BOYS IN THE VALLEY by Philip Fracassi is a chilling classic.
Fracassi’s tale is labeled as horror, but is much more than that: this is a deep, gritty coming-of-age story that delves its own mark on readers.
In 1905, when the priests at a Catholic orphanage in rural Pennsylvania are brought a possessed man to heal, things go horribly wrong, for the clergy and for the 30 boys in their charge.
From the shocking opening to the pandemonium at the book’s ending, BOYS IN THE VALLEY grabs you and does not let up!
Fracassi has a great writing style that combines vivid imagery, tight-knit prose, and a tense build-up of suspense littered with unexpected action, as he creates an in-depth world filled with memorable characters.
It is because of the many aspects of the characters living within the winter-blasted setting that there are quite a few extremely moving scenes.
The following Book Review of BOYS IN THE VALLEY by Philip Fracassi has mild plot Spoilers*
The book starts with its protagonist, nine-year-old Peter, watching paralyzed as his father returns home drunk and faces scorn from his wife for not bringing the starving family any food.
Peter’s father, Jack, snaps. He murders his wife, he stares down his son, and then he turns the gun on himself.
It is the eerily realistic semblance of the defeated father losing it and the powerless boy that sees this play out, paralyzed and mortified, that captures people’s flaws and their humanity so well, and this knowledge shapes Peter, even as the event itself haunts him.
The way Fracassi writes the scene, you can feel how tired Peter’s father is when he “sits heavily” and takes off his battered hat. You get the feeling the man is, at the least, verbally abusive when he is in an angered state, and like the kettle that whistles in the home as Peter’s mother taunts her husband, Jack Barlow simmers on the page until, once boiled, he blows up.
Are the use of ‘Jack’ and ‘Barlow’ a nod to two of Stephen King’s earliest works?
Seven years later, Peter is among the kinder and older boys of St. Vincent’s Orphanage. He is training to become a priest under his friend and surrogate father figure, Father Andrew, and his insightfulness into the difficulties of life, at the orphanage and in general, makes him an interesting lens to watch the tragic story of BOYS IN THE VALLEY unfold.
Peter, now 16, has fallen in love with a neighboring farmer’s daughter, and he has to come to grips with his knowledge that his mentor, Father Andrew, thinks of him like a son, and that to tell Andrew that Peter will not complete his training and become a priest will likely break the man’s heart.
But Father Andrew is a fantastic character and one who continually reminds Peter, despite the priest’s own hopes, that it is Peter’s choice to make.
This is a beautiful display of affection that shines throughout the book and is not forgotten when Peter does not get to make that choice.
Life at the orphanage means strict adherence to the priests’ rules, daily farm work and meager meals that never fill any of the boys’ bellies.
The 30 boys living together act as brothers will, in both caring for one another, especially Peter looking out for the smaller and younger orphans, in entertaining one another, in ribbing one another, and in picking on one another.
Boys are curious.
But the more they learn of the priests’ attempt to heal a possessed man who is then killed and buried on the church grounds, the more a malevolent mood permeates many of them.
Peter’s best friend, another main character and a good foil that makes an impression, as the gruff, ever-cynical older boy, David, is stalwart throughout the book, a pillar that Peter can count on to show no fear. Until he cannot. And when David is afraid, Peter realizes just how wrong things have gone.
Fracassi writes: “David is not easily knocked off his course. He has walls within walls to keep himself insulated from things of the world . . . Any emotions he may or may not feel . . . are buried deep within him, visible only to his inner self . . . [But] to see him so visibly, dramatically shaken is like . . . the first time I saw my mother cry.” [BOYS IN THE VALLEY, Fracassi, Tor Nightfire, Earthling Publications, Orbit Books]
The entire passage is far more impactful than the condensed quote above, but you will just have to read the book, readers.
There are many more memorable characters, from Brother Johnson, the sadistic, lifelong criminal sentenced to serve the priests and therein is often the twisted enforcer of punishments for the boys, and then to Grace, the sweet love of Peter’s life who lends him a great work of fiction every time he visits her.
As the frosty fields are quickly covered with falling snow and then the fell wind of the incoming storm that grows and grows and, finally, blasts St. Vincent’s, so too does the evil follow in its wake.
The possessed boys carry out the most heinous of acts imaginable against their orphan-brothers.
Only the union of the resistant boys under Peter and David stand in the way of the demons.
Fracassi paints so many shades of black.
Though there are parallels between Blatty’s masterpiece THE EXORCIST, Stephen King’s IT, and BOYS IN THE VALLEY, when I think of this book, I keep coming back to two impactful coming-of-age tales: William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES and Kurt Vonnegut’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE.
The latter is a favorite of mine, and I would argue Billy Pilgrim as a young man dropped into WWII Germany grows enough to be a bildungsroman in its own right, just as much as Golding’s tale of boys surviving on their own devices does, if in different ways.
LORD OF THE FLIES pits one group of children against another in a poignant way that is echoed in Fracassi’s boys forming of two opposing sides.
Demonic possession has been depicted throughout culture as an evil being often self-describing itself as ‘many’ or ‘legion’ and in BOYS IN THE VALLEY, the demons that inhabited a child murderer spread, like a disease, so that a horrific army of possessed young boys is formed and bent on further infection of the clergy and their brethren boys and the world, and for any who resist they want only to maliciously harm them.
Dominance and survival are two of the qualities that seep from Golding and from Fracassi.
There are even two orphan boys that are so close in age and friendship, they are called brothers even though they are not related, and these two inseparable characters are pitted against one another in BOYS IN THE VALLEY and it is terrifically terrible.
End of SPOILER Warning*
The horrors of war, the sheer atrocities performed by humans pitted against humans, that Billy Pilgrim is caught in in Dresden, Germany are so harsh as to be revolting, which was the point: the writing is as real as the terrible acts of war were/are.
So too does BOYS IN THE VALLEY invoke violent depictions of its own deeply personal war. But this is also realism and writing at its most effective.
This is how these characters behave.
BOYS IN THE VALLEY sticks with you like a knife in the ribs: it never really goes away.
For horror fans, you may need to read this one in the warm light of the summer sun, because the darkness and the bitter cold stalks the reader, just as it daunts the characters in the book.
Yes, there are some brutal, graphic scenes in BOYS IN THE VALLEY, but they are reflective of the history that the story takes place in, as well as the realistic actions of the characters.
Fracassi’s tale is one you will happily reread even though it still hurts.
I was fortunate to receive an advanced review copy of this book to do a Preview Review of the Earthling Publications signed limited edition for Halloween 2021 that is a stunner, and I have reread the ARCs provided to me by Tor Nightfire and by Orbit Books to do this review to expound on BOYS IN THE VALLEY for their July 2023 release dates. The book is out NOW.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman shatters minds with SST brilliance, as the author’s 2014 debut novel rattles all senses with the riveting tale like no other, so too, does SST Publications craft a signed limited numbered edition that is reminiscent of the book’s world, sharp and wonderfully haunting.
Civilization falls to chaos, as those who see something, some creature, go insanely violent on themselves and/or others: welcome to Bird Box.
There are few tales so poignant that you root for the characters so strongly you feel their utter incessant terror so strongly.
The following book review of Bird Box by Josh Malerman will contain *SPOILERS up until the fine press edition of the S/L book from SST is reviewed in detail.
Is Malorie insane?
Clearly the world she resides in has gone insane.
The mother of two debates taking a dangerous winter trip on a river toward a possible sanctuary.
They will be in a rowboat for twenty miles.
The boy and the girl are four, and they will have to risk going outside and traversing the river up to a section of rapids blindfolded the entire way.
The mother’s words are rough with the two children, stern, and candid: they must not take off their ‘folds’ no matter what happens.
Outside, unknown creatures cause madness upon sight of them.
You see it and you lose it and go mortally violent; unless, of course, you are already mad yourself, and then you will welcome the embrace of the savior or cleanser or xenocidal force that has been unleashed on earth.
I had a feeling early into the novel that I had no idea what the creatures were and I might end the book without knowing what they were.
That idea is a tricky writer to reader relationship, to say the least (more on this later).
Aspects of the creatures accumulate: they could be small or enormous, they could be frequently stalking all humans, or sporadically invading city streets, row by row, they could be trying to touch, or scare blindfolded people into looking at them.
The unnerving loss of sight and the unknown haunting menace gives far more weight to the thrilling Bird Box than many of the great suspense novels out there.
The story flashes back and forth, from when Malorie first finds out she was pregnant and the subsequent unraveling of society and back to the dangerous river voyage.
As the world collapses, she escapes to a house that is a sanctuary, of sorts.
It has a well, electricity from a hydroelectric dam and a lot of stores for the half a dozen or so trying to live out the horror in a home with all the windows covered; for safety, no one sees the sky anymore.
The dynamics of the semi-democratic household full of realistic characters with great personalities and their own unnerving anxieties – that decide when or when not to take in someone like Malorie, a showing pregnant woman that will be two mouths to feed before long – are enthralling.
Malorie’s love for another grows, as the housemates struggle to adapt and get along and progress.
Can the landline, not powered by electricity but by a weak electrical signal in a phone cord, let them reach others who have survived with their sanity intact.
For a long time, I thought the birds would be the monsters in the book.
But it is the finding of a cardboard box full of birds at an abandoned home that brings a real-time alarm, a chirping warning system, for when the creatures get close that is essential to surviving.
Only Malorie and her children survive the house, and the birds, and together they march on to a place that someone on the phone says is a real sanctuary for any who can make it up the river to them.
The place is protected and full of good people.
And so Malorie waits until she deems the kids can understand enough to take the trip in the rowboat and she risks it all.
Getting to her destination by route of that damn river is so nerve shredding!
Sure, there are creatures, but there are also animals living in the wooded region that you forget about in the apocalyptic times, like wolves that attack and badly injure Malorie.
She even passes out and wakes to find her kids have learned to each row a paddle, in tandem.
Nothing was more creepy or intense than actually getting to the sanctuary and seeing through Malorie’s eyes as she risks it and takes off the fold and assesses whether or not the place is a trap or a real safe zone for her and the kids.
Your stomach will tighten and spasm with fear, as the worst seems inevitable.
But that is Malorie’s view, of fear, and not the reality, and when she realizes they are all safe it is one of the most beautiful moments in literature – I got choked up.
She had never named the boy or girl, her kids, and the entire novel they are called ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ so that Malorie upon getting them to safety names them, finally, for the girl’s mother who died in the house giving birth at the same time Malorie birthed her son, and she names him after her love that she met in the house.
And after all of the non-stop page turning full of realism, blood, tension, terror, and time that goes by in the grim world, the reader does not get to find out what the creature is.
And it works brilliantly.
*SPOILERS END here.
The SST Publications limited edition of Bird Box by Josh Malerman is marvelous and the fine press production is reviewed here.
The book is signed by the author, Malerman, and artist Ben Baldwin and has a limitation of 400 copies.
And this book is stunning to behold.
The SST Bird Box cover art and dust jacket is one of the wildest designs I have ever seen!
The child is wearing the blindfold and hearing the world shown: their trip on the river, the flying birds, the forest and the rickety speaker setup – the lone semblance of society – and of course blue tone for the cold and the water, and lots of darkness wherein the mysterious creature could be anywhere.
And that is just the dust jacket art. The design wraps around and even goes all the way to the folded in parts at the boards – it looks amazing and would make a great poster.
The six illustrations by Baldwin are remarkable and visceral, and my favorite, by far, is of the screams as the poor home owner goes mad, tied to his chair; it gives me the shivers.
SST’s Bird Box edition is a perfect emanation of Josh Malerman’s story within.
The clothbound book is sturdy and a gorgeous light blue with blue foil stamping.
This is one for the ages.
As my first voyage into SST Publications, I could not be more impressed with the UK fine press publisher.
Chasing the Boogeyman: Richard Chizmar births a new genre, and though many great authors have and continue to work off of and dwell in the horror-crime-thriller realm, this novel is wonderfully different.
Rumor has it that the Richard’s small town serial killer may be something other than human.
But that just adds to the menace, and the reality is such that this tale is presented as true crime dialed up with the thrilling and macabre level of fantastic horror works.
And, as the story goes, the author, Richard, was there to witness it, and it is much more visceral and frightful, as you feel the terror that the character of Richard Chizmar feels in the chase for the Boogeyman.
I hate genres and labels, especially with regards to writing, as some of the great writers frequently publish speculative fiction that delves into so many other lanes (for example: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or Stephen King’s Duma Key).
But what is innovative and fascinating about Chizmar’s Chasing the Boogeyman is that the author himself is at the center of the seemingly-real summer of carnage and his horror is his story, and the reader gets a “first-hand” account.
The following Preview Book Review of Chasing the Boogeyman is Spoiler Free** and only speaks to the overall premise of the book and its opening.
Richard returns home from college and starts to chronicle the mayhem that envelops the small Maryland town as he stays at his parent’s house.
The Boogeyman looms as jet and creepy as any ghost or monster and that dark presence weighs heavily over Richard’s encounters, marking him and his fears for much of his future life.
This convergence of spine-electrifying-suspense with the true crime tale – from the dead-pan cops and intervening FBI, to the tormented small town – makes for something fresh and unique in Chasing the Boogeyman.
Where you can see echoes of Thomas Harris’ journalism days make fine ripples in his fiction, so too can you see Richard Chizmar’s horror writing make stomach-twisting waves in Chasing the Boogeyman.
“Chasing the Boogeyman: Richard Chizmar Births A Hybrid Genre” was written by R.J. Huneke.
About the Author Of Chasing the Boogeyman
Richard Chizmar is the coauthor (with Stephen King) of the New York Times bestselling novella, Gwendy’s Button Box. Recent books include The Girl on the Porch; The Long Way Home, his fourth short story collection; and Widow’s Point, a chilling tale about a haunted lighthouse written with his son, Billy Chizmar, which was recently made into a feature film. His short fiction has appeared in dozens of publications, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories. He has won two World Fantasy awards, four International Horror Guild awards, and the HWA’s Board of Trustee’s award. Chizmar’s work has been translated into more than fifteen languages throughout the world, and he has appeared at numerous conferences as a writing instructor, guest speaker, panelist, and guest of honor. Follow him on Twitter @RichardChizmar or visit his website at: RichardChizmar.com.
The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward unnerves!
This Preview Review of the upcoming novel The Last House On Needless Street by Catriona Ward that is being released in the US by TOR on 9/28/2021 is **SPOILER FREE**.
You will never read another book quite like this, and I mean that as one of the highest compliments I can give to a work of fiction.
This is a narrative with the most unreliable of narrators.
The main character, Ted, made me so uncomfortable and unsettled with his mannerisms, I had to grasp for anxiety meds.
His admittedly unreliable and past-present-ever-shifting memory, and his worries over what the neighbors may think of the young girl, Dee, a daughter-like figure – if not blood-related – that is only allowed out at certain times in his boarded up, dilapidated home on the end of the road and the edge of the woods, and the frantic frenzy of internal fear that came through Ted made me cringe steadily as I read on.
The writing from Ward is truly extraordinary, as the voices she emanates and the world she has built become so real that the tale is utterly enveloping.
Dark fiction has rarely been this bold!
The chapters shift to different characters and their point of view, so Ted is followed by the angry young girl, Dee, who lost her sister years ago, and Olivia, Ted’s cat, who has quite the outspoken and insightful feline personality.
Catriona Ward’s The Last House On Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.
Think on that for a minute: the preeminent haunted house of Shirley Jackson combined with thrilling pace and murderous mystery of Flynn’s Gone Girl. WOW!
Make no mistake, The Last House On Needless Street will make you squirm; and the book will make you feverishly turn the pages seeking answers that come in bunches and only make the storyline more complex as more shakily reliable information comes to light.
This is a phenomenal work of writing and a nightmarish-like tsunami of story forcing the reader to pick up the pieces and refit them again and again as the characters feed the frenzy.
H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau’s 125th By Suntup Editions is celebrating the shocking and classic work of early horror and science-fiction in deservedly grandiose fashion 125 years after its initial release.
To say the art, designs, bonus content give this novel the proper anniversary treatment is a big understatement.
The following Preview Review of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau’s By Suntup Editions will have mild plot/events *Spoilers* in the story review and then get into a perusal of the fine press editions themselves, which will be examined more thoroughly after the books arrive.
The lone survivor of a deadly shipwreck that claimed two ships, Edward Prendick washes ashore on the elusive Noble’s Isle claimed by the infamous Dr. Moreau.
The novel brings in mystery, adventure and exploration themes, as well as good old-fashioned shock-horror and sci-fi.
The science and exploration of the 19th Century, and the preceding years, birthed interesting thoughts on the wings of Darwin and Mary Shelley’s publications: that of man playing god by merging animal and man into living chimera.
H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau is disturbing, suspenseful and has many unexpected twists along the island’s paths.
H.G. Wells took a character in Edward that is grateful for being nursed to health and through his uniquely thankful perspective examines the mysterious noises and shadowy visages that send shivers down his spine and lead him to delve deeper into the mysteries Dr. Moreau seems to have hidden on his island.
For those that enjoy stories of the monster within, the monster that we as humans carry and sometimes unleash, and the monsters out in the world, The Island Of Dr. Moreau is a stark reminder that repulsion can shift its allegiances, despite appearances.
Science fiction writers have used human-animal chimera experiments as the inspiration for creating characters that challenge us to consider what is quintessentially human and what is animal. Since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) created a manufactured man from parts of dead animals and humans combined.
To have the ethics of bioengineering examined in such an evocative manner by Wells in 1896 is incredible.
And Suntup Editions have outdone themselves again with their treatment of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau made into three limited edition states.
Suntup’s Artist Edition is limited to 1000 copies and is the only state with a dust jacket illustrated by Benz and Chang. The book is a full cloth, smyth sewn binding, is printed offset, has two-hits of foil stamping, and is signed by the artist.
The Numbered Edition of 350 copies is a quarter cloth binding with Japanese cloth boards, a cover foil stamped in gold and endsheets are custom designed for this state. It is printed letterpress on Mohawk Via and is signed by Megan Shepherd, Adam Roberts & Benz and Chang.
The Lettered edition is 26 copies with a full goatskin binding and a letterpress-printed spine label. The cover features a letterpress printed, die cut map of Noble’s Isle that looks amazing and the endsheets are hand marbled, while the pages are printed letterpress on Mohawk Via, and it comes in a clamshell enclosure covered in Japanese cloth with marbled paper floors. It is also signed by Megan Shepherd, Adam Roberts & Benz and Chang.
The books all look fantastic with six stand-out full color illustrations by Benz and Chang!
But as is befitting such an entertaining and historic work of fiction, Suntup has also included a bevy of bonus material, including a new exclusive foreword by Megan Shepherd and an afterword by Adam Roberts, who sign both the numbered and lettered states, and three Appendixes:
Included in all editions is the following bonus content:
Appendix A: Wells Explains: Two Essays Relating to Moreau’s Argument. H.G. Wells, The Province of Pain (1894) H.G. Wells, The Limits of Individual Plasticity (1895)
Appendix B: ‘The Terrible Medusa Case’: An Historical Source for Prendick’s Shipwreck. A narrative account of the infamous shipwreck Méduse (1818). Reproduction of Théodore Géricault’s masterpiece painting The Raft of the Medusa (c.1819).
Appendix C: Wells’s First Draft of Moreau. A study and excerpt from H.G. Wells’s original draft of Moreau.
We will thoroughly review the physical books themselves, the numbered and artist editions, after they arrive.
But seeing such trippy and befitting art, along with two letterpress editions, designed with bite for our inner explorer, the wait to see these in person is a difficult one.
Letterpress will make reading and rereading the numbered edition a sensational experience.
I do have one critique: I would have loved the numbered edition to match the previous Wells installments in the book’s outer design – but I understand and am very happy with the incredible design of the editions that have been created here (I love the images on the covers and I love Japanese cloth) and since this brought in Artist Editions and a wild lettered edition (what a MAP!) I feel my OCD inner-Sheldon Cooper can be quieted and content – but I still cannot wait to put this on the shelf!
In between my H.G. Wells trilogy and Robert Heinlein set on my shelf in the “Pillars of Sci-fi Suntup Section” The Island Of Dr. Moreau will go and continue to be an inspiration.
Dark Across The Bay By Ania Ahlborn Coming From Earthling Publications in a S/L edition befitting the thrilling new novel.
The Following TFF Preview Review Will Only Contain **Mild Spoilers** To The Initial Plot Of The Book’s Opening.
Best-selling author Ania Ahlborn takes a fractured family to a secluded vacation home where unnerving and horrific hauntings rattle the reader and the Parrishs alike, and then the stalking begins to slowly unravel everyone’s nerves.
Dark Across The Bay bleeds mysterious hints at insidiousness growing rampant, from the creepy island rental besieging the vulnerable family to the stalkers intruding on them.
Before a marriage can formally dissolve, or Lark and Leo can attempt to move on, everyone is brought to the beach house Airbnb off the coast of Raven’s Head, Maine, 1000 miles from their family home, for a weekend retreat.
The island has only the one house and only one way on or off its shores: by boat.
The expansive residence contains wonderful window views out onto foggy waters, but it seems to be off somehow.
It makes for a great setting, as everything from the building itself to its innards seem creepily askew.
It holds myriad secrets that are tucked away, like the odd nooks and hallways full of unsettling amounts of fishing paraphernalia and hidden corner cubbies full of shabby books.
And ‘Mom’ wants ‘family time’ to be devoid of cell phones in the house, and so the modern interconnectivity of the world and its people easily communicating is stoppered bringing further isolation at times. When the phones come to back to life it is alarming.
The characters are each well met in the story, and the relatable, familiar family interactions spark lots of memories of growing up.
You may not like each member of the Parrishs, but they are certainly all intriguing, from the nearly divorced parents almost certain of their fate, to their two children, who are young adults struggling through recent trauma.
Lark is a novice novelist, battling through a bad break-up, and her brother, Leo, is distanced from her (and everyone), as he aims to leave the grief of his best friend’s death behind with an escape to the shores of Thailand.
Ania Ahlborn brilliantly keeps the characters off balance, as well as the reader.
The seemingly discernable arcs of each of the characters become further and further confused as their sense of calm and, at times, outright sense of terror is ratcheted up in stark, unexpected ways.
Who would torment the family of four? Is it personal, and if so, why travel 1000 miles to dole out such cruel punishment? Are there any supernatural elements at play?
The prose is wonderfully written, painting clear, boisterous scenes with visceral jolts to the heart.
Suspense and old fashioned, yet modernized, and innovative mystery meets elements of horror in this fantastic phantasm of a tale.
Dark Across The Bay by Ania Ahlborn is an amazing work from one of speculative fiction’s brightest minds.
Her use of world building and literary prowess makes for one hell of a story, and Dark Across The Bay debuts on a fine press publisher with Signed and Limited editions from Earthling Publications.
There are 500 numbered, Smyth sewn, offset printed copies, signed by Ania Ahlborn and Josh Malerman, as well as 15 lettered, offset printed, tray-cased hardcovers, with both the book and the tray-case being hand-made using the finest materials, and signed by all contributors.
The gorgeous cover art and interior art is brought to us by renowned illustrator Vincent Chong, and the book contains an introduction from the author as well as best seller Josh Malerman (author of Bird Box and Goblin).
They still have copies available! Take a look here!
If you are not familiar with Earthling, they have made some of the finest hand-crafted editions of books, each with their own unique feel.
An all-time grail for this reviewer is Earthling’s lettered edition of The Hellbound Heart: 20th Anniversary Edition (2007) novella by Clive Barker, and I cannot wait to see what they have in store for the design of Dark Across The Bay by Ania Ahlborn.
We already know the cover art from Vincent Chong is outstanding.
We will conduct a more in-depth review after the book is released, going further into the novel and into the book edition.
But for now this has to be one of the most eagerly awaited suspense and horror books coming this year, and our rating is: