All Hallow’s Read 2013 (Day 1)

allhallowsread2

Click on the picture above to get your own AHR posters from Introverted Wife!

Ahhh, All Hallow’s Read.
A wonderful celebration of scariness and wordiness, brought to you by the inimitable Neil Gaiman and his crazy hair – no doubt the Samson-like power center for his creativity and scheming prowess.

Regular readers will remember our 2011 stint with AHR, and the 31 suggestions we bombarded you with that month. We went the distance and threw out suggestions for everything from what to give your favorite student, to what to give your mother in-law for AHR. And you know what?

We’re gonna do it again!

Starting today (a day late… shush), we’ll post a suggestion every day for a book you could give to someone in your life for All Hallow’s Read. Some of them may be for the people you love, and some for may be for the people you hate, but we can guarantee all of our books with come highly recommended, and will be sure to leave an impression upon the reader – good or bad.

So without further ado, Dreadful Tales welcomes you to All Hallow’s Read 2013, and would like to recommend October Dreams for the AHR newcomers in your life!

chizmar04If ever there was a book that was so perfect and so dead on with its subject matter that nothing could ever top it, it’s October Dreams – A Celebration of Halloween.

Edited by Richard Chizmar and released by Cemetery Dance, this collection of short stories not only reeks of Halloween spirit and terror, but it also includes select remembrances by some of the authors, of their favorite childhood Halloween memories.

Our absolute favorite here is the last entry in the collection – Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub – a genuinely haunting story that speaks volumes in terms of darkness, wonder, and fear. If you weren’t a fan of Straub before, this one story will make you a fan for life.

Colum reads Pork Pie Hat (a novella) at least once a year. And that’s saying a lot, since he doesn’t like to re-read things often.

This one can be found in bog box stores and online, and it’s definitely a must-have for any horror fiction fan.

 

Advertisements

Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes From The End Of The World by Brian Keene

earthwormgodsselectscenes-1-2With no shame at all, I’ll admit Brian Keene has made me cry.

No, it’s not because he’s failed to respond to my countless invitations to dinner, or the way his eyes seem to see straight into my heart. Oh… wait. That’s unrelated. Best you just ignore that.

Keene first brought my rotten heart back to life when he broke onto the horror scene with The Rising. That tale of father Jim Thurmond trying to get to his son, Danny, in the midst of a zombie apocalypse is both terrifying and a tear jerker. As a young father who was going through a divorce and worried the end of his first marriage would devour his relationship with his son much like the zombies in Keene’s debut novel, the book spoke to me and introduced me to an author I grew to admire. Continue reading

Rust and Blood by Ed Kurtz

Why is it that sometimes when you come across a name, no matter where you turn, they’re always there seemingly laughing at you from the cabbage bin? Seriously. The past two pieces I’ve reviewed have had something to do with Ed Kurtz, Abattoir Press, or something else that I can’t remember but wanted to add because I like to work my descriptions in groups of three.

This offering, this splendidly varied cornucopia of horrific horror, is Kurtz’s first collection of short stories. Albeit one of the shorter collections I’ve recently read… thankfully… it still packs a wallop of a punch, and fills time without making me wish I’d have YouTubed past glories from So You Think You Can Dance. I will warn you, though, Kurtz does throw out a few pieces you just can’t un-see, but they’re sell worth it. Well, everything but Pearls. That one’s just fucking gross and I really never want to read it again.

From Amazon:

Love and cannibalism, retribution and madness, the horrors people commit in the name of goodness and the abominations that await behind closed doors. RUST & BLOOD collects nine stories of horror and crime where the tables are always turned and no one ever gets out unscathed.

Kurtz opens up this collection with Hunger, and immediately makes a reference to Arsenic and Old Lace. This, in turn, garners him many points in my book, and thus indemnifies him from a negative review. That said, go buy this book.

From here on out, we’ll talk about the mating rituals of the Alaskan Deer Whale-Prawn… uh… what?

Oh. Sorry, Meli.

Okay folks, it seems that I missed something during my absence from DT over the last few months. I’m just receiving word from the powers that be about a memo that went around? Apparently I actually have to review the book before I go on about anybody or anything’s mating habits.

(Ah, a segue in poor taste, Colum… as usual… *groan*)

Hunger starts off with by introducing Matthew, a young man that was morbidly obese as a child who, through the marvels of biology, grows into his fleshy self, and finds newly awesome opportunities with the opposite sex. After several relationships and a desperate addiction to “the next lay”, he finds himself unemployed, disaffected, and eating like it’s going out of style.

Fast forward a bunch of years and a few thousand snack-cakes later, and we see Matthew working at a motel and eventually into the bed of a “professional” named Carla. I won’t give up the rest of it, but look at the title, the set-up of the main character, and you can hopefully see where this is going. And here’s about the point in the review where I’ll put the little idea about mating habits on the table, and leave you to lose your appetite and feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Yep. The reader is fortunate that Kurtz does a wonderful job playing with the story here, and makes this a great opener for what is promising to be a fun little collection of stories. Even if I’ve just put some things in your head that you wish weren’t there.

And then came Sinners – a story that opens with a bit of mystery and grows to become what the reader understands is a sort-of after school special on a bender with Satan. Well, that may be a little excessive, but we’re on a ride in the Kurtz-mobile, so it’s pretty damned on target, if you ask me.

As the story unravels, Kurtz lays out the story of a young man who, upon witnessing or acting in, a brutal experience, is let out of the hospital after a 14 year visit, only to return to the scene of the crime – his home town. But Dean and Lee have it in mind to fix the sitch by finishing what they think should have been finished all those years ago. They mean to kill Billy Thorpe in a sort of small town justice.

Kurtz then takes all of the readers’ expectations and turns them on their head, crafting a deliriously creepy climactic scene, and ensuring a wicked quick page turning end. This is a keeper, for sure. It’s fast, it’s twisting, and it’s chock full of the author’s now trademark style. If you weren’t a fan of Kurtz before, you’re sure to be won over by this one right here.

Slowpoke is up next, making this animal loving reader question the author for a moment, and then deciding to just give the guy a chance to lay out his tale.

Okay… hold on. “Animal loving reader”, as in: I think animals are awesome and should be treated well… not the other way. Carry on.

Two drunkards, and apparently gamblers from the sounds of it, are deep in the sauce when one decides it’s time to kill himself a horsie. Why? A losing bet, I’m supposing. Regardless, they kick off the stools and get to the driving in search of vengeance and a weapon. What they get instead is a pain in the ass from “cousin Ike”, and a great scene full of hilarity that Kurtz pulls off expertly.

Fast forward to the ending, and what we have here is a wicked little ditty that teaches folks about the whole “what goes up must come down” mantra, and when it comes down, it’s probably going to ruin your t-shirt and kill your best friend. But the story isn’t finished yet, as Arnold, one of the two guys who tried to kill Mr. Ed, is put away, eventually gets out, and has to serve community service in a very embarrassing manner. And yes, there’s a great big LOL over here, and a LOL over there. When Kurtz wants to play with his characters and exhibit his wit, he does it well. Kurtz ends this story with a breezy, Tales from the Crypt feel, and again wins this reader’s continued attention.

So then we come to Family Bible, a tale that sees a sort of backwoods Romeo and Juliet, but not, thing going on. You know how these things go. One family is wicked strange, the other is… wicked strange. And two of these folks fall in love. This is a Kurtzified R&J version. So yeah… thar be blood.

Basically, what we see is a young Ezra falling in love with Annabelle, but their love is forbidden as per the Family Bible. Ezra is made to do a ridiculous amount of work in order to prove himself a man, as well as copy out, by hand, and entire bible’s worth of teachings. Ezra’s brother, Jonah, is a hard-case, and totally to the letter when it comes to his religion. When he finds out that Ezra and Annabelle have a thing going on, he goes nutso and makes with the biblical craziness, locking his brother in a room and reeking a sort of justice that is just… crazy. What happens after that is Kurtz proving that sometimes things don’t need to be tied up in a Hollywood kind of way. And goddamnit if he doesn’t do it with a kick in the teeth.

Next up comes the über fucked up W4M, that just had me howling with a wicked sense of “did he seriously just go there?” And yes, he went there.

Kurtz has a way of taking a conventional plot and making it all twisty and turny, ending way off in the cornfield and totally away from where you thought it would go. W4M is definitely not just that. It’s the extreme case of that. It’s a point in literature where you say “This writer fellow really does know a good story, chaps” in a fake English accent that your friends immediately make fun of you for because you actually sound like you came from New Delhi. At which point, someone pokes you and asks you to stay on topic, and you continue by saying that this story takes a tried and true serial stalker/killer idea and eats it up with a faba beans and a nice chianti.

Where Kurtz goes oh-so-very-right with this story is with his style and description. The delivery is sometimes stilted, but the description is just so juicy. Gorehounds will appreciate the delectably disgusting pieces offered up for the meal, and will shudder with delight as the main characters gets more than he bargains for. Beyond that, it’s like Kurtz channeled a wee bit of the old W.J. White nastiness, and created a creature I would love to see make an appearance in a longer work (hint, hint, Kurtz). This is a story that is disgusting, wrong, and twisted in every way. All the right ways.

Now Pearls, my dear friends, is another story altogether. It’s disgusting. I had a hard time reading it, have a hard time thinking about it, and seriously want to gag every time it pops into my head. And yeah… pun intended there. It’s gross-out fare, for sure.

I don’t even want to get into this one very deeply, but let’s just say that the main character suddenly gets a weird skin condition and has the unquenchable need to do something very, very gross. Ugh, my god.

Kurtz’s description is in overdrive here, making sure to remind people that horror isn’t just all about ghosts and goblins and monsters galore. Sometimes the horror is visceral, and sometimes it’s the strangest biological oddities that can make us cringe. Yeah, this is body horror, kids. A lá Ed Lee and all the nice folks outta Necro. Hell, I haven’t read something this gross since Night Shade Books’ Excitable Boys – a rarity that should appeal to anyone who enjoys puking in their mouth. Way to go, Kurtz. You owe me several drinks, dude. Yuck.

Roadbeds is a small pulp tale that first showed its wonderful face on Shotgun Honey’s website as a mystery short. I loved it there, and I still love it here. Kurtz is obviously able to jump around in several different genres, and this collection shows that fluidly. This tale, in particular, shows a side of the man that hasn’t really been seen before. His less visceral, and more straightforward style.

Maury and crew are working on a dig when two bruisers show up. Things get all Mob-like, and one thing definitely leads to another. This story is so short and has such a great formulaic ending that I can’t even describe it here. It kicks ass for a little 3-4 pager. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

Kurtz decides to go a different route with the next story, Earworm. This one sees the man playing in a land of musical torture, making life very difficult for his main character, and pretty much anyone who happens to be infected by this deadly little ditty from hell. Shit, we’ve all been there. Just thankfully not in Kurtz’s world… cause then we’d be dead.

Going from a great premise that plays with the idea of songs kicking your ass, Kurtz waltzes back into a land of pain pain pain, deciding that his story puppets going crazy isn’t enough to satisfy his lust for death, and all probably because he’s had a bad day at work and wants someone to suffer for it. Okay, that last bit may be stretching the truth, but I wouldn’t put it past any horror writer to kill the ever loving hell out of anyone who pisses them off on a Monday. Well… except for John R. Little. He’s just always so happy when I meet him.

Kurtz has all the time in the world to drag you through what you think is going to be a fairly straightforward story, but obviously hasn’t the patience to put up with your constant jabbering for such a long car trip. Once he’s set the tone for this story, it’s GO!GO!GO! with no letting up. This, my good readers, is a Kurtz trademark. He ensnares you, beats you about the head with everything he’s got, and once you think it’s all over…

…he kills you in a story called Krampus. Well, not you… Me.

Yeah. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Let’s just look through the DT posts here… won’t be a minute…

Doot doo-doo doo dooooooo….

Um… nope. Haven’t told you folks about this one yet, have I?

Okay. Well, here goes.

Krampus is a nice little Christmas tale about a young boy who hasn’t been very good this year. He’s made to spend the holiday with his Oma, and with the help of her friend Nicholas, she intends to show the boy what bad kids get for Christmas. Oh yeah, and she’s going to have me completely destroyed in a gory festival of awesome!

I was ridiculously stoked when I read this one. No joke. I’d checked it out back in December of 2011, when the skies were dark and my life wasn’t filled with so much… who the hell am I kidding. With four million kids running around and an empty bank account, this was pretty much the best thing that happened that whole holiday season, apart from seeing the kid’s faces on Christmas morning. So you can pretty much understand where I’m coming from if my whole review of this story consists of “buy this book… read this book… love this boooooook.”

In fact, you can go snag yourself a copy of Krampus for free if you’re diligent enough and know how to use google like the naughty little thing that it is.

Anyways, what we’re looking at here is a tried and true Kurtz tale, but with a holiday twist. Couple that with a scary, thick accented beast of a woman, a weird old man, a little Canadian jerk (me) and a boy who just doesn’t know when it’s time to throw in the towel and will yourself to die, and you’ve got the best story this side of Scrooged. The gore is a-plenty, the hilarity is as black as my soul, and the pace is set at a break-neck speed and refuses to stop. Until it stops. At which point… shit… I’m dead anyways, so it just stops.

And now that you’ve slogged through 2400+ words of insanity, you might as well go pony up the couple bucks and get a taste of someone who I’m sure is going to kick the genre’s ass in the coming years. Hell, I know he has a story or two out there waiting for publication. I think maybe it’s just a matter of time before Kurtz takes Control of the situation and brings this genre to new heights. And me, I’ll be sitting right here waiting. Bring it on, Kurtz.

C.

Cemetery Club by JG Faherty

A different ‘club’ and a different author, Journalstone Press editor Christopher C. Payne sent me a copy of JG Faherty’s Cemetery Club which is totally unrelated in storyline to Gregory Bastianetti’s Jokers Club. From the website:

20 years ago, four friends awoke an ancient evil living beneath the town of Rocky Point, NY. Now it’s back, and only the Cemetery Club can stop it before everyone ends up dead. Or worse.

This book has a little bit of everything: zombies, paranormal entities, gore-galore and just a hint of B-movie juiciness. On top of that, the plot flows beautifully and the major characters are easily worth your emotional investment. I’ve seen some reviews of the book comparing it to King’s It, but I just don’t see it. Yes, a group of friends reunite after time apart, but after the first few chapters you’ll see that Cemetery Club stands on its own.

The plot centres around Todd, John, Cory and Marisol – the Cemetery Club – who would meet up in the local cemetery every day to do all the things that teens hiding from their parents do. The story takes place in present day, with Faherty expertly weaving flashback chapters masterfully throughout, giving the reader a little bit more insight as to what his characters went, and will be going through.

There are three types of monsters that are encountered: paranormal, physical, and human. You might think that ‘physical’ and ‘human’ are the same, I assure you they are not. Not only is the town under siege, but the people in charge of the town are some of the more unsavory characters in the book. This might seem cliche, but once you discover the hidden connections between the personalities, the human monsters and their actions seem that much more despicable.

By glancing at the cover, you can probably guess what I mean when I say ‘paranormal monsters’. I’d like to point out that even with such an overt clue, Faherty does a great job of keeping the mystery of the monsters alive by having many of the townspeople weigh in, thus involving the reader in the mass hysteria being experienced in the book. I’d be giving too much away by saying more, but I will say that the physical monsters are the kind we know and love, with an entertaining spin on how they came to be.

Getting back into the characters, I must say that the effort put into creating the four protagonists is very much appreciated. I CARED about them: I felt sorry for the alcoholic, worse for the abused spouse, sympathized with the disturbed person (don’t judge me) and wished (for the most part) that my life mirrored that of the lawyer. That’s enough of a teaser for now.

Cemetery Club is a well-crafted read, Journalstone and JG Faherty impressed me with this one. To pick up your copy of the book, visit the Journalstone store. For more information about JG Faherty, you can visit his website.

A Laymon Kind Of Night by Mark Allan Gunnells

As a huge Richard Laymon fan and completist, I find it hard to pass up anything having to do with the author I admire so much. His work is fun, fast, far from realistic, and provides pretty much the most satisfying beach or bus read the horror genre has ever seen. But that’s my opinion. Not everybody is a Laymon fan, and not everybody appreciates the tongue in-cheek, often crass stylings of the gone-too-soon master of pulp horror fiction.

When I saw this little collection/chapbook for sale on Amazon while doing a ritualistic check for never-new Laymon fare for the Kindle, I was intrigued. The synopsis was interesting, and the author’s name was somewhat familiar. Seeing the title, I wondered if this was going to be one author’s tribute to the late, great author. While this is an interesting, entertaining standalone collection of 3 stories by Gunnels, channelling the spirit of the titular author to some small degree, it falls short of the homage I’m sure it was meant to be.

A late night walk home through a city teeming with danger… a nosy neighbor who discovers more than he bargained for… a take on Body Snatchers with vans instead of pods… Journey into the shadowy realms of human behavior where our darkest impulses are exposed to the light.

The first story up is the titular, A Laymon Kind Of Night, which focusses on a standard, if not clichéd, take on a typical female Laymon character, but with more faults than redeeming value. In the story, Tina has just recently discovered the works of Richard Laymon and quickly becomes obsessed with the author’s bibliography. What this has to do with the story, apart from being a blatant nod to the author, I don’t know. When her co-worker has a bad piece of fish for lunch and ends up not being able to close the bookstore they work at, Tina finds herself going home very late and completely out of her element in a shady part of town. With every situation she faces, whether it be taking the bus or walking down the street, Tina finds a commonality between her present experience and some of Laymon’s most depraved plots, regardless of how far-fetched the idea may be.

What this story is missing most is the well structured chaos present in all of Laymon’s work. No matter how outrageous or ridiculous the plot is, the author is almost always able to make some sort of justification for his subject’s actions. One of the best things about Laymon is the formulaic aspect to all of his novels, but A Laymon Kind Of Night reads more like a generalization of the man’s work than it does an homage. Everywhere Tina turns she faces something potentially horrible, imagining potential rape scenes here and there by some perverted member of society. Be it a young Mexican man offering her some help, a sleazy looking bus driver, a homeless man (any hard-core Laymon fan knows that he often wrote very terrible things about the homeless in his stories), or a man masturbating in the back of a porn shop (this is what I meant my far-fetched); Tina feels, or imagines the potential for danger coming from every direction. In the end, when an honest man tries to come to her aid, Tina is so deluded that she reacts murderously in an effort to protect herself. With an out of context, weak twist ending, the story misses the mark. Gunnells surely delivers a great short story, but ultimately a sub-par Laymon tribute.

This story should have maybe been a middle or closing tale and not the title of this collection, as it’s severely misleading and, in my opinion, may do more harm than good for those who haven’t had a chance to read Laymon’s work. A Laymon Kind Of Night might read like a fun standalone story, but not as a feature dedicated to the work of Richard Laymon. It unfortunately undermines the great pulp sensibilities that Laymon is so well-known for, in favor of a perverse trip into a “what if” scenario that only hints at the power it could have held. If one were to read this without any prior knowledge of Laymon’s body of work, they may assume that his fiction was completely throw-away fare designed for perverts and creeps.

The Snoop is up next, picking up yet another Laymon type of feeling, but this time adding what I can only define as a Ketchum-esque attitude. Anyone familiar with the work of Jack Ketchum knows that his pieces are more often than not quite brusque and, for lack of a better word, brutal. With this short story, Gunnells channels everything he should have in the previous one, and maximizes the creep factor towards a great little tale that would sit well in not only a Ketchum tribute, but a Laymon one as well. It’s my understanding that this story wasn’t written to incite fan reactions from either camp, but the author does a phenomenal job at this unconscious shout-out to the greats of our modern genre. This is the story that should have led off the collection, hands down.

In first person narrative, the reader is introduced to a pretty much normal American male who is asked to watch his neighbor’s dog while he’s away on vacation. The narrator admits to a love of going through other people’s belongings, and tortures himself by waiting an hour after his neighbor leaves before entering his house to start snooping. Gunnells uses a great sense of the mundane to set the stage for an air of creepiness and unsettling weirdness. The narrator searches through the house for anything that would be of interest to him, or might reveal more information about his neighbor, but comes up with nothing above average… which sort of telegraphs the ending immediately. But that’s part of the fun with this story. Eventually the narrator takes a visit to the basement and finds a very disturbing scene. The story ends with the author amping up this disturbing revelation, thus satisfying the reader and his or her expectations for this tale. The Snoop is a great short story, and a hell of a lot stronger than its predecessor. I’d read more of Gunnells’ work based on this story alone.

The last story in this small collection is Van People – an absurd little take on The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, but also a bit of a new direction in the author’s literary canon. In this one, Gunnells showcases a well honed ability to write dialogue, narrowly saving the tale from being a bland re-imagining of a phenomenally original story. While I have to say that the use of vans instead of pods is both interesting and ridiculous, it ends up being a fun tale steeped in a more Goosebumps-for-grownups kind of way, but not without its many faults.

Three friends – a gay man (Travis), a soon-to-be father (David), and a sterile single man (Kevin) are hanging out in a backyard, talking (*note – the author had to add the sterility part as a point of contention to further the story… as the reader finds out a little later). The conversation turns to fatherhood and the characters’ back stories revealing the above mentioned tidbits of information, but really offers no hint as to what is about to happen. They do talk about David selling his mustang in order to purchase a van, and the stage is set for a rebellious, if not maligned, conversation about one losing one’s balls by upgrading to a family vehicle. At this point, the story shifts and David inexplicably deserts his friends in the cruelest and most confusing of ways. He berates his former friends, makes threats and homophobic remarks towards Travis, and generally shuns them on relatively unknown terms, thus explaining the whole Body Snatchers theme right then and there.

Travis and Kevin continue hanging out until Kevin has to go out-of-town on business. Upon his return, he finds Travis and David hanging out in David’s backyard. He attempts to regain their former friendship, but is met with rudeness and a shallow ignorance that was once delivered by David alone. Completely confused, Kevin retreats to his house, attempts to go on with his life, and eventually becomes prey to a whole society of people buying vans and treating him like street trash. The reader has, by this point, already figured out that the author replaced pods for vans, and that the entire coup was being staged from the van dealership in the first place. But, pushing on, Kevin decides to do something brash and attracts nothing but the end of his life as he knows it.

Van People is at both times a frustrating and interesting read that really does show that dialogue is the most important part of a story… in some cases. Gunnells utilizes the emotion in the voice of his characters to express exactly what he wants them to, even when colliding with an idea that refuses to settle in the reader’s mind as even remotely rational. Personally, the whole premise felt like a clichéd attempt at some sort of machismo aimed at the youth of today, but served up in the wrong decade. I imagine this story would sit well with the blue-collar youth of yesteryear, but it just doesn’t sit well in this day and age.

It’s a little bit of a stretch to say that this book is a collection of truly original short stories, as they all serve as tales honoring certain authors or aspects of the genre, but it’s worth the read if you’re so inclined. I wouldn’t suggest this as a piece of fiction meant solely (or at all) for Laymon enthusiasts (the self-described “Laymonites”, or so I’ve heard) but for anyone interested in campy, fast paced horror fare centered around the human condition, it’s a fun little read at a good price.

All Hallows Read (Day 26) A scary book for…

…people who like their fiction short.  Really short.

 

Fiction doesn’t come much shorter or more awesome than Half-Minute Horrors! This collection of super-short tales by a variety of well-known writers is aimed at kids around 10 and up. It’s also creepy as all get out! These little bites of literary terror even scared us a few times.

 

All Hallow’s Read is a book-giving tradition thought up by author Neil Gaiman. We’ll be making book suggestions all month long in case you need ideas!

Press Release: Apex Magazine, Issue #28

We’re big fans of fiction magazines here at Dreadful Tales. In fact, I have a huge amount of old back issues of several of the best genre magazines out there, and regularly pull them out when I want a great, short read.

A while back I came across Apex Magazine. They offer great quality stories in a great mixture of Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror. Definitely something to check out.

See the official Press Release for Issue #28 after the cut. Continue reading