Book Review: Lost Highways edited by D. Alexander Ward

Roads are, by design, a space in between — between cities, between the looming wilds on either side of the pavement, or between two versions of oneself. They exist in a perpetual state of flux. Millions of people pass along highways, driving through towns and lives they will never know and through stories stranger than they can imagine.

Lost Highways is an anthology of short stories and artwork edited by D. Alexander Ward and presents 20 stories that you’ll never see from the safety of the passenger seat.

The stories are equal parts entertaining and enlightening. No two ever present the same theme, stretching the anthology’s premise of roads and highways to the limits of connectivity. Each author interpreted the theme in a novel and inspiring way.

Lost Highways was gripping throughout. It presents a wide array of styles within the horror genre: philosophical musings, psychological terror, gruesome violence, and tingling suspense. At no point did I consider a story to be predictable.

Though the anthology is superb from start to finish, several stories stood out to me while reading. “A Life that is not Mine” by Kristi Demeester presented a bleak look at life where the road is both a prison and an escape. Demeester’s writing was haunting and the prose almost lyrical. “The Heart Stops at the end of Laurel Lane” by Jess Landry (an alumni of the HorrorAddicts.net Next Great Horror Writer Contest!) straddled the line between harrowing and heart wrenching and left me reeling through each new revelation. “Outrunning the End” by Cullen Bunn was a trippy experiment in fiction that blurred the lines of reality on the page. These are my favorites, but each story is excellent in its own way and all the contributors should be commended for their work.

Overall, Lost Highways is an expertly curated collection of the best that horror has to offer. I highly recommend taking a look. If you’re especially brave, you might consider making it your companion on a long road trip.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Crackhouse in the Desert by Dani Brown

The Crack House in the Desert is a horror novella written by Dani Brown and released by J. Ellington Ashton Press on July 4. Kindle length: 133 pages.

The Plot

In a bleak, dystopian America, a man journeys through the desert to solve the mystery of an apocalyptic event.

The Player

Vict is a survivor in a post-apocalyptic world who’s tapped to help humanity unlock the secrets of the past to save the future.

The Review

Is The Crack House in the Desert a metaphor for humanity’s addiction to self-destructive behaviors that destroy the environment? It could be.

Grim and thought-provoking, Crack House is a viscerally descriptive view of the future of humankind and where it could wind up if it continues along a course of drug addiction, environmental irresponsibility, and living without purpose.

Crack House is the story of a man named Vict and his journey to investigate the past to find hope for the future. Living an impoverished life inside a desert shack, Vict is transported by mutant fish people to an underground facility in the mountains where a human enclave delves into ancient medicine and technology to resurrect the dead and to determine what caused the apocalypse.

Vict is surprised to find he’s an expected guest at the facility. His first meaningful encounter is with a woman named Poppy who says cryptically, “We’ve been watching you, Vict. We sent the fish people to collect you when everything was meant to be ready. We know about your dreams. We sent the storm.”

Vict’s dreams suggest he can resurrect dead bodies, which affords him the chance to discover what destroyed most of humanity and created mutants. However, the knowledge is locked away in his memories, but he knows the answer lies somewhere in a place called Arizona.

The strength of Crack House is Brown’s ability to describe her post-apocalyptic world. It’s a desolate, poisoned world full of death and decay. A world where vomit burns holes in clothing. Humans are covered in oozing, pus-filled blisters. Maggots are considered healthy snacks. Corpses are spit to the surface by rainstorms. And women use their bodies in the most unsavory ways to acquire basics like tarps and buckets from men and mutants.

Some of the most gut-wrenching parts of the book are in the first four chapters when Brown describes Vict’s mother.

“His mother couldn’t do much of anything, except smoke her escape as she pried crust away from the spot between her legs, waiting for an entry that sometimes didn’t come at all. She couldn’t even chew on her meth pipe anymore, not without teeth.”

The Crack House in the Desert is dark and dismal, but Vict’s determination offers enough light to brighten the story to a shadowy dusk.

While the ending – specifically the final two paragraphs – of Crack House confused me, I was not confused about Brown’s ability. Her writing is powerfully descriptive, and her revelation of the cause of the apocalypse is surprising and original.

Book Review: Freaks edited by Toneye Eyenot and Michael Noe

Are you looking for stories that stick in your dreams? Ones about people twisted both inside and out? You might regret what you wish for.

Freaks, a collection of stories and poetry edited by Toneye Eyenot and Michael Noe, contains 19 chilling tales of monsters, murderers, and madmen.

This anthology is not for the faint of heart. The stories inside may vary in style and subject matter, but the collection holds nothing back. Each is gruesome and stretches the limits of what you as a horror addict can stomach. The authors explore the depths of human depravity, then dig down a few more feet just for good measure.

Each author put their own spin on the anthology’s theme of horror in the realm of circuses and carnivals. The stories are a good mix of the supernatural, the speculative, and the frighteningly realistic. There are killer clowns, sure, but what about a man with a killer appetite, or a roadshow zombie attraction, or a carnival ride that is actually alive? Not all freaks are easy to identify and the worst ones are really the ones that are monsters on the inside.

My personal favorite entries are “Two for the Show” by Tina Piney and “Clownbear’s Last Performance” by Brian Glossup. Both authors created compelling characters within a short span, a difficult task when also including spine-tingling imagery and suspense.

If you’re brave enough to chance reading this, I can guarantee that you’ll be looking over your shoulder and sleeping with the lights on. And no way in hell are you going anywhere near a circus. If you feel a little squeamish, I think that’s the point.

Freaks appeals to a certain variety of horror addict. If you love to stretch the limits of what is appropriate to publish, take a look. If you want stories that will make your skin crawl and stomach churn, check this out. If you want to question your sanity and that of the authors and maybe of humanity in general… read Freaks. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Book Review: Dead Stripper Storage by Bryan Smith

Dead Stripper Storage is a horror novella written by Bryan Smith and released by Grindhouse Press on July 20, 2018. Kindle length: 129 pages.

THE PLOT

A socially inept loner wakes up to find a dead stripper on his couch with no idea how she arrived there.

THE PLAYERS

Pete Adler is a milquetoast. He’s the kind of guy you don’t notice left the room, easily forgotten, and who’s never asked to hang out after hours by co-workers.

Mary Wilson is Pete’s ex-girlfriend, who unceremoniously dumped him after a few dates. She’s the first person that Pete encounters after discovering the dead stripper.

Shane Watson is a hot-shot sales executive who tormented and humiliated Pete at work before getting fired.

THE REVIEW

Dead Stripper Storage is what the title suggests – a nihilistic grindhouse tale of manipulation, murder, and mutilation. With the author of DEPRAVED, THE KILLING KIND, and 68 KILL steering the wheel, expect a no-holds-barred ride into the darkest and most depraved pits of the human soul.

Dead Stripper Storage includes genital mutilation, necrophilia, and illegal use of a condiment. As I wrote in my Amazon review, you may never eat mayonnaise again. Beneath the repulsive behavior and acts of violence, Smith manages to create a sympathetic loser in Pete. I wanted to know how Pete escapes his impossible situation.

Of course, if Pete only had to deal with one dead stripper, he might succeed in finding a way out of this mess. However, the body count multiplies, and Pete realizes he’s a helpless pawn in a sociopath’s game with no idea what the rules are or how to play.

Dead Stripper Storage had a Quentin Tarantino vibe to it, particularly PULP FICTION and that film’s scenes where the two mob hitmen are trying to dispose of a body. It didn’t surprise me that Smith acknowledged Tarantino’s influence and that the title is inspired by a phrase in PULP FICTION.

My favorite scene is early in the story when Pete’s ex-girlfriend Mary is knocking at his door. Instead of hiding the dead stripper, he rearranges her body on the couch and covers her with a blanket, so she looks like she’s sleeping.

When Pete’s ex-girlfriend asks about the woman, he lies and says, “Look, can we take this to the kitchen? I don’t want to wake my friend. We had kind of a wild night, maybe drank a bit too much.”

Was it a pathetic attempt by Pete to make his ex-girlfriend jealous? Yes, but it rang true as something a  desperate guy might do to hide the reality of his lonely existence.

And it’s something a talented writer like Smith might do to highlight the melancholy inherent in his flawed protagonist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Book Review: Bad Man by Dathan Auerbach

Ben has been searching for his missing brother, Eric, for five years. The three-year-old boy couldn’t have just vanished into thin air in the middle of a grocery store. Eric has to be somewhere. But Ben has run out of rocks to look under and life doesn’t seem to stop no matter what he does. To help support his family, he takes a job at the very store where Eric disappeared.

The night shift plays tricks on Ben’s brain, turning his days into a blur, like the Missing Person posters of Eric that have been copied so many times that the image warped into something that doesn’t even resemble him anymore. Things seem to move when no one is around. Items go missing. Others appear as if from nowhere. The building seems as if it’s trying to tell Ben something if only he could figure out what it is.

The strange occurrences renew Ben’s search, but someone doesn’t want him to find out what really happened to Eric. In small towns, someone always knows more than they say. In this case, everyone has something to hide. Even Ben.

Dathan Auerbach spins a wonderful web of intrigue and suspicion. I sat on edge through the whole book, unsure if I was going to encounter the paranormal or the darkest depths of humanity in each turn of the page.

Bad Man approaches a difficult setting, addressing poverty, abuse, mental illness, and grief in a powerful way. Auerbach doesn’t pull any punches with his descriptions and gives an unflinching account of real-life horror. The characters feel like real people. From Ben’s tenuous grasp on reality to the quiet, sinister nature of the store’s owner, there is depth to every character you meet. No one is safe from the dreadful suspicion in the book. Auerbach masterfully leads readers to conclusion after conclusion, never knowing if they are on the right track.

Bad Man leaves you feeling the way you do in a Walmart at two am. Everything feels overexposed, too brightly lit, too empty, too quiet. It isn’t the darkness that is frightening in Bad Man, it’s the blinding light that reveals that there is nothing there to see.

Auerbach’s prose is a delight to read. He includes masterful descriptions and insights throughout with lingering quotes that you’ll want to remember for yourself. The novel is artfully crafted from cover to cover, each word carefully chosen to draw you in at every turn.

Bad Man may not linger in your nightmares, but the effect is much deeper than that. It deals a slow sort of agony as you face the uncertainty of what happened to Eric and inevitable feeling that there is no happy ending for Ben. Even if Ben gets what he wants, will there ever really be an ending to his torture? The suspense lasts until the last page. It leaves a tingling feeling of dread that claws its way out of your bones and refuses to let you put it down.

Bad Man is a fantastic novel. If you are looking for a dark, atmospheric, gripping book, then make sure to pick up a copy.

Book Review: Her Dark Inheritance Meg Hafdahl

Book Review: Her Dark Inheritance by Meg Hafdahl

Don’t be alone. Not at Night. Not in Willoughby.

Willoughby, Minnesota is an idyllic small town in Middle America. It boasts one café, one motel, and a population of five-hundred-nine. But, there are more than small town secrets hiding in the shadows of the town square. Something lurks just out of sight—and out of mind—from the residents. A bloody history of accidents, violence, and murder plagues Willoughby and threatens the town even in the present.

In July 1982, someone brutally murdered three members of the Bergman family with an ax in their Willoughby home. For decades, town suspicion has fallen on the sole survivor of the bloody massacre: Caroline, the Bergman’s teenage daughter.

But Daphne Forrest knew her mother not as Caroline Bergman, but as Jane Downs-Forrest. It wasn’t until Jane’s death that Daphne found out that her mother was the suspected murderer that newspapers had dubbed The Minnesota Borden.

Daphne visits Willoughby for the first time, looking for answers to questions about the woman she thought she knew. She may not have grown up in Willoughby, but Daphne quickly finds that she shares a connection with the town that not even the residents can fathom. Willoughby wants to show her something, something that can save the town and, maybe, Daphne herself.

Thrust into memories of unfathomable violence and fear, Daphne must face her own mistakes and find a strength that her mother never had. If she wants to get out of Willoughby alive, she must face an evil that has stalked the small town since its founding.

Her Dark Inheritance follows in a glorious tradition of American ax murderers, but it’s far from the typical tale.

Meg Hafdahl creates characters real enough to climb off the page, including a monster that stalks you long after the novel’s last sentence. The town of Willoughby itself is as real as any character. Vividly described, it’s delightful and terrifying in equal measure. It embodies an abusive relationship that traps the residents in a situation where manipulation masquerades as protection and “this is for your own good” can be just as sinister as any threat. The story raises questions that strike to the core of all of us: What does it mean to be evil? What does it mean to be weak?

Hafdahl weaves an intricate tale of betrayal, murder, and small town intrigue. Her brilliant narrative style keeps you guessing from beginning to end about the next shocking twist. Whether it’s the truth about the Bergman murders or Daphne’s ultimate fate, Hafdahl keeps you at her mercy through every page.

I haven’t read a book in one sitting in a long time, but I couldn’t put down  Her Dark Inheritance. ‘One more chapter’ led to ‘one more chapter’ and ‘one more chapter’ after that. The book is labelled for Young Adults, but is just as gripping for adults. I recommend it whole-heartedly, especially for those who like to see the darker side of the American Dream.

Guest Blog : Ungodly Undoing by Essel Pratt Review by Michele Roger

Review of Essel Pratts, UnGodly Undoing

by Michele Roger

It is rare to find a book with a fresh, creative delivery. UnGodly Undoing by Essel Pratts does not disappoint. In essence, a collection of stories but brilliantly presented via alternating chapters. The first chapter sets the stage for an ongoing conversation between a bookish, teenage boy and the local, elderly bookstore owner. The next chapter has the old man as narrator, telling a ‘real life’ story of the small town of Mishawaka. The old man in the bookstore explains that not all great stories are found in books and the stories of Mishawaka are of a town deeply cursed. The chapters continue in kind, in an anthology of a cursed town.

Love Transcends Death,” is a simple story about angst and grief of a local doctor who is mourning the death of his wife. One day, kissing her urn goodbye becomes his undoing. Pratts build up in this particular tale is well timed; revealing an unexpected plot twist.

In the chapter entitled “Damned to Life”, we hear the story of an unlikely step-father and his vampire daughter. Elizabeth is a thirteen-year-old vampire held captive in the basement of her family home. After a vampire raped her mother, Elizabeth was born violently, killing her mother in the process. She lives a life of her father feeding her tainted blood from the local blood bank. Her escape from her prison and the reconciliation between father and daughter keeps the reader guessing until the last moment.

One of my favorite stories is Canopic Servitude. This chapter tells the tale of how the town warehouse contains the preserved remains of cursed, Egyptian royal cats who come back to life. I admit I was reading that chapter with my cat in my lap. By the time I had finished, I obediently went to the kitchen, opened the fridge and made him an offering of vanilla yogurt to my familiar feline. Just in case. 

If UnGodly Undoing has one set back, it’s that the stories are told in present tense. All of them. While, as a reader, I like that the conversations between the bibliophile boy and the old bookstore owner are set in present day, it feels strange to read the town’s chilling past in the same tense. For the narration to feel more authentic, I would have liked the actual stories of the strange incidents in Mishawaka to be told in past tense.

All in all, the book is a page-turner with alternating chapters bringing both closure to the previous chapter and baiting the reader to read just one more story in the chapter to follow. Pratts final story in the book, Silence, My Love is chilling and complex. I think that his ability to write psychological horror shines in this closing story. I would hope that he would consider a whole novel in this particular sub-genre. Fighting the demons of the mind, attempting to decipher between fantasy and reality and the complete undoing of a man due to madness makes for excellent horror reading.