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How far would you go to protect your children?

For Devon and her son, Cai, there doesn’t seem to be a limit. She’s prepared to leave every other member of her extended family behind, betraying everything she’s ever known to ensure that her son will be able to live. She’s even willing to bring strangers home for Cai to feast on when he’s hungry. See, Devon and her son aren’t quite human, despite their appearance. They’re members of a species known as Book Eaters. They are sustained not by food and drink, but by paper and ink. Devour a book and immediately know all of the contents of it. Memorize a document in seconds by digesting it. And Cai? Cai’s not a standard ‘eater. Unlike most members of his species, he craves memories and personalities eaten directly from a victim’s brain.

The Book Eaters are endangered, though, with girls being rare. Women in the Six Families of Book Eaters are married out of their manors into arranged weddings in order to provide genetically viable heirs. Two births per mother, then they can live a comfortable existence in one of the family manors. That’s the way it has to be. But Devon’s separation from her first child left her traumatized, and she was unwilling to go through that pain again.

When Cai is born, it’s expected that he’ll be drafted into the family’s enforcement division as a “dragon” after his limited time with his mother passes. Instead, Devon takes her young son and flees the other Book Eaters, hoping to find a source of a drug that will allow Cai to subsist on books as she does. How long can she make it when a team of dragons is chasing her? How will she cope knowing that her own brother is leading them? You’ll have to read Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters to find out.

The Book Eaters is out in stores as of yesterday. My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Tor/Forge for an advance copy in exchange for a fair review.

A while back, Tor Nightfire reached out to me after I reviewed one of their horror titles. They asked if I was interested in an upcoming non-fiction book about horror, and why people like it. I, naturally, said yes. So I was sent a copy of Nina Nesseth’s Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films, and reader, I loved it.

Nightmare Fuel digs deep into the reasons that people like me enjoy horror movies. A breakdown of the techniques used in horror, like jump scares and repetition, sheds light on the false assumption that horror movies are “switch your brain off” entertainment. Nesseth covers the definitions of fear, horror, terror, and various other terms that tie in to the film watching experience. The book examines the physiological structures in the human brain that respond to particular aspects of horror movies, explaining why our bodies respond the way they do (and consequently, how we create a barrier in our minds to help us understand the difference between a real threat situation and one that’s being shown to us in film).

As I’ve said before, I’m not much of a non-fiction reader under normal circumstances. However, Nina Nesseth has knocked this one out of the park. Nightmare Fuel is a must-read for horror movie fans, combining the science of fear with the history of the genre into a beautiful, quick read. It’s out in the world as of yesterday, so go check it out.

My utmost gratitude to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for an eARC of the book in exchange for a fair review.

Wow.

I mean.

Where do you start a review for a book like Manhunt? I’m going to have to say it starts like this, because I’ve literally never read a book like Manhunt before.

The world has ended, at least for cis men. A virulent plague has torn through humanity, attacking people with higher levels of testosterone and turning them into violent, feral monsters. The survivors do what they can to get by, rebuilding where they can. Beth and Fran navigate through the New England wilderness, tracking and killing the men and harvesting their testicles and kidneys to bring back to their friend Indi. She processes hormones for the two trans women so that they can prevent the disease from transforming them into mindless beasts as well. Together, they might be able to hold on.

However, the wild men aren’t the only threat to Beth and Fran in this remade world. Militant TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) are sweeping the eastern seaboard, killing anyone who isn’t a cis woman. Their leader, Teach, is out to leave her own mark, and she’ll destroy anything or anyone who might even consider helping trans folks.

Gretchen Felker-Martin has crafted a horrifying, violent apocalypse that skillfully wraps its way around gender and sexuality. She blends beautifully erotic scenes with the grotesque, and leaves you terrified, but somehow still wanting more. Manhunt showcases the power of found family, even in the face of utter destruction. “Community is when you never let go of each other. Not even after you’re gone.”

This book is definitely not for the faint of heart or the delicate of stomach, but it was an absolute blast. It’s out now. My thanks to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for an eARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

It’s October, and the month that I spend in celebration of Hallowe’en is one of my favorite times of the year. Nearly five weeks of spooky stories, movies, games, all building up to a night spent in costume asking strangers and friends alike for candy? I’m 100% in.

This year, one of the best scary stories that I had the pleasure of reading was Cassandra Khaw’s new novella, Nothing But Blackened Teeth. I’m a big fan of horror novellas, as I love seeing how an author can build suspense over shorter texts, and Khaw absolutely shines here. They skillfully blend Japanese myths and history with a modern setting, leaving me wanting so much more.

Nothing But Blackened Teeth is the story of a group of friends, horror fans all, who have overcome their intertwining pasts to gather at an ancient Heian-era mansion so that two of them can get married. Why not have a destination wedding in a haunted house? After learning about one of the spirits that is said to occupy the grounds, the friends soon find that their planned night of drinking and telling ghost stories may have gone a step too far. An ohaguro-bettari, the ghost of a bride-to-be, has claimed one of them as a replacement for the man who died before he could become her husband a thousand years ago.

Khaw presents us with a group of protagonists who are clearly genre-savvy, but their own interpersonal connections have grown strained, and may prove to be their undoing. “This is the problem with horror movies: Everyone knows what’s coming next but actions have momentum, every decision an equal and justified reaction. Just because you know you should, doesn’t mean you can, stop.”

I loved Nothing But Blackened Teeth, and devoured the novella in a couple of hours. It’s available for you to buy today!

My sincere thanks to NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Stephen Graham Jones wrote one of the creepiest novellas I’ve ever read, Mapping the Interior. Naturally, I leapt at the opportunity to grab an eARC of his new novel, The Only Good Indians. I’m glad I did, too.

Ten years ago, four young Blackfeet men went on their last hunt together. One last chance to get an elk before winter. Ricky, Lewis, Gabe, and Cass. It was supposed to be their shot to prove that they weren’t the screw-ups that so many folks on the reservation thought they were. One opportunity to prove that they were good Indians. Only it all went wrong, didn’t it? They weren’t supposed to be hunting in that part of the reservation. They would pay the price.

Ricky died the next year. “INDIAN MAN KILLED IN DISPUTE OUTSIDE BAR,” the headline had read. But he’d run from home. Left the reservation after his little brother overdosed, looking for work. He never made it to Minneapolis like he’d planned. But what if the headline didn’t get it quite right? What if there was more to it than a handful of roughnecks getting drunk and angry in a parking lot? More than a lone elk wandering into the lot, trashing the men’s pickups, leaving them to believe that Ricky had been causing the damage?

Now the tenth anniversary of their hunt is coming up, and Lewis is trying to find the courage to tell his wife the truth of what the four men did that day in the snow. The truth about the elk they killed, and the fate that they sealed for themselves with each rifle round. Lewis left the reservation too, though he never went as far as Ricky tried. But lately, Lewis hasn’t been feeling quite right. He’s been seeing things, impossible things. A cow elk dead in his and Peta’s living room. Dead? Or was her eye following him as he climbed the ladder? And it couldn’t be the same cow. Lewis killed her that day. Distributed her meat to the reservation elders. Still has her skin balled up in his freezer. Was it an elk that he saw? Or was it a woman with an elk’s head?

Meanwhile, Gabe and Cass are still at home on the rez, preparing a sweat lodge for a friend’s kid who needs to get put back on a proper path. A classmate of Gabe’s daughter, Denorah. The sweat will be a chance for Gabe and Cass to embrace their heritage, and pay respect to Ricky’s memory. Teach the kid, Nathan, a little too. Maybe a little bit of atonement for their elk hunt, now a decade back. At the very least, the kid’s dad will throw Gabe some extra cash that he can use to buy something for Denorah. But then, Lewis is in the headlines too…

Something survived that day, ten years ago. Something vengeful. Something patient. Something with horns.

Elk, the Blackfeet elders say, have a long memory.

The Only Good Indians is a fabulous novel. Stephen Graham Jones did not disappoint with this heartbreaking work. Part contemporary commentary on Native American lives, part slow-burning horror, it’s everything I could’ve wanted.

Happy publication day at long last, Mr. Jones.

My thanks to NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

 

I like comics, and I like horror stories, and I absolutely love when they come together well. James Tynion IV’s latest project nails that blend. Something is Killing the Children first hit comic shops in single issues starting in the fall of last year, and my attention was immediately drawn to the series. I first discovered Tynion’s writing on Detective Comics back at the beginning of the Rebirth arcs, and quickly shifted to his and Rian Sygh’s Backstagers series. Tynion’s a versatile writer (with series published under BOOM!, BOOM!Box, and DC), with a real skill for subtle, underlying horror themes. Something is Killing the Children is a much more overt horror, and it shines because of that. And unlike Backstagers, Something is Killing the Children is definitely not for the younger readers out there.

Our first chapter opens with a group of four young boys playing truth or dare at a sleepover, and a story about a monster living in a nearby ravine quickly draws scorn. They set out to investigate, just in case. We soon learn that three of those boys are now dead, and the 4th, James, is under suspicion for the deaths. Almost a dozen kids in town have died recently, with another dozen or so missing over the course of the two previous months. James is struggling to understand what happened, because what he saw that night in the ravine should’ve been impossible.

It’s only when Erica Slaughter arrives in town that James finds someone who believes his story. Erica knows that there’s a monster somewhere nearby, and she’s here at the behest of her mysterious boss to kill it before any more kids go missing. As the only known survivor of any encounters with the creature, James is going to be able to provide Erica with some much-needed intel before she sets out after it with a chainsaw.

Erica Slaughter

Meet Erica

Who is Erica, and where did she come from? Why does she carry around a stuffed octopus? Why can none of the adults seem to see the monster when it’s right in front of them? Something is Killing the Children is a dark, gory blend of Locke & Key (some bizarre things happening that adults seem weirdly oblivious about) and Stranger Things (monsters chasing teens), and I am 100% here for it. Werther Dell’Edera’s art is beautifully disconcerting, a perfect match for Tynion’s brilliantly paced writing. I’m compelled to track down more of his work now, because he’s crafted images that are going to linger in my head for days after reading this book.

The print version of volume one of Something is Killing the Children is due in stores on May 26th. The book contains the first five chapters of one of the best new horror comics I’ve picked up in years. It’s really no surprise that I loved this first volume, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. If you’re a horror fan, do yourself a favor and give it a read.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for an eARC of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Chuck Wendig’s latest writing challenge asked for us to share a real-life spooky experience. I decided to write a bit about something that happened about this time last year.

I’ve written a lot about doors. Secret passages, locked doors that contain various secrets, portals to other places… It’s definitely a recurring theme in my work. So imagine my surprise at finding something that wouldn’t be out of place in my work showing up in my apartment.

My girlfriend and I were moving in together for the first time, and we’d finally found an affordable place with enough space in the right neighborhood. We leased the apartment without looking at it, so we didn’t notice it when we first moved in. Not even when we were doing our walkthrough with the checklist the office had given us. Looking for chipped paint, broken blinds, etc. Maybe it was just the shift in lighting after we got the bedside lamp set up. Eventually, though, we spotted a small seam in the wall. There it was. A vertical line, a slight indentation too deep to just be in the paint.

“That’s weird.”

“Oh, damn. Yeah, it is. It’s like they patched the wall over here, and didn’t care that you’d be able to see a gap in the drywall. Weird.”

We didn’t think about it for a while after that. Occasionally, we’d smell smoke, though, like the next door neighbor was enjoying being in Colorado (despite lease clauses). Then, there was a revelation.

“Holy shit.”

“What?”

“Uhh… It’s not just a seam.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a door.”

“What the fuck?”

Sure enough, there was a second line running parallel to the first, about two feet over. Then we followed them up.

“Yeah. It’s a door. There’s frame here too, and look. There’s the lintel.”

“What the actual fuck?”

“I don’t know. Maybe it was a leftover from when the construction guys were building the apartment. A way between this one and the one next door without having to go back into the hall.”

“Then why would they frame it and then fill it in?”

My girlfriend even asked the leasing office about it. The agent who came to look at it had no clue it had ever been there. We pulled the bed away from the wall, and the lines ran all the way to the floor. It was unmistakably a door. Filled with drywall and painted, yes. But a door.

That was when we looked up at the ceiling and noticed the scratches in the popcorn ceiling. Gouges several inches long, spaced closely together, about a foot from the filled-in door. Another group of them a few feet away, nearer to the entrance to the bedroom. Almost like something had crawled across the ceiling from the door to the not-quite-door… Or been pulled…

 

 

 

Happy October, everyone!

 

 

 

 

I was sitting in bed, just getting ready to go to sleep when my girlfriend got up from her computer, said she’d be right back, and went out into the hallway. A couple minutes later, she walked back in and whispered that she had to show me something, so I pulled my boxers back on, unable to shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Still, I took her hand and she led me into the dark hall, pulling me into the bathroom. As my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I saw her body there on the bathroom floor.

For this weekend’s Trifextra Challenge, we were instructed to write 33 words about a beast in an unusual place. As it’s nearly Hallowe’en, I decided to write this one for you. Why? Because flash-fiction horror is fun! Here’s “Seeing is Believing.”

“Mom! Can you come look at my eye?”

“What for?”

“It feels weird.”

“Did your brother poke you again?”

“No, Mom. Just come look.”

“Coming. Now, what THE HELL IS IN YOUR EYE?!”

In 1977, Stephen King chilled readers with a tale of a young couple and their son, and the worst winter to ever pass in a hotel in Colorado. That book, The Shining, was King’s third novel, and thanks in part to the brilliant work of Jack Nicholson and Stanley Kubrick, is widely remembered as the basis for one of the greatest horror films ever. Now, almost forty years have passed since The Shining first hit shelves, and we are granted a rare treat from the master of horror. On September 24th, 2013, Stephen King released Doctor Sleep, a sequel to one of his earliest and most famous novels.

One winter, long ago, one of Colorado’s finest hotels burned to the ground after the aging boiler exploded. Four people were at the Overlook Hotel at the time. Jack Torrance (the recently hired winter caretaker), his wife, Wendy, and their son, Danny (a young boy gifted with the titular “shining”, a type of psychic power), were living in the hotel for the season. Also on location was Dick Halloran, head cook of the Overlook, who had returned from vacation in Florida because of a growing concern for the safety of the Torrance family. Mr. Torrance was killed in the blast while the other three escaped with relatively minor injuries. Torrance had reportedly returned to the hotel’s basement in an heroic attempt to relieve the pressure in the boiler, albeit regrettably too late to save the hotel and himself. The truth of that winter is known only to the survivors.

Years later, Danny Torrance is a grown man struggling with ghosts, both literal and metaphorical. Having inherited his father’s propensity for alcohol, Dan tries to hide from his past, locking away the memories of the Overlook and drinking to numb his psychic abilities, always on the move from town to town. After a time on the road, bouncing from bottle to job and back again, Dan realizes that he has to get his life back together. In a small town in New England (surprise!), Dan finds an AA sponsor and gainful employment at a local hospice. Before long, he’s learning to use his shining to help those who are near death to cross over to the other side, earning the nickname “Doctor Sleep.”

Far across the country, a group of people known as The True Knot are stalking people with shining, feeding off of their powers and extending their lives. They soon set their sights on a young girl named Abra, whose latent shining is a blazing fire next to the flickering match that is Dan Torrance’s power. The True intend to find the girl, torture her to death, and feast and rejuvenate on her power, or “steam.” When she learns of their existence and their plans, Abra reaches out via the shining, attempting to find someone who can help her stand against the True, and finds Dan. Soon the two are communicating, planning a way to defend Abra from those who would do her harm and simultaneously lay Dan’s ghosts to rest once and for all.

King has crafted a delightful tale with Doctor Sleep, continuing the story of a tormented young boy as he passes into adulthood. He skillfully weaves new and old, tying details of The Shining into the present-day narrative. It’s not The Shining all over again, but rather a different, more mature type of horror. Dan is sympathetic, and overwhelmingly human, struggling to flee from the gifts that saved his life when he was a child. Abra is a bright spot in his life, reminding him of the hope his family once had.

If you’re a Stephen King fan, odds are that you’ve already at least considered giving Doctor Sleep a read. I devoured it, and as always, I wanted more when I was done. It’s a fascinating opportunity to see the evolution of King’s writing style and technique, and a great story in its own right.