Author Interview: Justin M. Woodward

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I do a few interviews from time to time, mostly over at Kendall Reviews, but when I was chatting with Justin recently and he was raving about what was coming down the pipeline from him, I knew I wanted to take a minute and ask some questions about his previous releases. Justin had taken a step back from writing, following the passing of his mom. Now, he’s ready to return and firing on all cylinders. When I first “broke onto the scene” if you will, back in late 2016, Justin was one of the first authors to really reach out and cheer me on. He was always encouraging and he even kindly read a bunch of my work. In fact, one of the very few blurbs I have on any of my covers was the phenomenal gem he gave regarding my debut novel ‘Invisible.’

Invisible NEW Cover

That blurb got people’s attention, and at some point here, when I get my act together to get that book re-edited and re-released for it’s “5th Year Anniversary Edition,” I’ll see if Justin wants to contribute a foreword.

Justin’s writing has always been top notch and I’ve always admired how varied his releases are. So, with all of that said, I managed to wrangle an interview with him. Justin currently lives in Headland, Alabama with his wife and two adorable sons. If you’ve not read any of his works previously – get on it – he’s a must read dark fiction author.

SS: Man, thanks so much for doing this, I always have a blast chatting with you. After a little bit away from the writing world, you’re about to return big time and take the dark fiction community by storm once again! Before we get into what’s coming, let’s jump back and revisit your earlier works. Let’s go all the way back to ‘The Variant.’ I personally loved this one, but I still struggle to try and categorize it. Would you suggest this as being Urban Fantasy?

JW: Thanks Steve. ‘The Variant’ is a bit difficult to categorize, for sure. When I first start writing it I was really into Palahniuk as far as writing style goes, but my story I had to tell was about my biggest fear: losing my (at the time) 2 year old son. I’ve heard it described as a sci-fi thriller, and I’ve also heard people refer to it simply as “horror.” Take your pick!

SS: What inspired ‘The Variant’?

JW: I was really into the band Coheed and Cambria and had become friends with the Drummer, Josh Eppard. He had a hip-hop group called Weerd Science where he talked about abductions by aliens and other phenomenon that supposedly happened to his family. It sparked an idea in my head along with my greatest fear. It sort of just came together.

SS: Now, in early 2018 you released ‘Candy.’ Correct me if I’m wrong, but you wrote this as a Patreon style release, right? Delivering a new chapter each week? Did you enjoy writing that book or were you stressed the entire time?

JW: Ha! Candy was a blast, and yes, I released it chapter-by-chapter every Saturday until it was finished. It was a challenge to myself for sure. I had no idea what was happening to Candy next, and it kept it exciting.

SS: Would you ever consider doing that again? Writing and releasing a book with new chapters each week?

JW: Definitely!

SS: ‘Candy’ is more of an action/adventure type book, more Quentin Tarantino than Wes Craven. Was the reception of the book what you expected?

JW: I’m very thankful for the type of response I got. I think “most” people got it, and if they didn’t, they didn’t have to continue. This was actually a pivotal time in my writing career where I found out what was important — involving and including fans in the process. It was also awesome writing as basically a female version of myself.

SS: Only a month or so after ‘Candy’ released, you had your classic novel drop, ‘Tamer Animals.’ That Francois Vaillancourt cover still is jaw-dropping three years later. What was the inspiration to writing this stunning, coming-of-age/folklore novel?

JW: There are actually a few factors that caused ‘Tamer Animals’ to come into being. I guess the first of which was the obvious: ‘The Variant’ was out in the world, and suddenly I’d been deemed a horror writer. Of course my short stories going out into various anthologies probably didn’t help that image. But I’d set my sights on “horror.” Around the same time, a band I really enjoy called “Other Lives” had an album of the same name. The singer crooned the chorus: “We’re just Tamer Animals. We’re the same as animals.” It clicked with me. On top of that, I’d just read “The Troop” by Nick Cutter and “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac Mccarthy, and I guess you could say they added to the soup that became ‘Tamer Animals.’

SS: ‘Tamer Animals’ has a very specific theme or plot that you touch upon in the afterword. When the book was released, do you think many people picked up on that?

JW: Funnily enough, I don’t really know. Even worse, by the end of the book, I think I was just as confused as Paul was about what the message really is. I think at the end of the day the themes will play on everyone’s mind differently, and that’s okay.

SS: Roughly a year later we got the ‘Rotten Little Things’ novella, which acts as a ‘Tamer Animals’ prequel. Was it fun to revisit that world?

JW: It was! Although that book is not necessarily “fun” by any stretch of the imagination. I definitely had a story to tell, something that had popped into my mind while driving one day and demanded to be written.

SS: I would suspect we’d get a sequel or another release set in the ‘Tamer Animals’ world at some point. Is that something you’d like to do? If so, have you made any progress on that?

JW: You weren’t supposed to ask this question! Just kidding. Yes, there is a third book in the works, though it’s currently paused. It’s actually about halfway done, and hopefully will see the light of day within the next couple years.

SS: After ‘Rotten Little Things’ you teamed up with Jay Sigler (author of Train Thoughts) for ‘Jerry’s Book Sucks: The Book.’ This book was really left field from TA and RLT. More humorous, borderline bizarro and more expansive in scope. Looking back at it now, how do you see that book in your repertoire? Does it hold up for you?

JW: To this day, JBS is my favorite thing I’ve ever released. I know that sounds crazy, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had doing something creative. I love the end product, even if it’s a bit out there (especially for horror fans taste). But I think the humor is smart, the messages strong, and the trip an absolute blast. I think the problem with the reception of JBS lies in the fact that some found it a string of random events with no point. Funnily enough, the sequel has been done for some time (and will see the light of day eventually) with a third planned. Every bit of that story has a point.

SS: Man, I didn’t know that! That’s awesome that you are still grinding away in that world. Since ‘Jerry’s Book Sucks: The Book’ you’ve been pretty much locked and focused on the Reality Bleeds series. I know that you’ve now stepped away from that series and left it in the hands of the other author. Was it a relief for you to step away? Did you use it as a catalyst to dive back into your projects you’d put on the back burner?

JW: Yes, and YES. Listen, I love the idea behind Reality Bleed and I think the first four books definitely hold up as an epic space horror saga. The problem is simple. For anyone out there wondering if it’s a good idea to commit to a fast-paced release series while your mom is dying, it’s not.

SS: I couldn’t imagine. Seriously, my condolences, Justin. Losing a parent is never easy.

A tough sentiment to follow, so my apologies for switching topics, but let’s look to the future. What’s next for Mr. Woodward? You’ve announced a Death Head’s Press Splatter Western is coming. How is that progressing? What else are you working on?

JW: I’m happy to say I’m nearly finished with my Splatter Western “Here Comes The Sun.” It’s dark, it’s violent, and it’s a bloody fun time (if your idea of fun includes a box of tissues and a night light). After that, I plan to finally release my first short story collection sometime in early 2022. I have at least two more I’d like to finish before the end of 2022. One being a coming of age story about a small town murder mystery mixed with plenty of emotion, the other is my first swing at a dark fantasy novel called CASTLEMANIA! Can’t wait to release that madness on the world.

SS: That all sounds great!

JW: Thanks again Steve!

here comes the sun

There we go! It looks like we’ll be getting a bunch of awesome new stuff coming from Woodward. If you’ve not checked out his work, please do so! He also has some fantastic short stories in a number of anthologies.

To find more of his work, check out the link to his Goodreads Page!

Book Review: Undertaker’s Moon by Ronald Kelly

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Title: Undertaker’s Moon

Author: Ronald Kelly

Release date: October 27th, 2011

If you’ve read/followed along with my reviews, you’ll undoubtedly have discovered that I love reading Lycanthrope horror. Werewolf, werewolves, all things sharp fangs, long claws, silver bullets and full moons. Inevitably though, I’ll dive into four or five in a row and I’ll need a break.

Last year, I read ‘Fear’ by Ronald Kelly, which is not only one of the best books you’ll ever read, but a book that showcases why ‘the old guard’ often times does things better than the new kids. ‘Fear’ is a prime example of that. I’ll explain in a minute.

Knowing that not only was I ready to dive into another wolf story, but also that I had this one from Kelly sitting on my Kindle, I dove in, excited to see what he’d created here.

What I liked: Kelly, even by his own admission, has had a resurgence and has stormed the dark fiction writing world once again. It has been fantastic to see. He had a writing career in the 70’s and 80’s during the horror boom then. When it went belly up, he took time off, returning full force once again roughly a decade ago. This is why I mention Kelly is from ‘the old guard.’ And what I mean by that is evident on every single page of ‘Undertaker’s Moon.’

You do not leap into the action of this story. Much like ‘Fear,’ Kelly takes his time setting things up. We get the family from Ireland who moves into the small town, they are now the new owner’s of the funeral home. We get the suddenly widowed gun shop owner, we get the horror nerd, the jock who has it all, only to lose it all, and on every single page, we smell what the streets and shops smell like, hear the tinkle of bells as doors open and close, see the friendly baker come out to sweep off the front step. Over and over, Kelly demonstrates why he’s a master storyteller and as the book progresses, this all works to the advantage of the reader.

When characters begin to be plucked off, you are devastated. When something chases someone, you can see where they are running, know why it’s a bad idea, know that it’s going to be ending in viscera and ripping and shredding.

The werewolf action within is top notch. With each incident that arrives, the pace is fantastic and the descriptions are second to none.

I really loved how Kelly laid this one out, the story crackles with small town energy and the reality that this group of unlikely survivors need to do whatever it takes to survive.

What I didn’t like: Completely minor, and I think it comes with the time period this was originally written in, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the random hobo/hitch-hiker passing through a random town who just happens to have a connection/knowledge about the beasts/events happening. In this case, it was used well, but it’s still something I’m just not a big fan of.

Why you should buy this: Kelly is a phenomenal writer and ‘Undertaker’s Moon’ has to be acknowledged as one of the best pieces of Lycanthrope fiction out there. Brimming with emotion, depth and flawed but likeable characters, this has every thing that fans of dark fiction would want and more.



Book Review: Juice Like Wounds (Wayward Children #4.5) by Seanan McGuire

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Title: Juice Like Wounds (Wayward Children #4.5)

Author: Seanan McGuire

Release date: July 13th, 2020

‘They could have gone back then, could have started their stew and set out again by daylight, but they were children in the clutches of a quest.’

Well, would you look at this?!

This morning I posted my review for ‘In an Absent Dream,’ which is Book 4 in the Wayward Children Series. Turns out, there’s a Book 4.5 available, and the bonus – it’s available as free read on the Tor website!

This one is about 35 pages and fills in a story from ‘In an Absent Dream.’ It’s funny, because in Book 4, McGuire mentions the events with the Wasp Queen and how Mockery doesn’t return, but with Book 4.5 we get to learn the events.

What I liked: The story shares how Lundy, Moon and Mockery decide they want to go on an adventure, they want to slay a monster. Three go into the woods. Only one returns.

It’s a brisk read, filled with tension and ultimately heartache and it does a great job of showcasing just how strong of a friendship those three had. It also works to show how the Archivist is seen an this omnipotent figure within the Goblin Market. You do of course learn more about that in ‘In an Absent Dream,’ but the story really hammers home a few key elements that were loosely presented within Book 4.

I really loved how this read affirmed Lundy’s desire to live by the rules and more specifically, how Lundy feels the ‘fair value’ aspect deep in their bones. McGuire has really crafted three amazing characters here and it’ll have you bawling when only two return, the third slung over a shoulder.

What I didn’t like: This is going to sound super lame, but I wish this was a full release in the series. I think there were a number of areas that could’ve been expanded, especially what Lundy was learning within the Archivist’s books.

Why you should buy this: Well, in this case, you don’t have to buy it, it’s free! So, more accurately, why should you read this? Well, if you’ve read the first four books and plan on reading the fifth, this will be a nice fill-in story that’ll enrich that experience you had the last time you opened a door and stepped through.


You can read Juice Like Wounds here;

Book Review: In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children #4) by Seanan McGuire

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Title: In an Absent Dream

Author: Seanan McGuire

Release date: January 8th, 2019

What started out as a series following a school of children who ended up somewhere they weren’t expecting, has morphed and transformed into a sprawling, expansive, metaphoric phenomenon that has me completely captivated.

I wanted to read these books, but I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy them. Then, my pal Jen, aka Book Den Jen, said I had to read them and that I would absolutely love them. And she was right. Then, my pal Jen, upon learning I was reading Book Four, said that this was her favorite of the series so far and that I’d love this one. And she was right. And I think this is also my favorite of the series, because of the struggle we see within our main character, Lundy.

Side note – today I released my list of top reads of 2021 NOT from 2021. I wish I would’ve waited a day, because this one would absolutely have been on the list.

What I liked: McGuire writes so sublimely that the second you return to this series you return to the sights and sounds and smells of ‘over there,’ of the worlds beyond the doors. With this, the fourth entry, we get to visit the Goblin Market and McGuire does a stunning job of educating us on fair value and debt.

The relationship between Lundy and Moon is an absolute highlight within this. It’s interesting because watching their relationship unfold, between Lundy’s coming’s and going’s made me well up and cry a few times. McGuire really showcased the reality that family isn’t always blood. But you know what? Seanan then crushes us with what happens when Lundy returns and discovers how upset and hurt her sister has been, each and every time Lundy has disappeared. It was a fascinating aspect that added an extra layer as well as really drove the story towards the heartache and emotional develops at the end.

I loved seeing the subtle sub-plots towards how a girl grows up but is forced to be molded into what society expects. Lundy was dealing with both her body changing, as she got older, but also how the vendors at the Goblin Market perceived her each time she returned. I also loved the way McGuire used the feather’s as a symbol towards change and how people perceive each other. This was highlighted when Lundy returned to her home and her father spotted them growing. Just pristine story-telling and McGuire has to be one of the all-time masters at crafting a story with the bare-minimum words used. Even just the glimpses and hints we get at the battle with the Wasp Queen had my imagination going. Phenomenal stuff.

What I didn’t like: While, to me at least, this book read perfectly, the only thing I didn’t really enjoy was how her family responded to Lundy when she’d leave and come back. It’s a hard thing to write out, especially trying to remain spoiler free, but I feel like the father could’ve done a better job of setting up a back story for Lundy’s leaving, especially with his previous history.

Why you should buy this: Well, if you’ve read the first three, you’ll be loving these books as much as I do and will be getting to this anyways. If you’ve not read any of them yet, you’re in for such a treat and truthfully, these are worlds that sparkle and shine, are covered in darkness and dirt, but have such amazing characters that weave back and forth. McGuire has created something truly remarkable with these books and this one just may be the best so far.



My top reads of 2021 NOT from 2021!

That’s right! I’m back.

Yesterday I presented my best-of list of the top collections/anthologies I read in 2021 (regardless of year).

Today, I present my top reads that I read this past year that were not released in 2021. Confusing? Sure? But my list of top 2021 reads FROM 2021 will be arriving at Kendall Reviews in the next month or so, and this gives me an extra way to celebrate more books. I’m zeroing in on my goal of reading 200 books in 2021 and honestly, there are so many amazing releases each and every MONTH! let alone year, that I want to try and spread the love as much as I can.

So, without further wait – here we go! And remember, this is in no particular order!

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill (Released September 17th, 2019)

This book has so much going on within that it is a perfect read for dark fiction lovers. Coming of age, monsters, portals, romance and family dynamics. Hamill really knocked this one out of the park. Loved it.

Temple of Ghosts (GhostWriters #3) by J.H. Moncrieff (Released November 6th, 2017)

I’m a massive fan of all things Moncrieff and her GhostWriters Series is a ton of fun. Book three takes the action to Egypt and we get some amazing action-packed storytelling. Moncrieff seems to have really hit her stride with each thing she’s releasing and this series is a must read for dark fiction fans!

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells (Released May 2nd, 2017)

Oh Murderbot. The first entry in the fantastic The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is a truly amazing sci-fi adventure novella. Full of action and emotion, this will get you hooked and you’ll be diving deeper into the follow up books, just as I have.

Dear Laura by Gemma Amor (Released July 2nd, 2019)

JFC is this dread personified or what? From the very first sentence until the grand finale I sprinted through this book without breathing. When it was done and over with I was gasping for air. What a ride. Amor is a stunning talent and ‘Dear Laura’ shows just why she’s so widely regarded.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu (Released March 6th, 2018)

We’ve all heard the stories around The Donner Party. But Katsu takes a piece of American History and inserts depth, emotions and conflict within these characters, bringing them to life. Katsu’s fictional take on the bad, bad decisions made was phenomenal and made me kick myself that I didn’t get to this book sooner.

The Human Son by Adrian J. Walker (Released April 28th, 2020)

A dystopian, science fiction story that will never leave my head. Set in the future where humans have become extinct, Walker crafts a story of rebirth, trust and family that filled me with so many emotions. This book is so well done, but what would you expect from Adrian?

Black Heart Boys’ Choir by Curtis M. Lawson (Released September 8th, 2019)

A horribly bleak coming-of-age story, Curtis M. Lawson crafted such a fantastic story with ‘Black Heart Boys’ Choir.’ This book will transport you back to high school, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, Lawson will show you what can happen when something goes off the rails and poor decisions are made. Outstanding.

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (Released June 2nd, 2015)

The premise of this book is top notch and the “is it happening/isn’t it happening” aspect will leave you unsettled. Tremblay writes books that feel cinematic while also asking you tough questions and on occasion, delivering tougher answers. This one got under my skin.

Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie (Released May 20th, 2014)

This book will completely destroy you. That’s not being overdramatic or “click-bait”-ish, that’s telling it like it is. All of the world’s children suddenly die. Then, they all start to come back. Only they’re slightly different. And hunger. And good Lord does DiLouie make you wish you were reading this outside on a warm Summer afternoon versus in the dark with your feet dangling like a fishing line waiting for a monster to latch on.

Lastly, a four pack. You may have figured out by now that I’m a fan of Andrew Pyper’s work. This past year, I reread four of his novels and each and everyone was better than I remembered.

Lost Girls by Andrew Pyper (Released April 13th, 2000)

Two girls go missing and their teacher is the suspect. A hot-shot lawyer is assigned the teacher’s defense case. Pyper crafts a spellbinding court procedural that is really a back drop for the real story, the true narrative, about the lady at the lake and an unexpected connection.

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (Released March 5th, 2013)

The book that introduced me to Pyper still resonates to this day. This is dark, aching and drenched in anxiety and chaos. The scene where Ullman takes some stairs to find out what is in the room at the top will leave you drenched in sweat and wishing like hell you’d paused before there for the night. So many emotions and the ending is sublime.

The Damned by Andrew Pyper (Released January 1st, 2015)

A fascinating story about a near death experience, Detroit, the connection of twins and what happens when something comes back from the other side. There’s a scene in this one with Danny and his mom that left me shattered and will most likely haunt my dreams until my time on this plain is over.

The Only Child by Andrew Pyper (Released June 6th, 2017)

The plot of this story is so utterly fascinating. A forensic psychiatrist is told her new patient believes they are the living inspiration for Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. From there a dark fiction/action/thriller unfolds that connects some dots and arrives at a finale that is truly phenomenal.

So, there we are. My fav books of 2021 NOT from 2021. I’m excited for you all to see my list of the best of 2021 FROM 2021 soon, over on Kendall Reviews. Until then, what books did you read that you loved this year?

Book Review: Zombie Santa Claus: Santa Jaws Edition by Astrid Addams

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Title: Zombie Santa Claus: Santa Jaws Edition

Author: Astrid Addams

Release date: November 22, 2021

After last years fun story, ‘Zombie Santa Claus’ Addams has returned with a follow up story, which once again is released to raise some funds for charity.

This is a quick, short read, but does pack a wallop. Going in, I didn’t read the synopsis, as I’d had fun with the previous one, but I maybe should’ve. The title is a bit misleading.

What I liked: The story takes place following the events of the previous story. Zombies now work alongside living people, tempered by chips in them that make restrict their desire to rip and shred. We get to follow Claire, a single mother who works hard to support herself and her daughter, but can never get ahead. As Christmas arrives, she’s forced to make some tough decisions.

I enjoyed seeing the struggle aspect and just how much Claire loved her daughter and how she wanted to provide her with the best life possible.

I also really enjoyed the sweet moment we got between Claire and the drug dealer who helped her out when she needed it most.

What I didn’t like: There were a couple aspects that were odd for me, and I think if this 25 pager or so had been worked into novella length or novel length it would’ve worked itself out. First up, we get a very odd back story involving Claire and someone she used to live with. It filled in a gap for how she used to support herself, but seemed incredibly unnecessary. Secondly, the ending came off as rushed and from out of nowhere. It went from a Christmas morning celebration to the oddest, extreme events happening and there was no bridge between the two. It just happens and it came off as jarring.

Why you should buy this: It’s great that this supports a charity and if you’re looking for a quick, fast, brutal read, this’ll easily tick those boxes. I don’t want to be a spoiler with the misleading title, but don’t expect any beach action.

Addams does a decent job of building a character you want to root for with Claire and who knows, maybe we’ll see more of her in future editions.



Zombie Santa Claus: Santa Jaws Edition Edition by Astrid Addams


My Top Collections/Anthologies That I Read In 2021

It’s that time of year again.

And by that, I mean, it’s nearing the end of the year and as such, we’ll begin to see a plethora of “Best-of” lists arriving shortly.

As with last year, this year I’ll have three “Best-of” lists.

Two will feature here on my own site. These will be the best books I read in 2021 NOT from 2021 and the top collections/anthologies I read in 2021 regardless of year. My top books of 2021 FROM 2021 will feature over on Kendall Reviews.

So, up first – my top collections/anthologies of 2021. And why am I releasing/posting this at the end of November, you may be asking? A couple reasons. First up – as I said, a bunch of these lists will be arriving soon, so I figured I’d get the jump on them and secondly – the end of the year is looking incredibly busy on my end. I have the time now, I might as well use that time effectively!

Alright, so, in no particular order, here we go!

Keening Country by Sean O’Connor (Release date August 13th, 2021)

Featuring four fantastically dark stories, Keening Country was a blast to read. I’ve long been a fan of O’Connor’s and it was great to see him capture the energy of his novel ‘The Weeping Season’ in each and every story here.

Tortured Willows: Bent. Bowed. Unbroken. Featuring Poetry by Christina Sng, Angela Yuriko Smith, Lee Murray, and Geneve Flynn (Release date October 7th, 2021)

Look, the reality is, when you put these four monsters of dark fiction/poetry into one anthology, you’re going to be in for a treat and this delivered over and over again. Heartbreaking and visceral, I loved this anthology so much.

Peel Back and See by Mike Thorn (Release date October 29th, 2021)

No surprise here, but when Mike Thorn decides to go dark, it goes dark. It was great to see these stories snap and crack with the energy Mike is known for and we got to revisit a couple oldies, but goodies.

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Lex H. Jones (Release date January 29th, 2021)

Lex H. Jones has an ability to subtly get under your skin before you’ve even realized it has happened and that is the theme that occurs over and over and over again in the excellent ‘Whistling Past the Graveyard.’ You should read this one just to experience ‘Lodge 328.’

Rooted (Volume 2): A Poetry Collection by Cassandra Chaput (Release date June 19th, 2021)

After loving Cassandra’s first collection, the second one doesn’t hold back. This is dark and despondent while also being joyful and uplifting. Chaput will put you through the gauntlet of emotions and the reader is all the better for it.

Someone to Share my Nightmares by Sonora Taylor (Release date October 19th, 2021)

I’ve often raved about Taylor’s ability to craft amazingly brilliant short stories and her newest collection shows just why that’s true. Over and over again, she pummels the reader and doesn’t take a single story off. Outstanding work.

Let Me Out I’ve Had Enough by Mark Matthews (Release date September 22, 2021)

Matthews has shown time and time again that he’s a dark fiction writer who infects his stories with raw emotion. He’s never afraid to make the reader uncomfortable and he’s at his absolute best when he’s knee deep in that sentiment. This was a tough collection to read, but a brilliant one.

God Forbid by A.A. Medina (Release date October 3rd, 2021)

You may think this one’s a conflict of interest, as I wrote the foreword, but honestly, when I read these stories, I was humbled to think I’d be introducing it. Medina writes with a punk rock aesthetic, where he grinds the reader with sharp blasts all the while soothing them with moments of beauty. This one is fantastic.

Dreams for the Dying by Adam Light (Release date June 14th, 2021)

Adam Light deftly weaves his way through some of the bleakest stories I’ve read in sometime. Over and over again he had me engaged within a paragraph and the world’s he created here were fantastic. Corpus Press always releases top notch work, and I’d suggest ‘Dreams for the Dying’ might be one of their best yet.

Violation Hive: and Other Stories by Brian Fatah Steele (Release date October 11th, 2021)

I’ve often marveled at Fatah Steele’s imagination and to see it showcased in another collection was pure joy to this reader. We get to see him let him mind go where it wanted and we get some of the best short stories you’ll ever read. Loved this.

The Nameless Dark: A Collection by T.E. Grau (Release date January 15th, 2015)

I was completely late to the game with this one, but man alive am I so happy to have now read it. Saying that, there isn’t a single ounce of happiness within these pages. This book is dark, brutal, bleak and unflinching. Making it one of the best collections I’ve ever read.

Infectious Hope: Poems of Hope Resilience from the Pandemic edited by Silvia Cantón Rondoni (Release date November 1st, 2021)

At first, I wasn’t sure what I’d be getting into with this one. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to read an anthology of poems based around the Covid-19 Pandemic, but boy oh boy was this good. We get poems of happiness, togetherness and seeking joy, as well as heartbreaking, poignant and tender pieces. Outstanding stuff.

Well, there we have it! My favorite collections I read this last year. Have you read any of these? Which collections/anthologies have you read that you loved that aren’t on this list? I’d love to know!

Book Review: Trollnight by Peter Tremayne


Title: Trollnight

Author: Peter Tremayne

Release date: January 1st, 1996

This book came onto my radar when Michael Patrick Hicks shared it was on Kindle deal for either $0.99 or $1.99 a few years back. The cover seemed to indicate that it was going to be a fun creature feature and with a title like ‘Trollnight’ I was excited. I didn’t really read the synopsis, nor did I before diving in recently, but having now finished the book and reading the synopsis, I’m still a bit torn over how misleading it ultimately is.

I do have Tremayne’s book ‘Snowbeast!’ as well, but I’m honestly nervous about diving into that one after reading this.

What I liked: The setup screams ‘a book Steve will love.’ After a woman dies in Norway her brother goes to try and find out more information. He’s not convinced she died the way the authorities say and when he gets there discovers that a supernatural reason might be behind her death.

Yeah? Yeah? Sounds great, right?

After finishing this one, I’m actually surprised I didn’t DNF it. I’ll get more into that in the next section, but let’s talk about what I enjoyed.

The book bristles with tension and dread. We expect something monumental to happen and we get sucked along as more and more layers are unveiled and we get the expected ‘the plot thickens’ moments. I enjoyed how Dr. Stevens kept after the truth, believing his gut feeling about his sister and how he was willing to put himself in danger time and time again to try and uncover the truth.

The setting of the book was also phenomenal and it actually works to make this book almost timeless. Set in a remote location in Norway, where often they have to walk/hike to different places, even if cellphones were prominent or this was set in the current reality, they most likely wouldn’t have reception. This allowed for the action to pick up when, if set in a modern city, would simply be over after a phone call or text message.

As for the troll aspect, well, the few chapters were we see some troll action are the best parts of the book.

What I didn’t like: I typically try and remain completely spoiler free, but this book completely lies to the reader with the synopsis, so boo on that. Look, the reality is, this book is about a brother and a police chief who uncover a black magic group and need to discover why people have been murdered. The trolls are seldom even an issue, and we get more time hearing about how the townsfolk believe a troll is seeking vengeance than any actual troll action.

We get a number of ridiculous plot points – such as the entire reason Dr. Stevens doesn’t believe his sister died skiing was because she had a fear of skiing and being outside. That’s it. Seriously. It gets brought up over and over again.

We also get characters shrugging after every single sequence of dialogue as well as they either have a moment of emotion pass over their faces or they bite their lip and look away. Every time. Doesn’t matter which character it is, someone will say something and BAM – a shrug or lip bite.

And lastly (I could actually go on but won’t) one of the most interesting characters, Inga, gets left behind every time to wait for the police simply because she’s a woman. It drove me batty. Here, Dr. Stevens doesn’t speak much/any Norwegian and has never been here before, but he frequently leaves her and runs off while chasing a hunch. It became laughable.

Why you should buy this: Look, at the end of the day, if this was called something else, say ‘A Death in the Fjord’s’ and was marketed as a thriller with nothing to do with Troll’s the book would be infinitely better and infinitely more accurate. You may very well love this ‘who-done-it’ thriller, but you won’t be getting any sort of Troll fix here and for that, I’m truly disappointed.


Book Review: The Hunger by Alma Katsu

the hunger

Title: The Hunger

Author: Alma Katsu

Release date: March 6th, 2018

First, an apology to Alma. This book has arrived at the top of my TBR two times over the last year or so, but each time I bumped it for an urgent review book for over on Kendall Reviews. That is 100% my bad and now having read this brutal piece of historical fiction, I can’t believe I didn’t read this sooner. So my apologies, Alma.

If you’ve been a life long fan of the mysterious, the macabre and the dark, you’ve no doubt come across the haunting tale of The Donner Party. The group of people who attempted, and failed, to cross over west through a high mountain pass. They never made it and when they were discovered, it was found that some had resorted to eating those who perished before them to try and stay alive.

It is with that back drop that Katsu delivers a novel of sublime beauty. I know it’s an odd phrase to use, considering plot, but the landscape and terrain felt so vibrant, so alive throughout that it felt more cinematic than literal. You could picture the slow moving wagon train crossing the plains. You could see the people and smell the families as they approached the unpassable pass and when things went dark and dirty (and boy do they ever) Katsu dimmed the light and drew the shades and made this readers stomach curdle.

What I liked: As noted in the afterword, Katsu took numerous liberties with the real-life narrative, in telling this tale of the group of settlers migrating west in the hopes of settling in California. They want to leave their troubles and worries behind and create new lives for themselves and for their families. 

One thing to note, which works perfectly towards the downfall of the group, is the time period. Late 1800’s. Men are the be-all end-all. They have the say, they make the decisions and in most cases it is the ones with the most money and loudest voice that are the ones to lead, even if they are not the smartest or the most skilled. I’d add in some note about the similarities to today’s political landscape, but I try to keep these reviews away from politics, wink wink.

The characters are so well done. Each and every one of them is given the room to grow and breathe so that when things go south, we feel the losses, we are saddened and dismayed and repulsed when Katsu starts to dispatch them. 

Now, for me, I typically don’t enjoy anything epistolary in story telling, but the letters that were used to move the plot along were really great and I liked the pacing changes they created.

Lastly, the ending! THE ENDING! The last quarter or so of this book reads and feels soooo differently than the first quarter and that just shows Katsu’s masterful way she’s crafted this story. It’s as though she wrote the first half with her historical fiction pen and the second half with her brutal horror pen. I loved how this takes a slight turn and things go all splattery.

What I didn’t like: Even though I loved the characters, at the beginning I did find there to be a significant amount of them introduced in a short period of time. Necessary for sure, but if you have trouble keeping track of who is who, you may be bogged down at the beginning.

Why you should buy this: Katsu has delivered an absolutely perfect novel with ‘The Hunger.’ This takes a fairly well known event and breathes fresh life and new blood into it and kept me riveted. From page one until the horribly bleak final line, Katsu will have you unnerved. You start reading knowing something horrible is coming, but she demonstrates that the true horror was the wrong decisions made along the way that ultimately led to the death of numerous people. Books like this are great because it’ll also make you stay up after you’ve finished reading it, doing a deep dive on Google and Youtube.

Well done, Alma, this was so fantastic and I can see why it was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel.



Book Review: Drops of Insanity by Jeff Oliver

drops of insanity

Title: Drops of Insanity

Author: Jeff Oliver

Release date: October 31st, 2021

Huge thanks to Jeff for sending me a digital copy of his poetry collection!

He reached out and asked if I’d want to give it a read. I said ‘absolutely, but probably not until December.’ Turns out I lied, ha!

Today is snow-maggeddon here where I live and because of that, my entire morning of work has essentially cancelled and rescheduled, so I figured I’d dive in and make my way through a few poems. Well, it turns out the writing flows, the poems are short and sweet and over the course of 90 minutes or so, I was able to wrap this up.

What I liked: ‘Drops of Insanity’ tackles a lot of dark topics. Jeff does a great job of keeping most of them metaphoric, but in some instances (especially the shorter ones) the subject matter is painfully obvious. Deceit, deception, abuse, hurt, and more all come barreling to the surface.

Stand out poems for me were;

‘The Most Beautiful Lies’ – three lines that told an entire story worth of hurt.

‘It Just Is’ – four lines that offer a powerful desire. Really vast in scope for only nineteen words.

‘Priorities’ – a poignant piece about change and one’s surroundings.

‘”Fly” All the Way Over It’ – a powerful mantra to never look back.

‘Searching for Sanity’ – a four line poem that describes significant inner turmoil.

‘Fear the Monsters’ – probably my favorite of the bunch. A short poem that acts as a visceral reflection on humans.

‘Her Soul to Keep’ – the longest and most ambitious poem in the collection, it tells a brutal story filled with twists, turns and plenty of blackness.

Oliver did a great job of keeping things feeling fresh throughout and work the words in a way to make them both deep but also accessible.

What I didn’t like: I say it every time, but I’m no poetry scholar, just a dude who reads and loves dark fiction. The only thing that really stood out for me that I found a bit overdone or repetitive was the frequency of exclamation marks. Maybe it’s because my own editor always tells me that using too many reduces their effectiveness, but there was a significant amount in here, which made some feel more like hard rock lyrics than introspective poems.

Why you should buy this: If you like dark poetry, this one is a great collection to add to your own TBR. Jeff does a lot with a little, which I find works really well for me, when I read poetry. He kept everything feeling fresh and it didn’t feel like things were reused over and over and that you were reading the same poem told multiply times in different fashion.

A really solid collection.