INSPECTION by Josh Malerman is an unremitting classic, as is the signed limited edition of the novel by Earthling Publications.
The thing about INSPECTION that is so unnerving is that it is entirely plausible.
The main character J is one of twenty-six twenty-four Alphabet Boys growing up in a school where their adopted father, D.A.D., and his Inspectors and staff have withheld the very existence of the female gender from the boys their entire lives so that they are “undistracted” in pursuit of academic and artistic greatness.
This book is a new favorite of mine! INSPECTION is visceral, poignant, moving, and frightening, and, man oh man, that ending packs a wallop!
The world-building, the characters, the prose could not be woven together better, like a song, or be more impactful.
“Oh, J knew the inspections were for his own good.” [INSPECTION, Josh Malerman, p.86]
That very line sends a shiver up my spine.
If a boy fails a daily inspection to the point where they are dubbed “rotten”, then they will be sent to The Corner, an infamous, hidden place from which two of their brothers have gone but never returned.
That threat is nearly as ingrained as some of the specifics it is wrapped in by D.A.D. – the diseases that disobeying can bring – and therein, the need for Inspections, for every day of their twelve-year-old lives.
The boys are even fed books crafted to them to teach specific lessons and to be devoid of any female terminology.
In a world where so many struggle and generations of youth have to learn history in schools where books are banned and/or censored into incoherence, the brilliant and twisted premise of Malerman’s INSPECTION borders on prescience.
And you will not be able to put this book down.
Earthling Publications’ signed limited edition of INSPECTION by Josh Malerman is an innovative marvel that captures the soul of the book, art reflecting art.
I imagine Josh Malerman must have felt a thrill jolt through him as he first held the Earthling S/L in his hands.
There is no dust jacket. No word on the book’s cover. And it is all the more stunning because of that.
The Earthling INSPECTION has every minute facet of the tale highlighted perfectly.
The cover is a “D.A.D. red leather jacket” Skyvertex covering, and there from front to spine to back are the black silhouettes of the Alphabet Boys waiting in line for their inspection.
It such a dramatic display.
The endpapers are the actual notebook pages that Warren Bratt printed with his hand-written story where “the woman” enters.
I mean, wow!
This is powerful, as are the brilliant illustrations of Patrick Arrasmith, the fantastic foreword by Jonathan Maberry, and both of them sign alongside Josh Malerman in this numbered edition of 235 (there was a lettered edition of 15).
The paper is bright, smells delicious, and boldly displays the text on 80# Finch interior papers that are held in a Smyth sewn binding.
Earthling is top-notch, even raising the bar they have set for themselves with INSPECTION.
An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard stands apart, as the first book in The Unseen World series this thrilling journey to the shadowy heart of magic and the magicians who wield such powers in New York City is unparalleled.
The realm of the Unseen World reveals Manhattan’s dark, magical secrets.
But casting magic comes at a price.
There is a balance of power in their world and it is shifting, as the magic itself fades. The protagonist, Sydney, enters the Unseen World, and she is hell-bent on bringing it down.
What Kat Howard has done with An Unkindness of Magicians is extraordinary!
This speculative fiction thriller is so inventive and intriguing.
Howard’s characters are well-rounded, memorable, and all too real in their visceral struggles.
The prose is enveloping in its unique style that is moving, impactful, and poetic, at just the right moments, as in the following passage:
She breathed in. Sydney was, all at once, an entire forest. She was root and leaf, dirt and sky. Green and spring were blood in her veins, air in her lungs. She was, between one heartbeat and the next, all of magic.
The world building soars to brilliant heights off of the foundation of the prose, as a vast realm of magic courses through the veins of the great city, and places like New York’s Central Park house hidden facets of the Unseen World that are wholly new and vivid for readers.
There are so many good lines in the book, but this one wrenched on my heartstrings:
“It was a terrible thing, having hope again.” [Howard, Kat, An Unkindness of Magicians, Gallery/Saga, 2017, page 163]
Mild SPOILER Warning for An Unkindness of Magicians
Every two decades, sometimes a few years less, sometimes more, there is a Turning of Fate’s wheel, and in the Turning the magical houses enter a medieval-like tournament to vie for power, to establish themselves in the Unseen World, or to settle grudges with duels to the death.
The politics, the disinheritances, the murders, the humor, the conversations over drinks, and the plotting and manipulation carried out by a bevy of memorable characters creates an enthralling atmosphere, not unlike the dramatic woven plots in George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones.
The main character, Sydney, is unknown in the magicians’ circles when she arrives in the city.
But she applies for a job, to be a champion of a potential new magical house, and as she lifts cars in the middle of the Manhattan sky with no one – even those non-magical New Yorkers, the mundanes, in their own cars – the wiser, she wins the job.
In her first duel, she wields such immense power that by forcing all of the magicians present to dance, like puppets, everyone takes immediate note.
A target is planted firmly on her back.
Sydney has been let out of the House of Shadows, a hidden magical house that secretly fuels all of the magicians so that they can cast without paying the painful physical toll that comes with the use of magic.
The reality, Sydney, reveals is that infants are sacrificed by each house and those children are raised by Shadows, who cut into their bodies and their very shadows to withdraw magic to pay the toll for the Unseen World.
Warning! You may not be able to put An Unkindness of Magicians down!
Sydney’s contract with Shadows has nearly been completed, and she wants nothing more than to ruin the House of Shadows and to somehow stop the corrupt wielding of magic.
What she has to endure in her first time in the outside world, from newfound love to seeing snow for the first time, to learning who her family is and that they sacrificed her as a baby is deeply moving.
Readers become very invested in Sydney.
It seems like almost anything is possible in this magical world, but as Sydney comes to find out, the cost could be everything she has.
A Sleight Of Shadows, Book #2 in the Unseen World series, by Kat Howard has just come out on April 25, 2023 and is available now!
Gothic by Philip Fracassi – beware of the madness within these pages, because it may unravel your soul.
There are few books that come along – and I usually read many books at once – that demand all of my attention, and I cannot put them down, and Gothic by Philip Fracassi was one of these.
The thrilling tale of Gothic’s Tyson Parks and his world, packs a hell of a bite.
The characters are so real you can hear their voices and recall their mannerisms. The writing is fantastically tight and visual, the impacts of violent scenes visceral.
For fans of horror and thrillers that hold back no punches, Gothic is a rare treat.
Spoiler Alert for Gothic by Philip Fracassi.
The world-building is extremely well done, as Fracassi paints the posh and the dimmer corners of New York City alongside a publishing world that is genuine, down to the minute details, like the contractual obligation to deliver on a novel’s pitch.
And this is entirely necessary to go along with what is almost certainly a haunted desk that hints at being so much more.
Fracassi presents Gothic in such a way that I might have walked past the same swanky antique store on my way home and seen the corner of a mammoth antique desk there and felt its allure before a chill went down my spine and sent me on my way.
The best-selling author, Tyson Parks, who is out of money and time and inspiration is gifted an antique black oak desk, like no other, that immediately becomes a miraculous muse.
As the tragedy of Tyson, who begins to write rampantly and display violent behavior wholly unlike himself, progresses, with more success meeting more hints at madness, Gothic‘s story unfolds bloodily and brilliantly.
There is a steady build-up that grows faster and faster, until the plot’s rollercoaster car flies down from the track’s summit at blistering speed with many exhilarating and scary twists and turns that form an epic conclusion.
The desk is hungry!
The very first writing marathon that Tyson takes at his new desk causes cracks in his fingertips that bleed. And whenever blood touches the desk and its centerpiece, a massive stone surface, it is absorbed and a sacrificial contract of sorts gets underway.
As the time goes on, more and more blood is fed to the desk, and the carved ivy branches lift from the desk’s surface and slip into the author’s veins.
Though Tyson does not remember what he wrote, exactly, his next book becomes a bigger best-seller than he has ever had.
Despite that, his agency begs him to dial down the rampant violence in his next project, The Horror, and to take out the unsavory elements that fly in the face of many 21st century readers’ morals.
Tyson, enthralled by the desk, and incessantly listening to the old blind wizard that speaks to him from it, goes off on his agency and threatens to walk if his written word is ever questioned again.
He is a multimillionaire and god-like among his world.
But as he discovers at the book launch party for his newest book, the text has inspired madness, suicides, violence, and cult-like reverence that he never intended. He does not even remember the parts of the book that are referenced as causing harm.
Even after losing his family to the desk’s murderous influence, losing his own mind, life, and seemingly his own soul, he – or the spirit of the desk, maybe – writes one final manuscript.
Because he is completely in the hold of the desk, and he cannot stop himself from going to it.
That final work of Tyson’s arrives completed at his agent, Harry’s, office, and Harry who has already succumb to alcoholism and drug addiction as a means to cope with Tyson’s work, starts to read the book, titled Gothic; will it fully unravel his mind?
Not since Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness does a character, like Gothic’s Tyson Parks, tragically reach such megalomaniacal heights that the overthrown mind crumbles and the realization of their lost humanity comes only at the moment of their bitter demise.
As Conrad’s Kurtz sees the darkness about him and within him, he can only mutter, The horror. The horror, as he dies. For Fracassi’s Tyson, the irreparable inward degradation is only made fully apparent to him as the literal cause of his fate in the ancient relic – now a desk – kills him, and at that moment a door opens in it to an alternate plane of existence where a leviathan’s jaws emerge to utterly consume his soul.
Want to question your own grip on sanity? On reality? There is a book for you called Gothic by Philip Fracassi.
For those looking to keep themselves up at night, afraid that some artifact in their home, a desk, a table, maybe, might be haunted and hungry and so much worse, Gothic will oblige.
On Gothic’s Limited Edition
In 2022, Earthling Publications released the first printing of Gothic by Philip Fracassi in a gorgeous signed limited edition.
Earthling has long held some of the best small press releases in the industry, and this is no exception.
With the art, from the gorgeous desk on the cover, by Glenn Chadbourne, to the interior layouts and the lavender textured endpapers, to the quality paper and Smyth-sewn binding, this is a work of art encasing a work of art.
In 2023, Gothic – with another badass cover – was released en masse and is available by Cemetery Dance for purchase now. Philip Fracassi’s next major release Boys in the Valley will hit shelves in Summer 2023!
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow by Patrick Reuman Book Review: this is the first book in the Creepy Little Nightmares series by Wicked House Publishing. Patrick Reuman, author and founder of Wicked House Publishing, wrote this novel for his son, Aidan, who had been asking his dad to be included in one of his books. Thus, the idea for Creepy Little Nightmares was born!
The Forgotten Fiction received an advanced review copy of this book, and this horror fanatic didn’t even realize that it would fit in YA genre until someone said, “Heck, it does!”
Creepy Little Nightmares is a series of books written by a variety of authors under the same publishing house. Intended to be enjoyed by readers of all ages, Patrick Reuman describes it as,
A series of books that are creepy enough to entertain adults but are appropriate enough in their content that your kids can read them as well. Horror for the whole family!
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow follows 12 year-old Aidan and his group of friends after a boy in their grade disappears from Mulligan’s Hollow Road without a trace on his way home from school. The townspeople of Witherbrook and fellow classmates alike join the search crew, but when another boy goes missing, the town is on lockdown until further notice.
As fear spreads rampant through the town of Witherbrook, Aidan and his friends unite with some unlikely friends to try and solve the mystery of Mulligans Hollow.
Compelling from start to finish, this is indeed a book that the entire family could enjoy.
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow is fantastically written, and certainly safe for young readers and squeamish parents alike.
Additionally, this book was refreshingly free of some of the more common plot holes in horror, and even featured parents who were not criminally negligent for a wild change of pace! This book is highly recommended, and we can’t wait to see what comes next in the Creepy Little Nightmares series!
The Monster on Mulligans Hollow is available for purchase on Bookshop.org.
Nat Cassidy’s Mary: An Awakening of Terror – After losing her job in New York, a chance call brings Mary back to her hometown to take care of her sick aunt Nadine. However, this is not a welcome change of pace as Mary has been suffering in silence from ghastly visions of her own body decaying and the town brings up painful memories from the past. It does not help that Mary soon finds herself surrounded by the ghosts of murdered women, thrusting her back into her past to discover why they are plaguing her and the mystery behind the mangled apparitions that are inexplicably drawn to her.
What makes Nat Cassidy’s Mary such an enticing read is the author’s ability to balance shocking material through a strong character.
The following book review contains mild spoilers for Mary’s character..
Certainly, the book has elements of body and supernatural horror with Mary having visions of her body decaying while haunted by the ghosts of past victims, yet these subjects become disturbing because of who Mary is as a person and not because of the sensational imagery Cassidy is so skilled at crafting. Instead, Mary’s life of extreme introversion, always trying to make herself as small as possible, transforms these visions into a personal reflection of suffering.
The result is a very approachable form of horror storytelling, where it is easy to get wrapped up in the mystery of Mary’s background and her internal struggles. These elements are equal to indulgences in macabre material in evoking a sense of dread from the reader. This broadens the appeal to not just the hardcore horror readership.
To touch on the more horror-heavy elements, Cassidy brilliantly taps into the paranoia of his character, and the description of bodily decay or mangled ghosts manages to both play on Mary’s own insecurities while being very graphic in detail. This is a case where psychological horror would fit the bill better in describing the horror elements, despite it being very focused on elements that may seem more apt in horror that is hyperfocused on the degradation of the body and mind.
This is further echoed in the relationships of those around Mary, as the visions, arguably, play a secondary role in her own internal strife. Monologue plays an integral role in the story, and Mary’s interactions with the townsfolk and her overbearing aunt, Nadine, create a sense of tragedy in the character that rivals the intensity of terror.
This approach also does lead to the one negative in the work. Mary is a difficult character to empathize with at times as her immensely introverted nature gives the character a slightly nihilistic edge (at points).
As the story progresses and more is revealed about her past these ruminations begin to make sense, yet Mary is a hard character to connect with on a personal level–even as an introvert myself. This may vary by reader, and as the book reaches its conclusion after a few meticulously constructed twists this becomes an afterthought.
Furthermore, Mary is a complex character, and even if there is a lack of connection on a level that evokes empathy/sympathy she is a fascinating persona that reflects the immense talent of Cassidy in bringing Mary to the pages.
This release certainly takes some intense twists in the story, and while I would love to explore how the elements of horror transform to even switch from the early genre of supernatural horror into something deeply sinister, the narrative is best left to be discovered by the reader. Regardless, the book will certainly draw in readers of both horror and mystery with how it develops–that experience is definitely best left as unspoiled as possible.
Coming away from “Mary: An Awakening of Terror“ the only critique I could muster was how Mary does not always feel like an empathetic character. Though, whether this was the point is moot when looking at the exceptional skill Cassidy has to weave a mystery with heavy macabre tones that keep the pages turning. A deeply disturbing read that works for both fans of horror and mystery, “Mary“ is a unique exercise in terror where social interactions hold as much weight as a bloodied apparition–a must-read!
Dissonant Harmonies Book Review: For Dissonant Harmonies, Bev Vincent and Brian Keene come together for a unique concept on their novella published by Cemetery Dance. It is, in fact, two novellas – one written by each author to a playlist selected by the other.
Both authors having discovered that they enjoy writing to music, the idea was born that they would choose a playlist for the author to write to.
The rules were that they could only write each perspective story while listening to the playlist chosen for them by the other author.
Dissonant Harmonies Cool title, but what does it mean?
Consonant harmonies are a combination of pitches in a chord which are agreeable or easy to listen to and make pleasing sounds. Dissonant harmonies are a combination of pitches in a chord which are relatively harsh and grating. These are often difficult sounds to listen to, and so the ear will seek out the resolution in the chords that follow. [Discovering music through listening – OpenLearn – Open University]
For those of us not well versed in music, I found a YouTube video that explained the effect. I wish I had looked this up before reading the book, since the effect is certainly unsettling, and definitely worthy of being featured in some creeptacular horror film.
Bev Vincent’s novella, chosen for him by Brain Keene, is titled The Dead of Winter, and the playlist for it includes a wide array of artists such as Ice-T, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Queen, Moby, Johnny Cash, and Alice in Chains.
Is there a better sound track for a horror novel called The Dead of Winter than When it’s Cold I’d like to Die by Moby?
The Dead of Winter takes place in Bayport, Rhode Island during (you guessed it) the dead of winter. The tale follows two estranged brothers that come together when Frank, a newly made police officer, hears of some troubling disappearances occurring in his hometown – and flies up from Texas to look into it further. His brother, Joey, finds himself helping in Frank’s unauthorized investigation, as the small town is pummeled by a particularly brutal winter storm.
When the two brothers discover tunnels dispersed throughout the town in the homes of the victims that only Joey can see, their search for answers continues in earnest – aided by the town sheriff. It seems something supernatural and evil is brewing, and Joey could be its next victim.
Brian Keene’s novella, The Motel at the End of the World, features a playlist chosen for him by Bev Vincent. Featuring some classic 70s and 80s such as Supertramp, Goldfrapp, The Alan Parson’s Project, Elton John, The Electric Light Orchestra, and Pink Floyd – to name a few, there are definitely a lot of angry male vibes in this soundtrack which pair well with the narrator.
The Motel at the End of the World is a monologue that tackles the phenomenon known as “The Mandela Effect.”
The narrator makes several compelling arguments that will have the reader Googling each case in point. Starting with The Berenstain Bears (not The Berenstein Bears…. apparently) and moving on to name other commonly misremembered quotes and events whether from The Bible, or Star Wars, or even Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.
The result of all of these very valid examples of The Mandela Effect is certain to leave the reader feeling extremely unsettled, and questioning everything they ever knew. Just when Keene has you questioning your own sanity, this novella takes a diabolical turn. What if The Mandela Effect is actually the result of something much larger at play?
What if it’s the result of some sort of alternate reality? Like in an apocalyptic scenario taking place in a motel room with the reader left in the dark; this is a terrifying tale that is certain to stick with you long after reading.
Both novellas are equally compelling and terrifying, The Dead of Winter delivers an excellent small town supernatural horror yarn, while The Hotel at the End of the World has a significant Black Mirror feel to it and is a fantastically bite-sized supernatural thriller. These novellas gets 5 stars from this author, and this book is definitely one that I will be picking up for a re-read!
If you would enjoy hearing more about the musical aspect of this novella, head on over to An Empty Bliss Magazine, to hear our thoughts on the playlist for Dissonant Harmonies.