Jonathan Janz’s name is everywhere lately. With Flame Tree Press sneaking up out of nowhere and snatching his back catalog, and his most recent effort The Siren and Specter making the rounds of Twitter feeds and Instagram posts alike, he’s hard to ignore. It was only a matter of time before I broke down and read my first Janz. The Nightmare Girl was the book that deflowered this Janz virgin.
Let me start by saying I wanted Night Shift to be something other than what it turned out to be. Let’s face it—a mining base in the Antarctic at the start of a six-month-long night shift, doesn’t your mind immediately turn to The Thing? So, I’m expecting a monster. Oh, I got one, it just happened to be of the human variety.
Right up front, allow me to get past the part of the review where I’m forced to write something cliché—a statement proclaimed in reviews since the beginning of time. Well, since the beginning of Goodreads and Amazon at least:
This is my first by this author, and it won’t be my last.
Lisa Morris certainly isn’t the first eight-year-old child to fib about her health so her parents won’t cancel a much-anticipated trip to a giant theme park. She is, however, the first child whose fib led to approximately 10 million deaths and a dramatic shift in the way the human immune system works.
There are psychological thrillers and then there are books that dive deep into the psychology of the characters; into trauma, and the deep pits that therapy and grief can dig. Alice Blanchard drags the readers into the pit with A Breath After Drowning, a thriller that—while not terribly original—is as close to perfect as it can get in this genre.
It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life edited by Eugene Johnson
Crystal Lake Publishing (December 14, 2018)
280 pages; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
There are books on writing that inspire, ones that feed the muse, ones that teach, but rarely has there been one that encompasses all three aspects that result in a must-read, must-have companion for the writer’s lair.
The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison
WildBlue Press (June 2018)
358 pages; $12.99 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
There are true crime stories and then there are books that delve so much deeper that they embed themselves under the skin and burrow into the psyche. The Crate is the latter — and beyond.
Coyote Songs opens with a father-and-son fishing trip. Don Pedro and his son, Pedrito, have their lines in the water, and have entered that peculiar lull familiar to everyone who’s ever been fishing—that time when relaxation and anticipation are jockeying for attention. As author Gabino Iglesias writes:
When fishing, nothingness was full of possibility, quietness was a timeless inhalation before a scream, and inaction was just a fuse of indeterminate length before an explosion.
It doesn’t take long to get to the explosion, which arrives in the form of a devastating act of violence that is the novel’s true beginning. From there, Coyote Songs splinters into many stories. In this excellent Book Riot interview, Iglesias noted that he needed “a plethora of shoulders on which to place the weight of something as big as pain, migration, suffering, justice, bilingualism, multiculturalism, and syncretism.” So we follow Pedrito on his quest for revenge; a coyote who initially helps children cross the border, but is soon led to his true, sacred mission; a young man, fresh out of jail, who almost immediately finds himself back on the run; an artist looking for new, impactful ways to channel her vision; and a pregnant woman who lives in fear of the thing growing inside her.
Some of these stories come together while others follow separate paths, but they are all united by the author’s raw eloquence. There are moments of pure beauty here, punctuated with jarring scenes of uncomfortable violence. There are scenes that would be at home in any contemporary crime blockbuster, and there are moments that would highlight any midnight creature feature.
It’s entertainment, yes, but it’s far from mindless. Coyote Songs bristles with the anger, disappointment and frustration that so many feel in their day-to-day lives, and Iglesias does not hesitate to point fingers at the source of those emotions. This may put some people off, and that’s a shame. His is a voice among those that are shouting to be heard—a voice we cannot afford to ignore, even though the truths he tells are often ugly and uncomfortable to hear.
There was a time when I immersed myself in sci-fi, long before I discovered horror and it took over my reading experience. Every now and again, it’s nice to go back and visit those days, and that’s just what I did with this epic, hard sci-fi novel by Brian Trent.
Kosmos is one of the most entertaining original works I’ve read in all of 2018. Considering I’ve read seventy-seven books this year that’s saying a lot.
Most years, come November, I’m looking to cleanse my palate after a month of Halloween-related horror book and movie bingeing. I usually turn to crime fiction (even though I find that horror and crime are closely intertwined — but that’s an essay for another day). Today, I’m looking at my first post-Halloween read, a story of Victorian-era opium dealing called The Best Bad Things.
Alma Rosales is a former member of the Pinkerton Agency, an early version of our nation’s F.B.I. Rosales has been dismissed from its ranks following a disastrous mission that left her partner dead. She’s made her way to Port Townsend, a Pacific Northwest hotbed of various illicit activities, particularly drugs and prostitution. She’s there to infiltrate and upend one of the area’s leading opium distribution networks, a move that could go a long way to restore her standing in the Agency.
Jack Camp is a roughhousing dockworker and member of that network — a member with aspirations of being much more than a footsoldier. He’s got a plan to find out who is stealing product from his boss, Nathaniel Wheeler, and to head off the authorities that are sniffing around Wheeler’s operation. If it works, his plan will greatly improve his standing in the organization.
Thing is, Alma Rosales and Jack Camp are the same person.
In Alma Rosales, author Katrina Carrasco has created an unforgettable lead, a walking powder keg of raw emotion whose every move is driven by her appetites for sex, for power, and for violence. Alma is playing two sides in just about every facet of her life, and her ability to maintain control while juggling dual identities and agendas is awe-inspiring.
Carrasco is juggling a lot here, too, and it’s sometimes a little difficult to keep up with the narrative. But hang with it — the tight, often beautiful prose will keep you invested even when the plot is hard to rein in, and Carrasco is eventually able to wrangle her runaway storylines into a satisfying conclusion.
The Best Bad Things is an intricately twisty, immensely enjoyable piece of crime fiction; a debut by a promising novelist worth watching.
Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Raw Dog Screaming Press (December 2017)
162 pages, $14.52 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Stephanie M. Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her Bram Stoker Award-winning poetry collection, Brothel, earned a home with Raw Dog Screaming Press alongside Hysteria: A Collection of Madness, Mourning Jewelry, An Exorcism of Angels, and her newest collection, also nominated for the Stoker Award, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare.
After reading nothing but horror for over a year now, is it possible for me to still be scared? I’ve been asked that question quite a bit lately and the answer is: Absolutely. If horror fans are honest with themselves, we are showing up for horror because there is always the potential for something to crawl up under our skin and linger there. We like it.
Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets edited by Eugene Johnson
Crystal Lake Publishing (October 2018)
570 pages; $18.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms
Sometimes an anthology accomplishes what it sets out to do and nails the concept perfectly. That doesn’t happen often in the glut of tired, generic tomes with the same old names rehashing the same old tropes and writing. But, what if someone suggested using those tropes in an alternate history, utilizing some of the most famous names, monsters, and personalities in the genre and creating fantastic tales that run the gamut from fun and entertaining to chilling and all-out weird?
The book Hag by Kathleen Kaufman is exactly what I’ve always wanted in a novel about witches. Every night, I crawled into bed and let my mind escape to the Scottish lowlands to hear more about the Cailleach — an ancient, matriarchal entity. The folklore and legend is intertwined with the modern day, coming-of-age story of the protagonist Alice Grace. Alice Grace has the ability to see things before they happen and sometimes it startles and scares her but often times, the gift serves her well.