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BOOK REVIEW: Full Brutal by Kristopher Triana

My first Kristopher Triana novel will NOT be my last. This is extreme horror done right.

Kim is a beautiful and popular 16-year-old cheerleader with suicidal thoughts and a general pessimism for life in general. She wants something new to change her perspective, to make her feel alive, and she decides that based on what her friends have been telling her, sex is the answer. But sex alone isn’t enough for Kim, who likes to set herself apart. Instead, she sets her sights on her sex-ed teacher and finds him all-too-willing after a few gentle nudges.

Nothing changes in her perspective, but she soon finds she quite enjoys making her teacher squirm in fear of being found out. What follows is an increasingly depraved descent into cruelty and madness, blood-soaked and full of fun twists.

I’ve read my share of extreme horror novels, and generally speaking, I like them. It’s rare that I LOVE one, but I usually have a good time. I often find that the writing or story or characters take a back seat to the moist squirts and disembowelments and the like in extreme horror, so I usually kind of treat them the way I would a popcorn action flick: turn my logic reactors off in my brain and just settle in for the fun.

However, FULL BRUTAL doesn’t suffer from ANY of these ailments. The writing was tight and flowed extremely well, the story was interesting and unique, and the characters all rang true, none more so than Kim, who tells us the story in first person, not shying away from any of the brutality and sadism she inflicts on those who think she’s their friend. What was fascinating to me was, as sick and depraved as this girl is, you find yourself rooting for her as her escapades get increasingly more vile and horrific. You don’t want her to get caught. You want her to figure out a way to deal with her ‘situation’ (no spoilers, read the damn book!). You want her to turn everything on its head and convince everyone she’s as innocent as she says she is. All while feeling like you need to run to the confessional for cheering on such rotten individual.

That’s the brilliance of this blood-soaked book: you’re rooting for the bad guy. You IDENTIFY with her. There’s a good deal of social commentary here, much like with Caroline Kepnes’s YOU (though infinitely more depraved), and Triana deftly weaves this into his tale of debasement and butchery. Watching as Kim manipulates literally EVERYONE to her whim and fancy is nothing short of brilliant, further adding to the appeal of this character who, by all rights, should be utterly reviled by any sane human being.

This isn’t what I’d call a slow burn, but it does take its time getting to the gory bits. However, there’s plenty of gooey goodness (or not-so-goodness) from the get-go, so the extremes are on display early here. But when the blood starts to flow, a mighty Amazon river of the red stuff floods the pages and does let up one iota through to the last page. In fact, it just keeps getting more and more and more intense and squirty and stomach-turning…all in the best possible ways.

The dialogue is good, the characters–especially Kim–are very well drawn and believable, the pacing is excellent, and it delivers in exactly the way you’d want an extreme horror novel to do: in dripping–and apparently delicious–chunks. There’s a good reason this gem won the 2019 Splatterpunk award. It earned it.

This is extreme horror, so reader beware if this is not your taste. The extreme content isn’t going to be for everyone. But, if you’re into this or think you might like to give it a try, I highly recommend this book to you. As far as extreme horror novels go, this would be my second favorite of all time, right behind (and I mean just a foot or two away) OFF SEASON by the late and great Jack Ketchum. It’s that good.

If this is a genre you enjoy, you’re in for a REAL treat…and Kim is a fine cook. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

NEWS & The ScareFest!

In Lexington, KY, September 12-15, this year’s annual ScareFest convention is happening, and I’ll be there at booth 48 with the Deadman’s Tome group selling copies of all my novels and my novella. With me will be titans such as James Watts (author of THEM), Richard Rumple (author of TRAIN OF BLOOD and others), and Tony Evans (author of BETTER YOU BELIEVE). We’d love it if you could come out and visit with us, take photos with us, and buy some books! HINT: we’ll even sign and inscribe them for you!

This year’s celebrity guests at the event are the ever outstanding Bruce Campbell of EVIL DEAD fame (among myriad other wonderful flicks), Skeet Ulrich of SCREAM fame, Lori Petty from TANK GIRL (and a lot of others), and Felissa Rose from SLEEPAWAY CAMP. So long as we aren’t moved, my understanding is that our booth is right there where the celebs will be, so we’re hoping for lots of traffic. I’ll have ten copies EACH of: THE DAMNED PLACE, A MURDER OF SAINTS, THE HARD GOODBYE, and TRESPASS. I know Mr. Watts will have copies of THEM, Rumple will have copies of his books, and the same with Mr. Evans. These are all great people, and we’re sure to have an absolute blast. I will be there both Friday and Saturday, though I have to get back on the road early Sunday morning, so I won’t be there for that day, however, I believe some of the others will be. So, come see us. Hang out. Buy some books and support your up and coming authors. Write reviews. Tell others about their books. But most importantly, don’t miss this event!

BOOK REVIEW: Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke

An incredibly powerful coming-of-age story that sticks with you.

This was the first thing I’ve read by Chad Lutzke, it will NOT be the last. At first, I was trying to figure out just what the genre here was. By the time it ended and I was wiping the tears from my eyes and literally saying “THAT WAS AMAZING” out loud to an empty room, I realized the best way to define this book is “emotional horror”.

There are no creeping boogeymen, no monsters, not even any real human villains, other than we get the impression that the boy’s mother may well have been one of sorts. But the way this builds the tension up to a fever pitch as the boy is hoping to place or win the coming spelling bee while his mother rots in their living room takes you to places of childhood fear and angst that all happen on an emotional level. It was truly brilliant.

The prose was perfect for this. I really felt like I was reading a memoir written by a child, but without any lack of sophistication on the writing front at all. It just connects to you the way your kid’s story might if they were pouring their heart and soul out to you. Masterful seems too trite, but I guess I’ll use it, because that’s what this was.

Not a word is wasted in this brief–but perfectly executed–masterpiece. Every note rings true, and I can’t imagine a single person not adoring this, regardless of taste. It’s that good.

Don’t miss this one. I finished this days ago, and I cannot stop thinking about it. I’ll likely revisit this one several times, which is not something I do very often. 5/5-stars. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Castle of Sorrows by Jonathan Janz

A well-done follow-up to THE SORROWS, CASTLE OF SORROWS takes us back to the island where Castle Blackwood sits ominously with its lurking, horned beast and hardly lets you breathe.

Ben finds himself heading back to The Sorrows after his mother is murdered and his baby daughter is kidnapped. He instantly knows it’s Gabriel, the beast from the island, and ends up on the island with some FBI agents, all while some gangsters follow them out there with intentions of killing all but the widowed Mrs. Blackwood so they can extract an arbitrary fee that her son incurred from them before dying on the island a year ago. No one believes Ben about the monster that lurks the island, but they’re all about to find out just how wrong they were to ever doubt him.

So the setup happens early on, wasting zero time getting things moving along, and before we know it, we’re back on the island. For about 7/8 of this book, the monster is (mostly) only spoken of or seen in shadow or periphery. But don’t take that to mean nothing is going on. There’s a hellacious gun battle on the island with the agents and the gangsters, and chaos reigns while Ben tries to stay alive and find his missing baby girl. Eventually, the cast is whittled down to the essentials, and the horror of Gabriel is unleashed.

Janz knows how to get the action moving briskly, and he does a good job of it here. There’s never a moment to get slow down here, though we do get some more history with the Widow Blackwood, her husband, and the fearsome Gabriel. Much of this book reads like a strange mobster movie in an odd setting, but the undercurrent of horror and our knowledge of what happened on the island before and what is certainly lurking there for our characters now helps to amp up the tension. When the monster finally does show up and things explode, the horror is as visceral and intense as the first book was, mirroring some aspects, but managing to give us a unique and new story to sink our teeth into that’s a lot of fun.

Claire, who met Ben in the first book and was a major character, is hardly in this one, even though she’s married to Ben now and they have a child together. However, Janz didn’t just forget about her, and when she and her role come into view, we have what may well be the set up for a third Sorrows book, something I hope I’m not wrong about. As different as this book was from its predecessor, it fits nicely into this ongoing story, and would serve as a terrific “Empire Strikes Back” style sequel, a perfect second entry in what I hope will be a trilogy.

I’ve read and reviewed now 8 Jonathan Janz novels, including this one, and he is consistently good. Even great. I’ve yet to be disappointed in his work, and I like that, like Stephen King or Lee Child, I can always pick up another of Janz’s work and instantly feel right at home. There’s no awkward period getting used to the writing before I really get invested; it happens right from the first page. And thus far, he hasn’t missed.

If you liked The Sorrows, Castle of Sorrows is a must for you. The climax is quite gripping, perhaps not as much as the first one, but it’s close, and further, it’s the epilogue that really grabs you by the short and curlies, gasping for air. And it makes for quite a sinister entry.

Another no-brainer for not only fans of Janz, but for newcomers as well, though I do recommend reading the first book before this one because you’ll be lost otherwise. This is a full-blown sequel, not a stand-alone novel, but it’s a fine entry you don’t want to miss. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Haven by Tom Deady

An exceptional coming of age horror novel. Weighty, but never boring, this is exactly MY kind of book.

A young man, disfigured and shamed, is sent to prison for 17 years in 1961 for murders he claims he never committed. Now free, he comes back to his hometown of Haven, Massachusetts to start his life over with the help of his friend and mentor, Catholic Priest, Father McCarthy. The chief of police Crawford put this guy away in 1961, and immediately wants to put him back, while his own son terrorizes some younger boys in town. But is something more afoot in Haven? And why do there never seem to be any roadkill left near the lake?

That’s more than enough of a taste for this terrific tour-de-force of a novel. The characters in this book ALL ring true and cause you to fall in love with them or despise them from your very core, depending on which one it is. The writing is very natural, not over the top, and straight forward. The prose is gentle, but effective, the dialogue never fails to come across as authentic, and the tension starts on page one and doesn’t stop building until the final one. I’ve read plenty of terrific books over the years, and I’ve come to adore the coming of age horror sub-genre. Stephen King’s IT is often what I consider the standard bearer, along with Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon (though not horror), and HAVEN takes its place amongst the titans of the genre and is clearly comfortable there. The novel never tries too hard to impress, but does so anyway page after page.

I really enjoyed the straight-forward storytelling here. As I said before, Deady never goes over the top, never abandons the naturalistic style he employs, and this is one of the books greatest strengths. Deady has no need to impress you. He’s already done it with this masterful work. The story is both simple, yet deep, spanning decades while still feeling intimate and immediate. The stakes are high, but they are presented in such a way that only a handful of characters are aware of what’s happening, keeping that intimacy I described front and center throughout.

This is not an extreme horror novel that revels in buckets of gore and depravity. This is about real-to-life small town folks facing down something far more powerful than themselves. And that’s part of its beauty. What would YOU do if you found yourself face to face with the horror this book presents? I think for most of us, Tom Deady has shown precisely how the average Joe would react.

This novel has a very mainstream appeal, while still feeling like very much its own thing. It isn’t trying to be something it isn’t, not trying to copy anything else. There are elements here that pay homage to the greats of this sub-genre, yet it manages to be completely its own, unique story. And while there IS a monster (along with some human monsters as well), nothing supernatural is present here. I like supernatural, and think this kind of story is a fine fit for such an approach, but by avoiding the supernatural, Deady manages to wed this tale to reality in such a way that even the unnamable beast within the pages seems frightfully plausible. And I was never quite able to shake that. This speaks to magnificent, understated writing.

If you like horror in the vein of Stephen King at his best when writing about children, you’re in for a treat here. AND you’re in for something Mr. King hasn’t given us already. At no point did I feel like I was reading a riff on anything else, but still appreciated its sense of knowing whom its peers are, respecting them, and doing its own thing.

If you’re not a horror fan, you’ll likely still have a great time with this book. It isn’t overly gory, though it is suspenseful throughout, and the characters are drawn in such a way that you’d want to follow and know more about them even if this were a cozy, romantic mystery. But never fear, horror lovers, there’s still plenty here to get your hackles up.

There’s nothing to consider here, other than the format you want to read this book in. Print, digital, audio, all are available, so there’s literally ZERO excuse to skip this one. And if you do, you’re the lesser for it. Find it in print, digital, or audio here.

BOOK REVIEW: Shackled by Ray Garton

Ray Garton always delivers, and SHACKLED is no exception.

A tabloid reporter uncovers a scheme where children are being kidnapped and brainwashed and forced into the sex/pornography industry, under the guise of what appears to be Satanism. A pastor’s son is taken, and he teams up with the reporter and some others to get to the bottom of this nasty web of seediness and get his son back.

I’ve been trying to decide how I would classify this novel. Garton is likely most well known for his brilliant horror novels LIVE GIRLS and RAVENOUS, and he’s pumped out several other gems like THE NEW NEIGHBOR and THE LOVELIEST DEAD. I’ve read the sequels to LIVE GIRLS and RAVENOUS, both of which are top quality as well. He also writes some thrillers, like TRAILER PARK NOIR (delightfully twisted little tale) and others, and while the story falls more in line with the thrillers in his bibliography, I’ve just about decided this one must be considered horror.

SHACKLED is brutal, unflinching, uncompromising, and devastating. Garton slaps you around for a while, knocks the wind out of you, and while you’re on the ground trying to recover, he gives you a nice triple-kick to the gut to make sure you don’t forget him. And it was absolutely perfectly executed. You get to know a young girl and a very young boy who’ve been abducted and not only do you begin to care for them, but you actually come to love them. The main character shifts to a supporting role in the final third and this transition not only worked but felt seamless and was a nice break from the norm of watching your MC make it out unscathed. This guy is VERY scathed by book’s end.

There are several unexpected developments along the way, the cast of characters is large and diverse, and Garton’s signature frankness when it comes to depravity is on full display here. All aspects of this book work very well. While it was first published in the late 90s, I actually didn’t feel it was terribly dated, even with the now outdated state of the internet chatrooms and such that lead our characters to uncover the sinister goings-on. It is a novel of its time but transcends that time very well because the characters are so well drawn that it all rings true. Horrifyingly so.

There were parts of this book that were hard to read, not because they were poorly constructed, but because Garton was making sure you looked at what he was showing you, reminding you that this kind of thing DOES happen in the real world, and all too often. The mechanics of the baddies’ cover story may vary, but unfortunately, this is an all-too-real situation for many victims in the world, and I feel like he wanted to make me look at it and get me angry. And it worked. You want to get your hands on these vile villains, wring their necks, pull out their tracheas, and THEN get nasty with them. The idea that there are people so soulless in the world is haunting, and that reality is still weighing on me since finishing the book.

If you’ve read Garton before, you’re aware of his talent. I couldn’t be more pleased with my latest read, and if you haven’t read this one yet, I urge you to do so. You’ll have to grit your teeth more than once, hold your rage in check, but the way it all pans out is glorious and masterfully written by a true great in the genre. I don’t think anyone should miss this, but be warned: Ray Garton doesn’t blink. So don’t think you’re going to stare him down, especially in this one. Find it in print, digital, and audio here.

5/5 Stars.

UPDATE: 7-25-19

So, I’ve been super busy and it looks like I’m not going to get the Newsletter out for July. That’s okay, I’ll have a double portion for the August Newsletter to fill everyone in. In the meantime, we’ll just share a few things here.

THE DAMNED PLACE has been released! On July 6th, Black Bed Sheet Books released my epic, coming-of-age horror novel, and it looks absolutely phenomenal. Coming in at 582 pages, this is a thick, hefty tome you can easily spend several days or even weeks lost inside and get an introduction to The Damned Trilogy. I’ve gotten the second installment, THE DAMNED ONES, back from the editor. I’ve got a couple scenes to rework to get things just right, but it will be done before long and I’ll present it to my publisher. My goal–which may or may not be the goal of the publisher–is to see this second installment released between 6 and 12 months from the date this first one was, which will put it coming out sometime between February and July of 2020, giving enough time for THE DAMNED PLACE to get established and gain readers eager to see what’s coming after the sinister cliffhanger ending and thirsty for more, but not so long that it has faded from memory. So, that’s my goal. We’ll see if the publisher wants to do it that way or not. I’ll certainly keep everyone informed on the progress of that book as it develops.

In the meantime, I’ve written another novel earlier this spring/early summer, a secret project which should release early in 2020. I can’t say much about this book, what it’s about, or even the title, but I will say this about it: it is a standalone novel that also crosses over into my other work, and anyone up to date with my other books will get a little grin on their face when they see how it ties in. I’ve also written a brand new novella that I’ve done a couple of drafts on so far, and I plan to do one more before it goes to an editor. I’ll be getting it out for submissions later this year (that’s the goal, anyway), but have no projection as to exactly when it might come out as of now. Again, I’ll report on it as soon as I know one way or another.

I’ve been invited to contribute to an invite-only anthology in the past few days, and I’m currently working on putting together a short story. Though it was invite-only, there is still not a guarantee it will be chosen for inclusion, so cross your fingers and say a prayer for me that I knock this one out of the park. So far, it’s coming along fantastically, so I’m optimistic.

Aside from all of that, I’m still aiming to start the third novel of The Damned Trilogy this fall (once all these other works are finalized and off my plate). I want to start that one with a completely cleared writing schedule. I’m sure that something will come up along the way, maybe a new short or two, and I’m also in talks with a couple of other authors about co-writing some things with them, so in all likelihood I’ll be working on that alongside THE DAMNED TOWN, but I aim to at least start it with 100% of my focus on that novel. It will bring a close to The Damned Saga, but also springboard several other works, which you’ll just have to wait on to see the beautiful tapestry I’m attempting to construct here, so keep an eye out.

And, of course, I’ve got another five or so novels and novellas planned in the coming years beyond this. As with all my work, all of them will take place in the same universe, with characters popping up across all of them, but these will be standalone, one-off novels where I can experiment and grow in my craft. Keep an eye out for some new things with all I’ve got coming. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

And that’s about all. Plenty is happening, but I’m so busy at the moment that I can’t lay it all out for you, for which I apologize. Watch your inbox in August for the new Newsletter where I’ll have even more exciting news to share, and while I’ve got you, go grab yourself a copy of THE DAMNED PLACE if you haven’t already (and don’t forget to check out my other offerings, all of which can be found here). THE DAMNED PLACE can be found here, and I do hope you’ll leave a review, be it positive, negative, or meh. They really help, and provide valuable feedback for me to make my future work as good as it can be.

Take care, do some reading, and God bless!