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: 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: One Who Was With Me by Conrad Williams

cover of One Was With Me by Conrad WilliamsOne Who Was With Me by Conrad Williams
Earthling Publications (October 2020)
$45 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Dave Simms

It’s that wonderful time of year again when Earthling Publications announces their Halloween series title for the upcoming holiday. When was the last time Paul Miller failed to publish a stellar tale for this press? Hint: I’m still waiting.

Conrad Williams returns to the series in fine form here, following up his award winning The Unblemished from fourteen years ago, with a novel that at the onset sounds familiar but trust me—it’s anything but. I don’t know if the author is a baseball fan but he appears to be a master of the screwball, curveball, and sinker.Continue Reading

Review: Bloodlines by James A. Moore

Bloodlines by James A. Moore
Earthling Publications (October 2019)
304 pages; $45 signed/numbered hardcover
Reviewed by Dave Simms

James A. Moore returns to the blood-drenched streets of Black Stone Bay in the third novel of this thrilling series. For those familiar with the spectacular Halloween series from Earthling’s Paul Miller, you know this annual offering is always a special treat. There’s never been a miss in the fourteen entries by the publisher, and this one is no exception. Continue Reading

Review: ‘Goblin’ by Josh Malerman

Goblin by Josh Malerman
Earthling Publications (October 2017)
$50 signed & numbered hardcover (limited to 500)
Reviewed by Dave Simms

It’s that time of year again when horror is in the air, a celebrated author is called up, and Earthling Publications churns out another Halloween masterpiece. This year, the newest superstar in the genre, Josh Malerman, takes the helm and delivers one of the best offerings in the history of the series.

Goblin is Derry. It’s Oxrun Station. It’s Cedar Hill. It’s Green Town. It’s all of us in our home towns and yet, it’s something brand new where the greats would likely fear to live. Think of Goblin as Derry’s disturbed little brother.

This book, comprised of a sextet of short novellas, takes the small town motif and shreds it, molding it into something which fills the reader with uneasy pleasure from cover to cover. Malerman, fresh off the success of his second novel Black Mad Wheel and news that Bird Box will soon be a major motion picture, seems to display more skill, more darkness, with each story.

“A Man In Slices” shows how friendship can be a tricky concept. One boy does whatever he can to help his lonely friend, at any cost.

“Kamp” is a lighter tale about a man petrified of a seeing a ghost. Everyone in his family has, and he knows his time is coming. How Walter copes with the expectation will make many reader feel a bit better about their own issues with things that go bump in the night.

“Happy Birthday, Hunter” displays the heart and obsession of a man who cannot give up the hunt. Nash’s addiction comes to a boiling point during his 60th birthday party when he decides to kill Goblin’s most prized game in the north woods, a place from which no one ever returns.

“Presto” is a love affair with magic, the oldest and darkest kind where a young boy seeks to learn the secrets behind his favorite performer in a story which channels classic Bradbury.

“A Mix-Up At The Zoo” details the inner struggle of Dirk, a man who switches jobs to become a tour guide in a zoo, a far cry from his other employment in the slaughterhouse. He finds a talent for understanding the mighty beasts within the cages but feels a certain darkness brewing when he drifts off in thought.

“The Hedges.” Those mazes built in corn and the famed topiary in the film version of The Shining emerge here in the final story of the collection. Young Margot claims to have solved the unsolvable creation by Wayne Sherman. What she finds at the end causes her to alert the Goblin Police, a decision which might be worse than keeping the secret to herself.

The mythology about Goblin’s history is richly drawn within these stories and connects them with a style that keeps the pages turning. Malerman has created a town which may even be darker than King, Grant, and Bradbury’s nightmares. Goblin is all Malerman and should be listed on every horror reader’s itinerary of places to visit, with the lights turned low and the night breeze creeping into the room.

An incredible Halloween find for all.

Review: ‘Bloodstained Wonderland’ by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore

Bloodstained Wonderland by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore
Earthling Publications (June 2017)
136 pages; $35.00 signed, numbered hardback
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Down the rabbit hole she goes, only this time it’s wrapped in barbed wire and tinged with venom. Bloodstained Wonderland rambles through a nightmarish land which Lewis Carroll could only have imagined if his mind melded with Clive Barker on a weekend bender of LSD and Absinthe.Continue Reading

Review: ‘Clive Barker’s Next Testament’ by Mark Alan Miller

Clive Barker’s Next Testament by Mark Alan Miller
Earthling Publications (April 2017)
 $45 gift edition; $100 deluxe edition; $125 lettered edition
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Is there a God? If there is, what is He like? Why would He put up with the hell on earth for the past millennia, and what would He think of what humanity has become? Clive Barker and Mark Miller have posited the answer to these questions in a fascinating graphic novel series Next Testament. Continue Reading

Review: ‘They Say a Girl Died Here Once’ by Sarah Pinborough

They_Say_a_Girl_Died_Here_Once_by_Sarah_PinboroughThey Say a Girl Died Here Once by Sarah Pinborough
Earthling Publications (October 2016)
202 pages; $35 signed & numbered hardcover;  $400 lettered edition
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Every year for the last 11 years, Earthling Publications has played Santa on our “Horror Christmas,” a/k/a Halloween. Their gift to us each year: a new entry in the Halloween Series, a collection of short novels written by some of the best the horror genre has to offer. We’re talking your Peter Crowthers, your Gary McMahons, your Glen Hirshbergs, your James A. Moores, etc. The cream of the crop.

You’re forgiven if you haven’t heard of this series or read any of them—they are published in extremely limited quantities of 500 copies plus a smaller run of deluxe editions (the series starter—Mr. Dark’s Carnival by Glen Hirshberg—was only offered as a run of 15 handmade hardcovers), so they tend to disappear quickly. I fully expect that to be the case with this year’s entry, They Say a Girl Died Here Once, written by soon-to-be-an-overnight-success Sarah Pinborough.Continue Reading

Review: 'Rage Master' by Simon Clark

Rage Master by Simon Clark
Earthling Publications (October 2015)
250 pages, signed/numbered hardcover $45
Reviewed by David Simms

RageMasterEach year as the special holiday approaches, Earthling Publications treats horror readers with a special book that harkens back to the good old days of the genre. The supernatural is at play with haunted houses, monstrous creatures, and otherworldly scares which make the Halloween Series such a fixture in horror fiction. Paul Miller has yet to produce a bad book, yet after last year’s stellar The Halloween Children, expectations were set at a high level.Continue Reading