’en!

It’s also All Hallows’ Read, a festival that Neil Gaiman thought up 2 years ago, which proposes that on Hallowe’en, or during the week of Hallowe’en, we give each other scary books.  In the spirit of such a fun literary holiday, and also in an effort to suck up to my beloved Gaiman by doing everything he tells me to, I have listened to my very first audio book.

I know, I know.  Some people LOVE audio books; they save time, and they’re portable, and blah blah blah.  But they’ve just never been my thing.  I like to feel and smell and see the words, even as they paint a picture in my mind.  It took me ages to come around to e-books, and even then it was only to allow more room in my suitcase for shoes when I travel.  But my main problem with audio books is the voices.  If the narrator has a particular way of speaking (i.e. annoying), or a strange accent, or even if they just have too much POW! BANG! SLAM! during the exciting parts, it completely distracts me from the story.

All that being said, if anyone could have made me listen to (read?) an audio book, it was Neil Gaiman.  He is my absolute favourite author, whether it be novels, graphic novels, short stories or kids books. So, when Neil announced on his blog that he had teamed up with Audible to release a new, unpublished short story, (for free!), I was willing to give it a shot.  Especially considering it’s also narrated by Neil Gaiman, so I can’t be mad about the voice.  As an added incentive, Audible will donate $1 for every download through Halloween to the education charity DonorsChoose.

 “‘What kind of story would you like me to tell you?’ ‘Well,’ he said, thoughtfully, ‘I don’t think it should be too scary, because then when I go up to bed, I will just be thinking about monsters the whole time. But if it isn’t just a little bit scary, then I won’t be interested. And you make up scary stories, don’t you?'” So begins this sweet, witty, deceptive little tale from master storyteller Neil Gaiman. Lock the doors, turn off the lights, and enjoy. (Audible)

As mentioned, this is a short story, which Neil read at the George Mason Award evening, and it will be published in a forthcoming anthology.  The whole thing is only about 12 minutes long, and starts off with a brief introduction about All Hallows’ Read and the charitable donations.  Around the 2 minute mark, we get into the story, which is being told from the point of view of a guy taking care of his girlfriend’s little brother.  The boy requests a bedtime story, one that’s just the right amount of scary, while they walk through the big, old, and very dark house.  The boy specifically asks for a story about Click-Clack the Rattle Bag, because those are the best kinds of stories, and “Click-Clacks are the best monsters ever”.  They’re even scarier than vampires.

As always, Gaiman does an excellent job of setting up the story, and detailing the surroundings in a way that put a vivid picture in your head.  The use of the first person narration, as well as the language and phrasing used by the little boy, manage to inject you into the conversation.  There are a bare minimum of sound effects here, but they are used wisely to mimic a creaky old house.  The story is obviously a more family-friendly kind of scary, but the description of what Click-Clacks “do to people” is icky enough to give kids pause.

All in all, this is a great little story, and a perfect Hallowe’en treat (to go with the mountain of candy I am currently devouring).  I am intrigued by how different it is to hear a story, as opposed to reading it; it was kinda like listening to a spooky story being told around a campfire.

So, in the words of Neil Gaiman: “Go to www.Audible.com/ScareUs to download it if you’re in the US or the rest of the world except the UK and www.Audible.co.uk/ScareUs to download it if you’re in the UK/Commonwealth. And then download the story. As I may have told you already, it’s free — absolutely, utterly, perfectly free.

Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – Part 3: Grownups

At this juncture, we’re more than halfway through this terrifying tour of Derry. Although, I should call it a hypnotism rather than a tour. Stephen King has taken our imaginations hostage, enchanted us into the horrific nightmare of Losers, and constructed a tragedy so elaborate it’s hard to believe you aren’t really a part of it. In fact, I superimposed my own childhood memories, fears, and sometimes-triumphs onto this story, sharing their drama, hovering in the fray like the lost friend they all ignore.

As we edge closer and closer to the “end” of It, giving a synopsis becomes so much more delicate. My purpose in Bit by Bloody Bit was never to give away any important plot details, but rather to share my reading experience with you as it happens, from a fresh and virgin perspective (keep in mind I use that term rather loosely!). I know it would be amiss for me to recap the details of Stephen King’s It, “Part 3: Grownups,” which is why I am compelled to reveal the spirit of this particular section and the emotional point I have reached having just finished it.

“Grownups” is probably most palpable to me now than it would have been if I read it in my early youth. Now at the 30 year mark, I find the experiences of our present-day Losers quite personal and relative to my own. I’m not haunted by a supernatural monster from my past, but I have experienced the surreal moments of facing my past and in turn being more self-aware in the present. While It is still an integral part of the Losers’ journey, and the ultimate metaphorical battle with themselves, “Grownups” is also the psychological trip of reliving childhood experiences through the adult lens.

It won’t be too much of a spoiler to say “Grownups” features the inevitable reunion of the Losers. The reunion is perhaps as iconic as poor Georgie and his yellow slicker. After the reunion, the Losers set out to reacquaint themselves with Derry, invoke those old memories and conjure the spirit of their younger selves. I half tumbled through their recollections while reliving my own. For Ben Hanscom, the object that triggers his memory is the Derry library. The unchanged structural pieces have such a strong impact “he felt literally lost in time, not really sure how old he was.” He inadvertently looks up the iron staircase “hoping, as he had hoped as a kid, to see a girl in a skirt coming down those steps.” King’s preoccupations with the power of memory are obvious in It and I am far from the first to mention it. But, reading “Grownups” I felt the power of memory. Or more importantly, I was truly aware of it. For Ben Hanscom it’s the library, for me it’s my Grandmother’s house. Growing up I was there almost every weekend. From high school on the trips to Grandma’s got less frequent and returning to her home now feels like going back in time. I fall into a sort of happy, childlike state at Grandma’s. I grow physically tired because I feel so safe and at peace. Sometimes I’ll nap for hours and I even pick up old childhood habits. Reading It those idiosyncrasies, family dysfunctions, and childhood traumas are exposed as universal truths and I feel liberated.

Surely King took his own personal experiences with memory and infused them into It. How else could he prompt waves of remembering, the kind that occur when you see an old friend? How else could he know the instinctual habits that return upon retracing the steps of your old childhood stomping grounds?

For some readers, It will be much too long, too involved, too scrupulous its plot to hold their attention. For others, like me, it will be more than a scary book, but a mirror reflecting your own memories and encouraging meditation on a world you perhaps forgot.

Seeing a chunk of the book left, equal to that which I just finished, has me wondering where the story could go from here, but after “Grownups” I am still on board and remain ever curious about what next psychological trip King has in store.

Please come back next week for my thoughts on “Part 4: July of 1958.”

If King’s It is your favorite horror novel you MUST check out Cemetery Dance Publications’ 25th Anniversary Special Limited Edition (pictured below)! This is a beautiful superfan collectible sure to haunt generation after generation just like the titular monster It!