On matters of horror fiction and what should or should not be defined as such, nobody gets the last word. For some people, a horror story is only as good as its ability to scare. For me, the horror genre is a spectrum, and feeling scared falls somewhere on that emotional spectrum along with a host of other feelings. Judging a book based on its ability to belong in a genre, employing the sole criteria of fear, is too subjective and limiting in my opinion.
The Fearing, Book Three: Air & Dust by John F.D. Taff
Grey Matter Press (October 2019)
320 pages; $9.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann
It’s hard to believe that we’re here. We’ve arrived at Book Three in The Fearing series by John F. D. Taff. There’s only one left! I freely admit, this makes me a little sad. I’m also wondering, is there anyone out there that hasn’t heard of this series? I’ll pretend for a moment that if you’re reading this review, you know nothing about it and this will make me excited to convince you of its epic awesomeness.
“Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I dont want to confront him. I know he’s real. I have seen his work.” No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy
Sometimes the right story, told by the right author, finds itself in your hands at just the right time. I received Grind Your Bones to Dust by Nicholas Day as a printed manuscript, three hole punched, brad at the top and the bottom holding the many pages together. It felt special when I held it.
Flipping through, I saw illustrations; striking, intentionally scribbly illustrations of man and beast.
I already knew from reading Nick’s short story collection, Nobody Gets Hurt and Other Lies, what I should expect from his first novel:
As I devoured this book, I had the distinct feeling that every single word was chosen with meticulous care and concern; no words were added flippantly, wastefully or without great intention. This kind of mindfulness from the author has a mesmerizing effect on me as a reader. This book is so compelling and gripping, my very life was suspended and held in tension until I finished.
Told in four parts, the first three parts are told almost as isolated events. There are small connective threads of familiarity, either with characters or the storyline, woven through so that you know that at some point everything is going to come together and it will be epic. That apex moment of all the points of light intersecting is in part four. The brilliance of it all is breathtaking; literally, the most masterful climax and conclusion. I have never read its equal.
It would be utter ruin if I were to overshare any of this book’s unique storyline. Part One starts right off with the protagonist, Louis Loving, fleeing a strange horror in the middle of the night. You have never encountered predators such as these in all your horror journeys.
Part Two features a villain so unfathomably evil…I could say with confidence that James Hayte is the single most wicked character to ever terrify me in literature. Second only to Cormac McCarty’s the Judge in Blood Meridian. There are murderous deeds committed you will never want to read again, and Nicholas Day writes them in such a way that you are unlikely to ever forget a single one. Part of me wishes I could scrub them from my mind and part of me wants to applaud Day for being the kind of author who absolutely knows how to write exceptionally memorable acts of violence. He understands that sometimes full detail is not required to project a horrifying act into a reader’s mind. Things can be suggested with just the right words, and it’s more unsettling than full disclosure could ever be.
One of my favorite characters is Billings, a supernatural raven who speaks in these prophetic parables and mysteries. Billings and James somehow find each other and the two of them together are some of my favorite storytelling moments.
Part Three is the introduction of some important characters who are going to lead us back to Part One. This portion of the story provides the reader with some of the best dialog I’ve ever read. Truly some profound words are exchanged and I found myself wanting to either commit everything to memory or furiously scribble down notes, so I did both. It’s in Part Three that I read one of the scariest horror fiction moments I’ve read to this day. It reads like an intense scene in some indie horror movie that is talked about for generations. Once you read it, you’ll know—that’s the scene Sadie was talking about. Like already said, Part Four is Nicholas Day showing us what he’s made of.
He writes like a man possessed, as if the very story you’re reading has somehow taken over Day’s being and poured itself out onto the page. I don’t know if Nicholas Day sold his soul at a crossroads to bring us Grind Your Bones to Dust, but this book feels like the result of a pact made with the Devil to bring us the finest horror has to offer. I’m thankful this is his first novel, because it is this reader’s opinion it will propel him farther out into the industry and we can plan to enjoy many more novels from him. I’ll be standing in line.
Nicholas Day is a science fiction, horror, and crime fiction writer, and is the co-owner (with fellow writer Don Noble) of Rooster Republic Press. His first novel, Grind Your Bones to Dust, will be released on October 10. Recently, Day sat down with Cemetery Dance’s own “Mother Horror” for a chat about creativity, wild donkeys, and a whole lot more.
The cover of A Lush and Seething Hell depicts two figures standing in some brambles; a darkness looms behind them, above them, all around them. It’s a menacing tower of darkness bearing down, but also rising up. Upon closer inspection, the figures aren’t so much standing as they are cowering.
I know because I stared at the cover and the title for awhile before I ventured past it to get at the meaty insides. And it’s that posture of cowering I remembered after I finished this book.
Did Scott Thomas peek inside our horror-loving brains while we weren’t looking and use what he found there to write the most appealing book just for us? He might have. In fact, the more I sit here with all my review notes, the more I’m convinced he overheard us talking about all our favorite things to read about and he used ALL OF THEM in this one book: Violet.
The Fearing, Book Two: Water & Wind by John F.D. Taff
Grey Matter Press (August 20, 2019)
130 pages; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann
The Fearing is an epic, apocalyptic horror story by “King of Pain” John F. D. Taff, told over the course of multiple, individual book installments published by Grey Matter Press. Book One is titled Fire & Rain, which I reviewed for Cemetery Dance in June. Here’s a quote from the review:
And this is where Taff is a damn genius. He proves time and time again that in just a few pages, in just one scene, he can manipulate the feelings of his readers and make us care about these people on the page like THAT *snaps fingers*.
If you enjoy keeping up with all the new releases in horror, then no doubt you heard about 2018’s The Nightmare Room by Chris Sorensen. Book #1 of the Messy Man series received a warm welcome from the horror industry with glowing reviews across the board from multiple sources, including me! I loved The Nightmare Room. having this to say about it:
…a really well written haunted house story that’s easy to follow and scary enough to leave the light on or read during the day. I loved it! This is a must have for your horror collection.
The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White
Delacorte Press (September 2018)
304 pages; $8.27 hardcover; $19.99 paperback; $10.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann
What a treat that a signed hardback copy of this book showed up in my mailbox just a few weeks before I learned that Kiersten White had won the 2018 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a YA Horror novel. Hearing such glowing reviews made me eager to read this popular retelling of a classic, horror favorite.
“The Sorrows is a wonderful example of a place exercising its influence over its occupants. Gothic horror at its finest.”—Frank Errington for Cemetery Dance
This review is dedicated to Frank who would have loved to read and review the sequel to The Sorrows. I miss my friend.
“Boys have scars”, he thought. “Some of them fade—and others don’t. Some scars stay with us for life.”—Brian Keene, Ghoul
Even though this book was originally published some years ago, stories this good are timeless and a well-written book can find its audience yesterday, today and tomorrow. Ghoul will now join the ranks of my favorite coming-of-age horror tales. And I know what some of you are thinking right now, “We know all about Brian Keene and Ghoul, Sadie. You’re a little late to the party!”
This debut novel from Carrie Laben sure sticks to your ribs long after you’ve read it. The prose itself is rich but it’s all the subtext and symbolism that fills up your mind with food for thought.
The Fearing, Book One: Fire & Rain by John F.D. Taff
Grey Matter Press (July 9, 2019)
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann
I think it’s a fact that human beings are obsessed with stories about our own cataclysmic demise. There’s something about this potential threat to the end of the world as we know it that inspires writers to pen epic sagas exploring humanity under extreme duress. Off the top of my head, I have enjoyed apocalyptic books like The Stand by Stephen King, Swan Song by Robert McCammon, and The Passage by Justin Cronin.
Where are my fellow John Bellairs fans? Raise your hands and be counted. I need to know who you are. It’s important to this review because I’m an avid horror fan who was first nourished on the horror milk of John Bellairs novels. Bellairs wrote dark, gothic mysteries for young readers and he never shied away from being “too scary” for kids. I relished my time in those pages.
Here I am now at forty-two years of age and Sarah Read, the talented author of The Bone Weaver’s Orchard, has just rekindled that fire by tapping some of my favorite things I loved as a young reader.
2019 is the year of Jonathan Janz. There. I said it. Flame Tree Press performed the remarkable act of acquiring his previously released titles and then doling them out to us on a pretty aggressive schedule, which is an impressive gesture all on its own…but wait! There’s more. Flame Tree is also releasing new titles from Janz.