The Serpent’s Shadow by Daniel Braum

I was given a free copy of this for my honest review. The Serpent’s Shadow takes place at a vacation resort in Cancun, Mexico. It is told in first person by David, an 18-year-old college student who, with his sister and parents are vacationing. David and his sister, Regina, sneak out at night to hit the clubs. While doing so they meet Anne Marie who is also vacationing there.

They hit it off in a way that one might criticize as insta-love, including myself, but Braum handles this very well by using Anne Marie’s incredible beauty as a strong motivation for David’s falling for her. She seems pretty smitten with him as well. It is how the young ones tend to act, so it didn’t hamper my suspension of disbelief at all.

Things get pretty weird when they leave the resort together one day to investigate an old Mayan pyramid and a cult of Mayans practicing the old arts, so to speak. Through a cab driver they learn of a secret war between the Mayans and Mexican over an ancient power that holds the potential to destroy humanity, and David has found himself stuck in the middle of its dark and strange depths.

The Serpent’s Shadow is a fun romp through Cancun and Mayan culture. It’s weird and manages to remind me what it was like as teenager. I recommend this one as it’s short and goes by quickly, but what solidified my enjoyment of this one were the characters, especially of David and Anne Marie.

Buy it at Amazon!

The Siren And The Specter by Jonathan Janz

This is the third book I’ve read by Jonathan Janz. My journey with this author began with Dust Devils, then I read Witching Hour Theatre, and now The Siren And The Specter. In reading three of his books I can tell you, if you’re new to his work, that you’re going to have fun running into very fleshed out and also some odd characters along with some violence, both supernatural and not so supernatural, sprinkled throughout.

The Siren And The Specter is no different. Within the pages you meet David Caine, a writer who likes to debunk haunted houses and write about what he experienced while staying a night or two in said haunted house. One of my favourite things about Janz is his ability to create realistic heroes that are not the black and white of good or evil, and David isn’t necessarily a likeable guy when we meet him. We witness a scene where he pulls the rug out of a grieving widow, a rug of which sat the foundation of comfort, the only comfort, this poor woman had in losing her husband and believing he was still there. This is a great scene because it shows not only how committed David is to his work, but also what he’s willing to do in order to keep that commitment. Yet, despite my own dislike for David at first, I couldn’t help but root for him in his stay at the Alexander House, the main setting for this novel.

Speaking of which, the plot: David is invited to stay at the Alexander House, known as the most haunted house of Virginia, for a month by an old friend, Chris, and his wife, Katherine, who now own the house. They want for him to believe in the hauntings so that when they open the house to the public as a bed and breakfast, they’ll make a killing. While staying there the first night, the house wastes little time in messing with David. David, however, is stubborn, and explains all evidence as rational happenings or tricks of the mind.

Along the way we meet Honey, her husband, and their two kids. These are definitely the oddest characters within Siren, and I left my introduction to them wondering what the heck had I just read. There’s also Ralph Hooper, another neighbour who acts somewhat like David’s guide, Sheriff Harkless who is my favourite character, and Jessica. Each character breathes life and felt like real people, people that you know. More importantly, not including Honey and her own small carnival of horror, they act real.

The more David tries to debunk The Alexander House, the more it pushes back until deeply hidden secrets come to light. This creates a lot of layered tension and a few surprises.

Not every book is perfect, though, and although I found a lot of the supernatural elements in Siren as pretty spooky, some even giving me chills, the final confrontation lost a lot of that mystery and frightfulness. You’ll know what I mean when you get there, whether you agree or not.

Overall, The Siren And The Specter is a great read that allowed me to immerse myself completely in traveling along with David, figuring out things as he did. David is as layered and complex a character as the story is. The prose is easy on the eyes without being simple. Most importantly, The Siren And The Specter is a lot of fun. Go read it. I think you’ll be happy you did.

And seriously, check out this beautiful cover art!

Picture of the cover for The Siren And The Specter

Books In The Freezer Readathon

In case you might be unfamiliar, the Books In The Freezer podcast is a show that discusses horror books and a little bit of movies and television each episode. The show is hosted by two booktubers, Rachel (from Shades Of Orange) and Stephanie (from That’s What She Read). Both are great channels that discuss not only horror but other genres of books that each host has been reading.

To celebrate their first anniversary of one year, they have decided to host a readathon. It runs from October 1st through to the 14th, and there are five challenges.

I have posted the challenges below along with the books I have chosen to participate. I’ve already binge watched the videos of everyone who has decided to participate on YouTube, and I can say that this readathon is already a lot of fun.

Now, however, it is time to stop watching videos and start reading, because the madness begins now!

The challenges

1. Read a horror book by a female author:

Whispers by Kristen Dearborn (physical and ebook)

2. Read a horror anthology or short story collection:

Dead Leaves by Kealan Patrick Burke (ebook) **NOTE: I changed this selection because Dead Leaves is shorter than my original pick)

3. Read a horror book featuring or by an POC or LGBTQ+ person:

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle (physical and ebook)

4. Read a horror book that has a movie adaptation:

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu which was adapted to The Vampire Lovers by Hammer. (Audible)

5. Read a book we’ve recommended on the podcast:

The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman (Audible)

My video:

Video Night By Adam Cesare

cover for video nightVideo Night by Adam Cesare

green44.5 Stars

I love 80s nostalgia. The first I experienced of this was with Brian Keene’s Ghoul. Who knew that so many years after that book’s release that the 80s would storm into modern popular culture to the point where people are bitching that they’re tired of it?

Those people obviously didn’t grow up in that decade. But I did, and I hope that this look back to how things were done 30 years ago remains a thing for a long time.

Before Stranger Things, or It Follows, Adam Cesare also had a book set in the 80s, and ode to a time when hunting for the freakiest, goriest movies was sometimes a real struggle. There was no Internet, no Netflix, no Amazon dot com. Back then you had to be patient. Or, like Billy and Tom, you watched the same damn movie over and over again because you’ve seen the entire horror section at your video rental store.

In Video Night, that’s what our heroes do when we meet them. Friday nights are video night at Billy’s that takes place in his parents basement where they have a VHS player and a rare large screen television. But in the background, there is an alien species bent on taking over the world by infecting humans and using their bodies to breed.

I don’t want to go too deep into the plot for fear of spoilers, but what follows is basically an 80s horror film in book format with certain tropes intact and very well done. The characters were real, the prose was well-written with great flow and fun to read, and the monster was interesting. The only real issues I had was with the monster, actually. Although fun to watch, they didn’t seem alien enough to me.

I think this book is perfect for the generation X audience. As we head into our mid-forties, it’s fun to take a look back at where we come from and the adventures we had in our day. But I would recommend this one to anyone interested in the pop culture boom of the 80s, especially how it helped to shape modern horror movies and books.

The Cabin At The End Of The World by Paul Tremblay

Cover for The Cabin At The End Of The Worldgreen5 *4 1/2 stars

Author: Paul Tremblay

Publisher: William Morrow (June 26, 2018)

I have to admit something before I start: home invasion stories are not my thing. They’re too real, too much of a possibility – and a terrifying one at that. I like my horror filled with monsters and ghosts, vampires and werewolves. It’s the fantasy of horror I enjoy getting lost in, not the gruesome reality well within realms of real life possibility.

Now that that’s out of the way, what an incredible read The Cabin At The End Of The World is!

I truly believe that you should go into this one blind as I did. All I knew was what the flap jacket said. So! The basics of the story are: We follow Wen and her two dads, Eric and Andrew, who adopted her on a remote location for their vacation when their cabin is invaded by doomsday cultists (maybe) who have a terrible message for them. Let’s leave it at that and move on.

Reasons why I loved this book:
1. The characters breathed from the page. They were so real.
2. The pacing was fantastic. We start off a little slowly, but not much, because once Leonard enters the picture and starts talking to Wen the intensity starts and doesn’t really let up until the end.
3. Likewise, the atmosphere of this one is great and adds to the intensity of the story.
4. The story had me invest myself into it and the characters. I felt for each one, and I found myself heartbroken, if not completely traumatized, on more than one occasion while reading this.
5. I felt like this book was a great statement regarding our present media and the whole ‘fake news’ aspect of the news. Who do you believe? What is there to know?

What threw me off?
1. I felt like this book was supposed to keep you guessing as to what is actually happening, except that I wasn’t guessing. I honestly felt, and this could simply be my own perception of the story, that it was going only one way, not the other.
2. This leads to the end of the story, which, do not worry, I won’t spoil. As mentioned above, I felt that what was happening in this story had to be one situation or the other, and therefore would have to end that way. It didn’t.

I know that this is vague, but I’ll leave it at that. I don’t want to use certain words that might give away the ending, and this story is a journey story that you really have to experience for yourself without any outside influence.
Overall:
This book had me pause in reading it for about a week. It also had me riveted to my seat while reading it until I finished it. I still think about this book with vividness and it’s been two or three weeks since I’ve finished. Not everyone will enjoy this, but I certainly did. Recommended, and I’m certain that it will make into my top reads of 2018.

Shiloh by Philip Fracassi

Cover for ShilohShiloh by Philip Fracassi

Lovecraft eZine Press, 2018

Rating: green5

I was first introduced to Philip Fracassi listening to him as a guest on the Lovecraft eZine Podcast. The episode I’m thinking of is the one where they discussed his collection, Behold The Void, published by Journalstone in 2017. I soon after read the collection and was completely blown away by Fracassi’s story telling abilities. One thing that stood out most for me, other than how well Fracassi writes character along with the beauty of his prose, was how well he can build tension and hold it until the correct moment where the climax takes hold and the emotional release leaves you exhausted and feeling as though you’ve experienced a psychic beating.

Writers like this make me nervous. I have difficulty dealing with high tension in stories. They make me feel anxious. Lately I’ve been reading The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay, for example, and I’ve been taking my sweet time finishing because of my silly anxiety issues. That book is intense! I need to take time away from that book in order to finish it.

I digress, but have no doubt that Fracassi is in the same league. His stories torture the reader with worry and anxious emotions. Shiloh is no different

Shiloh begins where it should. It’s a war story dealing with the American Civil War battle  that took place in Hardin County, Tennessee on April 6th and 7th in 1862. With 23,746 casualties, it was one of the deadliest battles of the war, and Fracassi takes us right into the middle of it.

The story follows twin brothers Henry and William, infantry soldiers in the Confederate Army. It does not take long for the reader to become plunged right into the thick of battle and its vicious, mindless acts of brutal violence. The battle itself devolves into a scene straight out of Hell itself, a battle field possessed by demons and angels, and a terrible green glow shining out of the wounds of the dying.

I’ll stop there, because Shiloh does what great war fiction always do: short on story, heavy on theme. The theme, of course, is how animal and inhumane war is. And yet, people want it. The characters in this book all want to kill, and they do so gloriously. But why? Why are we this way? As a race of intelligent beasts, we need to get past this in order to evolve and survive.

But we don’t.

And where this novella goes with this idea in mind is not only weird and strange and horrific, it’s fitting.

I have a love of war fiction mainly because war, and how kids act during war, is utterly alien in it’s violence. It’s like giving children a licence to kill each other and then observing the madness that ensues. Shiloh does this very well, and there are some scenes within that are permanently scared into my brain.

So if war fiction is your cup of tea, I highly recommend Shiloh. And I praise it as a fantastic piece that aught to go down as one of the best. Five stars!

Photo of Philip Fracassi

The Mid-Year Reading Report

Over on booktube, I was tagged by Dane Reads to do the Mid-Year Check-In tag he helped create. It was a lot of fun for me to do. I attempted to record it right away, but Goodreads was down for one or two hours that afternoon, which coincided with my only available time that day. So I recorded it the next day when I had finally gained access to my Goodreads list of books read this year.

If you’re a booktuber on YouTube, definitely consider doing this tag.

Here are the questions and a brief answer, of which I expand upon in the video, which is also below:

1. How many books have you read so far this year?
cover for the secret to ventriloquism
21 books
2. What’s your favorite book so far this year?
3. What’s your most disappointing book so far this year?
Vampires by John Steakly. I know a lot of people don’t like the movie, but I do. The book that the movie is based on, however, is a mess, imo. And not as much fun.
4. What genre have you read most this year?
Horror. But also a lot of non-fiction, more than in a long time as I have been reading a lot of instructional book on writing, outlining, etc.
5. Name a favorite newly discovered author.
That’s a tough one to answer! There’s a lot. Jon Padgett, for sure, but also Joanna Penn, Chris Fox, and Michael McDowell.
warbler6. Name the most surprisingly good book you’ve read.
7. Name your favorite (and most anticipated) 2018 releases.

Most looking forward to Tiamat’s Wrath, which is book 8 in The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey.

Also looking forward to Raymond E. Feist’s King of Ashes. I’m excited to read a new series by Feist. He’s the author of whom was my introduction into fantasy and I’ve read most, but not all, of his Midkemia books.

Also Blood Standard by Laird Barron. Laird is one of the most popular horror/weird fiction writers, but this book is a departure from all that, and I’m really excited to see bloodwhat he does in a more mainstream crime novel.

8. What’s your next big priority for your reading?

I’ve been reading a ton of fantasy lately. I need to finish Way of Kings, which I’ve sort of put down for a week or two, and I’ve already picked up the second book Words of Radiance. I’ve also started reading the Drizzt series again, by R.A. Salvatore. I would love to tackle The Malazan Books of the Fallen.

9. What’s been your bookish highlight?

Starting my BookTube Channel. It’s seriously put a much-needed charge into my reading and even my Goodreads activity.
Here is the video:

Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone by Michael Griffin

Cover for the book

Michael Griffin is fast becoming a well-known writer within the contemporary weird fiction movement. His first collection, The Lure of Devouring Light, made waves back in 2016, and his next collection is due out in June 2018, which will include his novella An Ideal Retreat. It’s exciting times for Michael Griffin, and especially so for his fans.

Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone tells the tale of Guy, whose marriage of two decades ends suddenly and he’s living with a co-worker, Karl who is much younger. As one would expect when living with a younger bachelor, Karl is trying to get Guy laid, to experience life beyond the chain of his broken marriage and emotionally abusive ex-wife. It’s not working out so well.

Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone, I think, is about how we, in our lives, live in different chapters. One chapter can be completely alien to the next. This book is a character study that asks what happens when a person changes chapters abruptly and without any real choice in the matter. How does one find their way after living a life for 20 years of smooth transitions between chapters, and how does our protagonist find peace amongst the emotional chaos while finding a new rhythm. How does one survive while facing what is perhaps the most frightening aspect of all, yourself? Along the way, Guy meets a mysterious woman, Lily, who completely captures his attention and somehow manages to warp time and thought.

This story is a Journey down the literary rabbit hole that questions reality and sanity, time and place. It is, in the end, a piece of art that had me guessing and thinking about the story throughout the entire process. It also managed to scratch the proverbial itch I have been having lately to read something on the literary. A full five stars on this one. Recommended.

Picture of Michael Griffin

Here is my video review:

Buying Books and Making Videos

So, I did this video because vlogging your book hauls is popular on booktube. I’m a fan of this. I don’t know why, but I love watching people go through their book hauls. I just love it when people talk about books period. So I made my own on a small haul. I’ve already recorded a second book haul video, but I’m hanging on to it for now. I, in fact, have a few videos already recorded. There’s a few reasons for this. One, they’re easy to do. Two, I tend to get stuck at work. My shifts are twelve hours long, so I usually don’t have all that much energy at the end of the day to do much but hang with the family and watch cartoons with my son.

So a little back up is a good thing.

Anyhow, this is my first book haul, where I discuss Thomas Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco and Michael Griffin’s The Lure of Devouring Light.

Speaking of Michael Griffin, I recently read his novel Hieroglyphs of Blood and Bone and plan to review it.  So stay tuned…