Review: Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi

cover of Boys in the Valley by Philip FracassiBoys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi
Earthling Publications (Halloween 2021)
$50 limited edition 
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Earthling Publications has set the highest bar for the Halloween season for close to two decades, bringing the best reads for the best of months. Boys in the Valley might very well be the publisher’s crowning achievement. Thank you Paul Miller for finding these diamonds in the dark and allowing horror aficionados to revel in the shadows of the highest quality of horror.

Everyone loves a great, apt comparison when seeking out the next great read, and some have likened this novel to Lord of the Flies. While that does connect, other titles set the stage for the crushing dread that is Philip Fracassi’s stunner. Imagine John Carpenter’s The Thing, John Farris’ Son of the Endless Night, and the hit television show Evil. Fracassi paints a bleak yet electrifying setting in St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys during a stifling winter in the turn of the century Pennsylvania wilderness that isolates the denizens of the home even further from civilization.

While Boys in the Valley is true horror, it also achieves what the best novels of the genre achieve: it transcends boundaries and explores the human nature and the heartfelt relationships that embrace readers before pulling them into the depths of their own personal emotions. Fracassi delves into this treatise on faith with a deft hand, choosing to embrace relationships rather than the hardcore restraints of organized religion. The plot delves into friendship, loyalty, coming of age, and peer pressure just as much as the impurity of evil itself, which further embroils the reader in the author’s grasp.

As for the story itself, Peter struggles with his looming decision to enter the priesthood for the most typical of reasons: the brotherhood of belonging that he’s never embraced versus the allure of Grace Hill, the farm girl he has grown up adoring. The relationships between the orphaned boys is also typical, as rivalries grow and fade, the young are taken in by the older, the warm-hearted are pitted against the jaded and numb. Father Andrew serves as the voice of compassion and reason while mentoring Peter amidst the harsher personalities who rule the home while harboring repressed hostilities under cover of religion.

When a group of men arrive at the orphanage, Peter watches his world disintegrate. Everything stable he’s held tight for years crumbles as one of the men is seemingly possessed. That evil is a virus which slowly spreads among the buildings, first attacking the boys psychologically and then disintegrating them from within.

Fracassi takes his time building the dread while keeping an eye on a steadily building pace that is akin to descending lava from a volcano. He uses Peter as a gauge of morality and humanity as the entity(ies) ravage the community, separating the boys akin to William Golding’s tale but with the paranoia of Carpenter’s classic. Boys in the Valley is both vicious and heartfelt, a story of crumbling innocence suffocating the relationships that should be sacred.

It’s a beautiful novel that should be — will likely be — remembered as one of the best of the young decade. A harrowing and unforgettable debut novel from Fracassi that should not be missed.

Review: Attack from the ’80s edited by Eugene Johnson

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Attack from the ’80s edited by Eugene Johnson
Raw Dog Screaming Press (Fall 2021)
hardcover $29.95
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Nostalgia can be horrific and, in this case, also incredibly fun. With over twenty tales thrown back into an era where horror bled out of every corner of the literary universe, Attack from the ’80s culls some of the best writers today, many of whom suffered through the decade to carve deep into the psyche.Continue Reading

Review: Writers Workshop of Horror 2 edited by Michael Knost

cover of Writers of Horror Workshop 2 edited by Michael KnostWriters Workshop of Horror 2 edited by Michael Knost
Hydra Publications (September 1, 2021)
e-book $9.99
Reviewed by Dave Simms

This master class of both giants of the genre and fresh voices cuts deep into every angle writers need to explore, both the necessary and the uncomfortable. Any guide that opens with Ramsey Campbell signals to the reader that a journey into the shadows will not leave one unscathed. Yet it’s the surprises within that make this purchase money well spent and a career improved.Continue Reading

Reviews: Silvers Hollow by Patrick Delaney

cover of Silvers Hollow by Patrick DelaneySilvers Hollow by Patrick Delaney
Oblivion Publishing (May 2021)
309 pages; hardcover $19.99; paperback $14.99; e-book $2.99
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Sometimes, the less said about a book, the better—and not because it’s bad, but because it’s a scintillating ride where any specific details can derail the fun.

Others have pointed to countless comparisons in reviews of this book, from The Twilight Zone to Black Mirror to Channel Zero to Twin Peaks, and ALL of them fit in some way or another.Continue Reading

Review: Double Threat by F. Paul Wilson

cover of Double Threat by F. Paul WilsonDouble Threat by F. Paul Wilson
Forge Books (June 29, 2021)
384 pages; hardcover $22.99; e-book $13.99
Reviewed by Dave Simms

The Secret History of The World is alive and well in F. Paul Wilson’s Double Threat, an unusual thriller that brings together different puzzle pieces of the author’s diverse career into one novel. For the diehard Repairman Jack fans, this story is a bit out in left field, but in the best possible manner, meaning that while the overarching plotline and universe connects with Wilson’s other works, it utilizes more humor and science fiction than what Jack fans might be accustomed to.Continue Reading

Review: Dark Across the Bay by Ania Ahlborn

cover of Dark Across the Bay by Ania AhlbornDark Across the Bay by Ania Ahlborn
Earthling Publications (2021)
$50 limited edition (Sold Out)
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Readers are given an unexpected treat by the sterling Earthling Publications with this novel by a rising star, Ania Ahlborn (yes, she’s been around for awhile — her Seed and The Bird Eater cemented her place in the world of horror and thrillers).

Typically, Earthling chooses a supernatural route, yet with Dark Across the Bay, readers are given a straight-up suspense thriller reminiscent of classic Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Serling. Cape Fear is mentioned as a comparison, yet I believe that it’s a bit unfair to this book. Ahlborn has created a entrancing tale that even takes on a shade of Stephen King’s Storm of the Century, and not because it takes place on an island off the coast of Maine.Continue Reading

Review: There Comes a Midnight Hour by Gary A. Braunbeck

cover of There Comes a Midnight Hour by Gary A. BraunbeckThere Comes a Midnight Hour by Gary Braunbeck
Raw Dog Screaming Press (March 2021)
226 pages; $17.95 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Gary Braunbeck is back! Many horror and dark fantasy fans have been anticipating this day for a long time. Raw Dog Screaming Press, a stellar entity, rarely misses on producing something special for readers. There Comes a Midnight Hour is one of their greatest achievements, from the stunning (and warped) cover to the arrangement of stories which first grasps the reader by the hand with the apocalyptic “We now pause for station identification” to the stylish closer “Down in darkest Dixie where the dead don’t dance.”Continue Reading

Review: Wicked Women: An Anthology by The New England Horror Writers

cover of Wicked Women showing a witch-like characterWicked Women: An Anthology by The New England Horror Writers edited by Trisha J. Wooldridge & Scott E. Goudsward
NEHW Press (November 2020)
242 pages; paperback $14.99; e-book $4.99
Reviewed by Dave Simms

February is Women in Horror Month, a time to celebrate those who have altered the dark landscape and pioneered the path forward into nightmares anew and fresh trails into the abyss. Note: this shouldn’t just be one month — it’s tough to highlight all of the new stars in the genre while looking back to those who paved the way.Continue Reading

Review: The House that Fell from the Sky by Patrick Delaney

cover of The House that Fell from the Sky by Patrick DelaneyThe House that Fell from the Sky by Patrick Delaney
Oblivion Publishing (September 2020)
566 pages; $28.99 hardcover; $17.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

This is a great fall book — perfectly placed for those who miss the weird horror of Ray Bradbury and Bentley Little but are aching for something new. Patrick Delaney has arrived with a strong entry into horror that is tough to classify here — is it weird horror, cosmic horror, or something else? Read on. The journey (quite long at 566 pages) is a wild and rewarding one.Continue Reading

Review: Velocities by Kathe Koja

cover of Velocities by Kathe KojaVelocities by Kathe Koja
Meerkat Press (April 2020)
200 pages; $13.69 paperback; $7.49 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Kathe Koja has long been regarded as one of the true artists in dark fiction, weaving horror into stories and novels that blur the lines of genres and realities. From her Stoker winning The Cipher back in 1991, she has upended what’s to be expected from the genre. Of course, she’s also diverted on occasion into historical fiction, young adult, suspense, and simply plain weird fiction over the years. In Velocities, some of her best has been collected, ranging from “Pas De Deux” from 1995 to “Urb Civ” from 2019 — a stunning array of styles and stories that, while accessible, reach into surreal corners of our reality and others, almost as if creeping down into the hole in The Cipher itself.Continue Reading

Review: Last Case at Baggage Auction by Eric J. Guignard

cover of last case at baggage auctionLast Case at Baggage Auction by Eric J. Guignard
Harper Day Books (August 2020)
156 pages; $24.95 hardcover; $9.95 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Eric Guignard has fast become one of the most reliable “new” writers in horror and other speculative genres in recent years. His Doorway to the Deadeye and a ultra-cool anthology Pop the Clutch cemented his reputation, not to mention his more academic studies of authors plus the 5 Senses of Horror study/anthology.

Last Case at Baggage Junction is a weird bird but a fine read that demands to be read carefully, although it can easily be devoured in one sitting. Part noir, part horror, it burrows deep into the reader’s psyche as it weaves a deceptive tale that lingers long after the final page.Continue Reading

Review: Dog Star by Keith Minnion

cover of Dog Star by Keith MinnionDog Star by Keith Minnion
White Noise Press (May 2020)
344 pages; $12.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Author and artist Keith Minnion has returned with a personal novel that’s part police procedural, part supernatural mystery. Alongside The Boneyard, one of the best horror novels of the past ten years, and the recent collection, Read Me, readers are treated to something new, although there are some tricky — and cool — connections to the aforementioned book.Continue Reading

Review: Red Hands by Christopher Golden

cover of Christopher Golden's novel Red HandsRed Hands by Christopher Golden
St. Martin’s Press (December 8, 2020)
320 pages; $27.99 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

“Weird shit.” That’s Ben Walker. The expert on weird shit from the previous two entries which are standalone novels, Ararat and The Pandora Room, one of which left a scar few horror novels ever manage to accomplish while the other dug deep into thriller territory in a deliciously fun manner. How does Chris Golden follow this up? Red Hands.Continue Reading

Review: Bone Chase by Weston Ochse

cover of Bone Chase by Weston OchseBone Chase by Weston Ochse
Gallery/Saga Press (December 1, 2020)
336 pages; $26 hardcover; $9.99 paperback
Reviewed by Dave Simms

A hunt for giants? Ties to the Bible? Rival factions that stretch back eons?

This is easily going to be one of the hottest thrillers of the year. Imagine if you will, Dan Brown writing with the pacing of Lee Child with the adventure factor of James Rollins. If that’s not enough to crack open this book, nothing will. Did I mention there are giants?Continue Reading

Review: WYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill

cover of WYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. NevillWYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill
Ritual Limited (October 2020)
106 pages; $7.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Adam Nevill has quietly transformed into one of the top writers in the past decade. His novels, ranging from Apartment 16 to last year’s The Reddening (easily this reviewer’s vote for most frightening novel of the year), have evolved into fiction that’s both accessible and surreal. The Netflix adaptation of The Ritual broke open the floodgates to new audiences everywhere. Hopefully, other films will follow.Continue Reading