Book Review: ‘The Human Alchemy’ by Michael Griffin

Written by Michael Griffin

Heralded as one of the leading voices in contemporary weird fiction, Michael Griffin returns with his second collection, The Human Alchemy. Here you will find eleven magnificent tales of the strange and sublime, the familiar and the disquieting, where dreamlike beauty and breathtaking horror intertwine. Featuring an introduction by S.P. Miskowski.

Plot summary taken from wordhorde.com.

The Human Alchemy

Michael Griffin’s fiction has a way of crawling under your skin. This collection—made up of 10 stories and 1 novella—accomplishes just that. Though the stories have been published elsewhere in magazines and themed anthologies, the Griffin D.N.A is ever-present. ‘The Human Alchemy’ is filled with horror unspoken, fears and motivations hidden behind every enigmatic terror. His writing is clean and clear, laced with cerebral prose at every turn. His stories often take their time, but never overstay their strange welcome. The further I got into the collection, the more I began to notice the themes. Unreachable knowledge. Disintegration of body and mind. The insidious geometry of madness. It’s a testament to Griffin’s talent that each story surprised and thrilled me, even when I saw the writing on the wall for his poor protagonists.

It’s easy to see the fingerprints of the horror masters of yore in the collection. ‘A Slipping of Stones’ conjures the unreal quiet of Aickman’s best. The unrivaled terrors of domestic life build a home that even Shirley Jackson would have shuddered at in ‘An Ideal Retreat’. ‘Fire-Dancing’ charts a course through Laird Barron country and into a very interesting party. Though the fingerprints of other writers exist, each story felt wholly original.

Bottom line: the people at Word Horde have delivered another masterwork of a collection. Michael Griffin’s writing is efficiently drawn, but packed with dream-like and unique horror imagery. The stories enclosed are rich and varied. ‘The Lure of Devouring Light’ (his first collection) showed us a talent to watch out for. ‘The Human Alchemy’ shows us that the talent has arrived.

Book Review: ‘Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham’

doom_intro

Written by Mike Mignola and Richard Pace

Art by Troy Nixey

It’s Gotham City, 1928. Twenty years have passed since a madman slew the parents of young Bruce Wayne, heir to one of the city’s oldest fortunes. Twenty years since he fled the carnage of Gotham.
But now Bruce Wayne has returned—and hell has followed. A terrible thing from beyond space and time has awakened. The Lurker on the Threshold has called its faithful servants—immortal sorcerers, reptile men, beings of eldritch cold and fungal horror—to feed our world into its gaping maw.
If the Batman hopes to end the horror, how terrible must Bruce Wayne become?

Collects BATMAN: THE DOOM THAT CAME TO GOTHAM #1-3!

Plot summary taken from Amazon product description. Slight spoilers below…

This was seriously fantastic. This graphic novel is like a mix of everything I love: a Mignola style, Batman and Lovecraftian horror.

It helps that the comic is set in the late 1920’s. This Batman is out-matched for most of these issues, his tech wholly un-prepared to battle the unwholly creations summoned by a very eldritch Ra’s Al Ghul to do what Great Old Ones from beyond are want to do.

Part of the fun of Batman graphic novels like this one is seeing how the creators twist around familar tropes and and villains of The Dark Knight. This one has a portal opening Two Face, an insidious Poison Ivy and a fun use of the Oracle.

These three issues pack in a lot of incredible detail and horrifying art. This is a must read for any Lovecraft or Batman fan.

Book Review: ‘The Atrocities’ by Jeremy C. Shipp

Written by Jeremy C. Shipp

When Isabella died, her parents were determined to ensure her education wouldn’t suffer.

But Isabella’s parents had not informed her new governess of Isabella’s… condition, and when Ms Valdez arrives at the estate, having forced herself through a surreal nightmare maze of twisted human-like statues, she discovers that there is no girl to tutor.

Or is there…?

Plot summary taken from Amazon product description.

I’m in love with novellas lately. They have all the strengths of a novel and the compactness of a short story. They seem to be the newest trend in horror publishing. The newest novella on the market was put out by Tor.com. And, as is the norm, it’s an incredible piece.

Jeremy C. Shipp’s novella ‘The Atrocities’ is a cosmic horror with all the trappings of a Gothic. You have a quiet governess. A creepy mansion. A secret that our protagonist must decipher. But that’s where Jeremy’s story veers away.

The setting–an artist’s mansion in the center of a hedge maze– is wholly unique. His description of the statues and paintings help create a nightmare setting that constantly surprises.

The events of the novella never go quite how you would expect. When the story wraps up I was entertained, but a little let down. I’m not saying the ending was bad. It just felt abrupt. The house was so original and atmospheric that I wanted to spend a little more times in it’s halls.

‘The Atrocities’ is worth your time. It’s hard to find such craft and atmosphere in this short of a piece.

Book Review: ‘Beneath’ by Kristi DeMeester

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Written by Kristi DeMeester

Published by Word Horde

When reporter Cora Mayburn is assigned to cover a story about a snake-handling cult in rural Appalachia, she is dismayed, for the world of cruel fundamentalist stricture, repression, glossolalia, and abuse is something she has long since put behind her in favor of a more tolerant urban existence. But she accepts the assignment, dredging up long-buried memories as she seeks the truth.

As Cora begins to uncover the secrets concealed by a veneer of faith and tradition, something ancient and long concealed begins to awaken. What secrets do the townsfolk know? What might the handsome young pastor be hiding? What will happen when occulted horrors writhe to the surface, when pallid and forgotten things rise to reclaim the Earth?

Will Cora–and the earth–survive? The answers–and pure terror–can only be found in one place: Beneath.

Plot summary taken from the Amazon product description. 

‘Beneath’ is a lot of things. It’s a modern Lovecraftian horror dipped in gore. It’s a fists-up throw down against that particularly toxic form of religion that haunts our world. DeMeester’s debut novel succeeds in taking the well worn horror stand-bys (reporter plunging into a BAD situation & a town being consumed by the evil inside of it) and gives them a fresh coat of slimy paint.

This novel’s female lead is powerful and smart, which makes for great reading. As the book progresses her anger drives her forward into the horrible events around her. I like this heroine just as I fear the antagonist that she is pushed up against. The antagonist of this story (the occulted horrors referenced above) are unique and well-drawn.

DeMeester’s writing style is rich and flowing. You can smell the mountain air and feel the dark oppression that this crazed religious community has over it. We’re introduced to a lot of characters here (I want to list them but I don’t think I can without jumping into SPOILERS) but I never felt lost. ‘Beneath’ is well paced and confident. It’s a stunning debut through and through.

There it is. Kristi DeMeester is an incredible writing talent. I’m glad I picked up this novel. Her first collection, ‘Everything’s That’s Underneath’, has moved up a couple of spots in my TBR pile. If you want a gonzo horror novel for this autumn, you can’t go wrong with this one.

 

Book Review: ‘The Con Season’ by Adam Cesare

Note: this review originally appeared on my old blog (The Fiction & Film Emporium). I hope you enjoy.

the con season

Written by Adam Cesare

Published by Black T-Shirt Books

Plot is as follows:

Horror movie starlet Clarissa Lee is beautiful, internationally known, and…completely broke.

To cap off years of questionable financial and personal decisions, Clarissa accepts an invitation to participate in a “fully immersive” fan convention. She arrives at an off-season summer camp and finds what was supposed to be a quick buck has become a real-life slasher movie.

Deep in the woods of Kentucky with a supporting cast of B-level celebrities, Clarissa must fight to survive the deadly game that the con’s organizers have rigged against her.

Plot summary taken from the Amazon product description. 

‘The Con Season’ is a horror novel for horror fans. It’s takes a literary dive into the slasher genre, bathing us in gore and plenty of knowing winks.

Adam Cesare’s newest work operates on multiple levels. It’s outside is a highly inventive bloody romp, the written equivalent to so many classic 1980’s gore-fests. After the blood begins to flow you start to see the hidden skeleton beneath. It’s clear that Cesare not only understands the tropes and clichés, but that’s he’s willing to subvert and morph them to deliver a thrilling adventure that never grows stale under decades of genre history and expectations.

Our characters are introduced as a variety of known horror archetypes. The mastermind, the killer, the final girl, the tough guy and the level headed leader. My concern going in was that Cesare would stick to those well worn clichés and that the book would suffer. Thankfully, he avoids it. Clarissa is a great character, layered with the all too real fears and concerns that an aging actress would have. The major slashed villain, The Fallen One (awesome name!) was terrifying in a very visceral way. The rest of the cast, mostly filled in with aging horror celebrities and other villains, do a fantastic job of fleshing out this horrific novel.

As horror fans we love to worship our icons. Any self respecting fan gets a little excited when Jamie Lee Curtis drops in for a cameo or when Barbara Crampton plays a leading role in some indie piece. ‘The Con Season’ plays into that nostalgia, lampooning horror conferences and demonizing the worst corners of the fandom.

Cesare is a very skilled writer, using a clear knowledge of horror pitfalls to make his high concept seem plausible at every turn. His open ending left me pondering where this story goes next. ‘The Con Season’ is a horror movie turned into a horror novel. What kind of ending are we getting?

‘The Con Season’ is a lean and mean novel. It pulls no punches. Filled with interesting characters and some truly thrilling sequences, this is a novel that everyone should immediately go out and download.

Book Review: Deadfall Hotel

Note: this review originally appeared on my old blog (The Fiction & Film Emporium). I hope you enjoy.

Deadfall Hotel by Steve Rasnic Tem

Published by Solaris

Plot is as follows:

This is the hotel where our nightmares go…

It’s where horrors come to be themselves, and the dead pause to rest between worlds. Recently widowed and unemployed, Richard Carter finds a new job, and a new life for him and his daughter Serena, as manager of the mysterious Deadfall Hotel. Jacob Ascher, the caretaker, is there to show Richard the ropes, and to tell him the many rules and traditions, but from the beginning, their new world haunts and transforms them.

It’s a terrible place. As the seasons pass, the supernatural and the sublime become a part of life, as routine as a morning cup of coffee, but it’s not safe, by any means. Deadfall Hotel is where Richard and Serena will rebuild the life that was taken from them…if it doesn’t kill them first.

deadfall

Deadfall Hotel is a haunted place. When the novel begins, with Richard Carter and his young daughter Serena taking on the job of the new management position for the haunted hotel, they aren’t sure what to expect. They are told by the current manager, an eccentric man by the name of Jacob Ascher, that the hotel is perfectly safe.
That can’t be further from the truth.

The hotel defies all forms of logic. Doors lead to nowhere. Staircases, depending on when you climb them, lead to different places. The guests are almost never human. And, when they are, something is terribly wrong. The book unfolds in a series of powerful vignettes. Richard and Serena moving in. Jacob attempting to teach Richard the day to day dangers of running a place that seems to have a life of its own. Danger comes from all angles. A guest that has a literal taste for children. A religious group that is harboring a deadly secret. Richard’s quest for understanding is a major through line as he struggles with the nightmarish logic of such a place. Through these episodic chapters, the relationship between Richard and Serena evolve.

Before the novel begins, Richard’s wife and Serena’s mother dies in a terrible accident. From that event, the novels theme comes to the forefront. Grief is a major force behind each story. The lengths that our characters must venture to find release from their pain is chilling.

As a gothic horror novel, Deadfall Hotel really works. Rasnic Tem’s prose is lyrical and dense, each description and plot turn helping to grow the titular hotel into the mysterious oddity that we receive. That being said, some humor, mostly from Richard’s confusion and Jacob’s cryptic instructions. Jacob and Richard’s interactions, from the calm veteran to the terrified newbie are a major highlight.

This isn’t a pop horror novel. I think, as a genre, horror is often scoffed at as being lesser than it’s more lofty, serious kin. ‘Deadfall Hotel’ destroys that old adage by being equal parts intelligent and terrifying. It’s clear that Rasnic Tem had something to tell us. A lesson to pull from the shadowed halls of the ‘Deadfall Hotel’.

If you are looking for a violent horror novel, you may want to look elsewhere. The threats, while just as tangible as a serial killer or the like, often come in the form of more psychological adversaries. In this hotel, your nightmares have a way of coming after you. While it may be light on bloodshed, the novel’s palpable atmosphere and world building are second to none. I’ve already ordered Steve Rasnic Tem’s newest novel. It’s been quite some time that I’ve read a horror novel that feels so grounded and yet so fantastical. Every chapter is a surprise. Every character is perfect.

I can’t wait to check back into the Deadfall Hotel. I hope to see you there.