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(Collection Review) How to See Ghosts & Other Figments by Orrin Grey

Summary: When it comes to short fiction, Orrin Grey is a magician, a practitioner of an arcane art inspired by the likes of Méliès, Welles, and Bradbury. Through literary legerdemain and stylistic sleight-of-hand, he takes the well-told weird tale into a realm of the supernatural, the uncanny, the theatrical, and, most importantly, the entertaining. And entertainment is what you’re sure to find in this collection of stories, provocatively entitled How to See Ghosts & Other Figments. Through the magic of the written word, you will see ghosts. And so much more! The strange! The sinister! The superlative!

Orrin Grey returns with eighteen haunting stories of the strange and supernatural. How to See Ghosts & Other Figments also includes extensive story notes and an introduction by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Content Warnings: Suicide, Alcoholism, Body Horror, Gore, Child Endangerment

Review: Long time readers of the blog might remember my adoration of writer Orrin Grey. From his wonderful collections of film reviews from decades past to previous short story collections, not a single one of Orrin Grey’s work has disappointed me in the past. Thus, when I heard that a new Orrin Grey book was out in the world last year, I jumped at the opportunity to pre-order the book directly from Word Horde. 

At last, the verdict is in, and I’m happy to say this is another knockout from Grey. If anything, How to See Ghosts & Other Figments might be Orrin Grey’s best book yet.

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(Collection Review) Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies by John Langan

Summary: A family’s Halloween haunted house becomes a conduit to something ancient and uncanny; a young man’s effigy of a movie monster becomes instrumental in his defense against a bully; a family diminishes while visiting a seaside town, leaving only one to remember what changed; a father explores a mysterious tower, and the monster imprisoned within; a man mourning the death of his father travels to his father’s hometown, seeking closure, but finds himself beset by dreams of mythic bargains and a primeval, corpse-eating titan.

John Langan, author of the Bram Stoker Award-winning novel The Fisherman, returns with ten new tales of cosmic horror in Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies. In these stories, he continues to chart the course of 21st century weird fiction, from the unfamiliar to the familial, the unfathomably distant to the intimate.

Includes extensive story notes and an introduction by Sarah Langan.

Content Warnings: Gore, Body Horror, Child Death

Review: Like many horror fans, John Langan has become something of a good omen to me. So far, every book and story I’ve read from the man is legendary. More and more, I find that, if a book has Langan’s name on it, I have to purchase it and read it for myself. To not do so would be a crime to weird fiction. 

Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies is no exception. The latest short story collection from Langan is astounding, bringing its readers beautiful themes of family, nostalgia, hunger, and memory. 

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(Novel Review) Jackal by Erin E. Adams

Summary: It’s watching.

Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward, passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the couple’s daughter, Caroline, disappears—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.

It’s taking.

As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: A summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in Liz’s high school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart removed. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.

It’s your turn.

With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.

Content Warnings: Racism, Child Death, Gore

Review: 2022 appears to be the year of amazing debuts. For the life of me, I can’t quite remember another year where so many first books happen to be fantastic. In this case, it’s Jackal, the debut novel of Erin E. Adams, that continues the pattern. 

For many people, the premise immediately catches the eye. A child missing. The exploration of tokenism and segregation in a small Appalachian town. A terrible pattern, targeting all the small Black girls that have lived in Johnstown. 

Thankfully, Erin Adams lives up to the hype of that premise. Jackal stands out as an incredible debut release, featuring a relatable and complex main character, a well-researched look into the dark past of Johnstown, PA, and a hauntingly realistic antagonist. 

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(Novella Review) Crom Cruach by Valkyrie Loughcrewe

Summary: A family is found slaughtered in their home, yet their corpses still move; committed to the routine of their daily lives, heedless of their own grisly deaths. A local occultist commune is suspected of the crime. The bloody legacy of Catholicism and the dark roots of ancient paganism intertwine in the aftermath of a recent national revolution. Welcome to the Ireland of tomorrow.

Two ex-Gardai officers, a former Franciscan monk and a young trans woman race to determine the cause of the slayings before tensions in the community boil over and kick off a new Satanic Panic, driving the tenuous fledgling nation back into the arms of the Church.

Crom Cruach is a distinctly Irish anxiety piece about the reluctant future and repressed past of a country trying to shrug off the shackles of colonialism, wrapped in the shiny black leather of Giallo and written in a poetic style fit for the fog-shrouded mysticism of the emerald isle.

Content Warnings: Listed in the back of the book!

Review: For a few months now, I’ve been saying that the indie scene is making the best horror out there now. Indie authors and publishers refuse to play it safe. Often, their efforts create the most ambitious and beautiful works of art being made right now. 

Crom Cruach by Valkyrie Loughcrewe is an excellent example of this phenomena! Long have I anticipated this release, and it’s managed to meet every single one of my expectations. 

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(Novel Review) What Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher

Summary: When Alex Easton, a retired soldier, receives word that their childhood friend Madeline Usher is dying, they race to the ancestral home of the Ushers in the remote countryside of Ruritania.

What they find there is a nightmare of fungal growths and possessed wildlife, surrounding a dark, pulsing lake. Madeline sleepwalks and speaks in strange voices at night, and her brother Roderick is consumed with a mysterious malady of the nerves.

Aided by a redoubtable British mycologist and a baffled American doctor, Alex must unravel the secret of the House of Usher before it consumes them all.

Trigger Warnings: Body Horror, Animal Death, Mild Period-Typical Transphobia

Review: Ursula Vernon owns my soul. This is simple fact. Her adult works, published under the pseudonym T. Kingfisher, have never once disappointed me. All of them are different yet branded with Vernon’s style of witty, warm, yet disturbing stories with relatable protagonists and, often, friendly animal companions. Even her work in horror manages to straddle the line between terror and coziness. 

What Moves the Dead follows many of Vernon’s patterns. The novella tackles and transforms a classic Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” into a wonder of fungal horror. 

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(Novella Review) Sacculina by Philip Fracassi

Summary: When Jim’s big brother Jack is released from prison, the brothers-along with their broken father and Jack’s menacing best friend-decide to charter an ocean fishing boat to celebrate Jack’s new freedom. Once the small crew is far out to sea, however, a mutant species rises from the deep abyssal darkness to terrorize the vessel and its occupants. As the horror of their situation becomes clear, the small group must find a way to fend off the attack and somehow, someway, return to safety; but as the strange parasitic creatures overrun them, they must use more extreme-and deadly-measures to survive.

Content Warnings: Ableist Slur, Fatphobia, Body Horror, Gore

Review: I had never heard of Philip Fracassi until acquaintance and Twitter mutual, Trevor Henderson, recommended his novella, Sacculina. Now, if you don’t know, Trevor has some of the best recommendations in the genre. Whether it’s movies, books, or games, his taste has rarely let me down. Once again, I trusted him and picked up Sacculina for a good, summer read. 

For the most part, it’s another solid pick. Sacculina makes me want to read the rest of Fracassi’s work even though it stumbled on a few regressive choices. 

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(Novella Review) The Reyes Incident by Briana Morgan

Summary: A local legend gone haywire.

A small-town cop.

An impossible eyewitness testimony.

Which is easier to believe—that killer mermaids exist, or that one person is worth risking everything for?

For fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and Into the Drowning Deep comes a chilling horror story steeped in urban rumor.

Content Warnings: Gore, Body Horror, Mutilation, Infidelity

Review: When I hear the phrase “killer mermaids,” something in my brain flips a switch. I immediately need to get my hand on that piece of media. I’m not quite sure why this trope makes me go nuts. Is it that I live so close to the ocean? Is it that mermaids have fascinated me in all their differing forms my whole life? Is it the upturning of the tamed ladies of the sea we are now accustomed to? 

Whichever of these categories it might be, I just know that killer mermaids make some of the most interesting stories in the horror genre, and The Reyes Incident by Briana Morgan is no different. 

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(Novella Review) Brutal Hearts by Cassie Daley

Summary: It’s 1997 and Leah just can’t seem to catch a break.

A year has passed since her fiancé went missing while hiking alone on a mountain, and she can’t shake the unanswered questions and nightmares Simon left behind.

On the anniversary of his disappearance, Leah and her new girlfriend Josie return to the trail where Simon disappeared with two of their best friends. Armed with incense, tarot cards, crystals, and snacks, the girls have everything they need to complete the Ritual of Closure to help Leah finally say goodbye to Simon, once and for all.

But the trails are hiding something sinister, and it’s been waiting. As night falls around them, the girls find themselves in a deadly game against something vicious and wild that’s made a home for itself on the mountain.

It’s time to find out what really happened to Simon. 

Content Warning: Gore, Cannibalism, Child Death

Review: For the sake of a disclaimer, I will say that the author and I are mutuals on Twitter. However, that won’t stop me from giving an honest review on a novella that honestly intrigued me. Pansexual representation in a YA horror novel? 90s nostalgia? An incredibly creepy forest and hiking trail? All of those sounded like complete winners to me. 

In the end, Brutal Hearts proves a diverting and incredibly fast-paced read with lots of potential. However, this YA novella has a few glaring weaknesses as it winds down the mystery of Simon’s disappearance. 

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(Novel Review) Hummingbird by T.C. Parker

Summary: Jodie doesn’t want trouble – just to be left alone to raise her son in peace.

Tanya wants more God and less wickedness in her own son’s studies.

Tara wants to leave her complicated past behind her, if only it would let her go.

And all Jonas wants is to get some work done – and if he can make peace with his father while he’s at it, then so much the better.

But the woman in the cottage and the priest up at the church – they have very different goals in mind. And Jodie and Tanya, Tara and Jonas… they’re about to get caught in the crossfire.

Content Warnings: Severe Homophobia, Transphobia, Sexism, Suicide, Body Horror, Child Abuse, Attempted Underage Marriage, Non-consensual Voyeurism

Review: Like most Americans the past two weeks, every single morning brought both neverending despair for my future in this country and the expectation to keep going at normal. I’m a worker, after all. So what if my life as a queer kinda-woman has been directly shot in the heart? Customers are waiting, and you need to bring your best chipper face to make their experience as pleasant as possible. No time for mourning, yelling, or anger in that schedule. 

As a result, my reading oscillates between two extremes: cozy and comforting fantasy/fun and silly horror or incredibly angry, in-your-face horror. Hummingbird by T.C. Parker leans into the latter. 

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(Anthology Review) The Book of Queer Saints by Mae Murray

Summary: In this debut horror anthology by editor Mae Murray, queer villains reign supreme. 13 short stories by renowned authors Eric LaRocca, Hailey Piper, and Joe Koch and up-and-comers Briar Ripley Page, Nikki R. Leigh, Joshua R. Pangborn, Eric Raglin, Belle Tolls, Perry Ruhland, James Bennett, LC von Hessen, K.S. Walker, and George Daniel Lea. Revel in transformative body horror, surreal serial killings, and gay nautical mayhem. Foreword by Sam Richard of Weird Punk Books.

Content Warnings: Toxic Relationships, Rape, Sexual Assault, Body Horror, Gore, Homophobia, Internalized Transphobia

Review: If there’s one thing that’s incredibly disparaging about the queer community, it’s how easily your fellow community members can turn on you. In-fighting is rife in the queer world, and, too often, many other queer people feel way too entitled in telling you how the way you “do” your “queerness” is wrong. It’s already bad enough living in a world that attacks you.

In the wake of this atmosphere, The Book of Queer Saints, Mae Murray’s debut anthology, is a literary brick thrown through the glass windows of intracommunity bigotry. The horror stories in this collection are pure “queer-as-in-fuck-you” energy, subverting the common queer-coded tropes throughout horror history to new ends. Like many of the amazing anthologies I’ve read this year, not a single selection is bad even if not all of them are my favorites. However, I do have quite a few that are my favorites. 

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