Review: Moonless Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble

cover of Moonless NocturneMoonless Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble
25 & Y Publishing (October 2022)
338 pages; $17.95 paperback; $7.49 e- book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

When a two-time Stoker winner pens a collection, there’s a strong chance the pages will be full of magic and exquisite darkness. Add to that an introduction by the grandmaster of horror, Dr. F. Paul Wilson, the reader will feel confident that Moonless Nocturne is worth every penny.

Hank Schwaeble has written the intriguing Jake Hatcher series, yet it’s his shorter fiction where his talent truly shines. This book of dark tales span quite the spectrum of genres here, putting to rest any thoughts that the author is a one-trick pony.Continue Reading

Review: Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste

cover of Reluctant ImmortalsReluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste
Gallery/Saga Press (August 2022)
320 pages; $17.99 paperback; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

This was unexpected. Then again, for those who have ever been treated to one of Kiste’s works, the unexpected is part of the gift she gives to her readers. Gorgeous prose wrapped around the darkest reaches of the human condition in plots that are anything but overdone.Continue Reading

Review: Upgrade by Blake Crouch

cover of UpgradeUpgrade by Blake Crouch
Ballantine Books (July 2022)
352 pages; $19.20 hardcover; $14.99 e- book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Evolution can be a fascinating topic for thrillers, science fiction, and horror. One thing is clear: it almost never ends well. Just ask Dr. Moreau.

However, the evolution of Blake Crouch has been a pleasure to watch and the only danger to society is keeping readers up past their bedtimes.

From the weird brilliance of the Wayward Pines trilogy to the beautiful horror of Dark Matter, Crouch has carved out his own path in strange, dark thrillers.Continue Reading

Review: Generation X-Ed edited by Rebecca Rowland

cover of Generation Ex-edGeneration X-Ed edited by Rebecca Rowland
Dark Ink (January 2022)
350 pages; hardcover $27.71; paperback $19.99; e-book $9.99
Reviewed by Dave Simms

What’s the coolest generation in the history of mankind? Those born from 1965 to 1980 know this by heart and feel for those peons who look up to us. The best horror movies? Same — what’s better than what we grew up with? A bit, but not much. As for the horror writers, the novel was king and those fortunate enough to be conceived during this amazing time have a dark streak in their DNA that casts a long shadow.

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Review: The Fervor by Alma Katsu

cover of The FervorThe Fervor by Alma Katsu
G.P. Putnam’s Sons (April 2022)
319 pages; $27.00 hardcover
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Sometimes a book comes along that is so special, it moves rather than frightens the reader, and gives a history lesson that likely won’t be found in anything we experienced in school.

When that same book also is relevant to society today, especially in the past few years within this country, it makes for an event that transcends genre.

The Fervor is that book.Continue Reading

Review: Dance Among the Flames by Tori Eldridge

cover of Dance Among the FlamesDance Among the Flames by Tori Eldridge
Running Wild Press (May 24, 2022)
404 pages; $19.99 paperback; $9.49 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

I love when a novel not only exceeds expectations but expands the limits of what’s expected. Dance Among the Flames is a story that demands a reader’s attention and exquisitely opens the mind to descriptions and concepts not found in books typical of this genre — or genres, as this combines elements of horror, historical, fantasy, and thriller novels into a dangerous, yet delicious concoction. It asks the reader to kick back, put their feet up and bleed their imagination into the fiction.

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The Cemetery Dance Interview: The Homegrown Horror of Elizabeth Massie

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Elizabeth Massie
Elizabeth Massie

Elizabeth Massie is a modern master of horror, thrillers, and all things spooky, not to mention just about every other genre known to mankind. With her new collection of short stories, Madame Cruller’s Couch and Other Dark and Bizarre Tales, she reminds fans how a forty-year career is still improving. Yes, she’s won a pair of Stoker Awards, one for Best First Novel (Sineater) and Novella (Stephen), but she’s always gone beyond the expected, spinning her tales with a homegrown voice. She’s an eighth-generation Virginian and has incorporated an Appalachian flavor to many of her stories. While many of her tales hail from the Shenandoah region, she is familiar with many an era and local folklore. Novels such as Hell Gate and her Young Founders series, not to mention her new historical The Great Chicago Fire display her love for the the past.

Yet it is her success of the Ameri-Scares series, which focuses on folklore horror from a different state in every book, that shows the breadth of her love for dark tales for all ages. Optioned by Warner Bros, the series embraced fascinating stories while educating young readers.
When she was a little kid in Waynesboro, she wanted to be either a writer, actress, or horse when she grew up. The last two didn’t pan out (although she did perform in a variety of local theater shows back in the day and she could cut loose with a fine whinny), but the first finally came true. She juggled teaching middle school life science during the day and typing (no computers for her until the mid-1990s) books and stories at night for nine years before taking the scary plunge into full time writing.
Now Beth juggles writing and life with her wonderful husband, illustrator Cortney Skinner (she tried juggling him, too, but…), in their country home in Augusta County. She’s had more than 30 novels and collections published as well as countless short stories in anthologies and magazines and is constantly bombarded by ideas for new tales. She and Cortney like to place and find geocaches, spend time at Starbucks, and drive around, seeking roads they’ve never traveled before. Beth is fascinated by abandoned amusement parks, hospitals, and houses and always keeps an eye out.

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Review: Madame Cruller’s Couch by Elizabeth Massie

cover of Madame Cruller's CouchMadame Cruller’s Couch and Other Dark and Bizarre Tales by Elizabeth Massie
Crossroad Press (August 2021)
290 pages; hardcover $31.99; paperback $18.99; e-book $4.99
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Elizabeth Massie is an American literary treasure. Yes, she’s won the Bram Stoker Award twice but she’s far more than a horror icon. Ameri-Scares, her middle-grade series that tackles dark legends in every state, was optioned by Warner Horizon. Then there’s the mysteries, psychological suspense, historical fiction, and simply great weird stories.
In this new collection, readers will be treated to a wide swath of masterful stories, from the horrific to the oddly weird and everything in between.

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Review: Ghoul n’ the Cape by Josh Malerman

cover of Ghoul n' the CapeGhoul n’ the Cape by Josh Malerman
Earthling Publications (January 2022)
727 pages; limited edition (1,000) hardcover $75
Reviewed by Dave Simms

What can be said about this monstrosity of a book that either won’t ruin the odd, weird, serpentine, acid trip plot or confuse the living hell out of the reader? That’s kind of simple, actually?
It’s written by Josh Malerman. That should be enough for most to pick it up.

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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