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.
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.
Dancing with the Tombstones is a delicious anthology of short stories, and I had the opportunity to review the latest book written by Mark Aronovitz and published by Cemetery Dance compiled during the COVID-19 lockdown of short stories that could be easily described as the adult equivalent of Scary Stories to tell in the Dark.
The following book review of Dancing with the Tombstones from Cemetery Dance is Spoiler-free**
This novel features seventeen short stories, with publication dates that vary from 2009-2020. Ten of these short stories have been published previously in various other anthologies, but it features seven new terrifying tales.
Mark Aronovitz tells us in the afterword that he put this book together in response to the pandemic, during the lonely days of quarantine.
His hope to bring some comfort and distraction during this trying time was a huge success and could have easily been titled Chicken Soup for the Spooky Soul.
Straight up – no nonsense horror.
Aronovitz delivers exactly what he promises, and this was a delightfully terrifying read, his short stories requiring no lengthy plot or conception of reality, just straight up – no nonsense horror.
This anthology is certainly one worth adding to your library, with tales that would be ideal to tell around a campfire on a chilly night and each packs a hefty punch that is genuinely terrifying when the blow strikes home.
Dancing with the Tombstones is split into four sections titled “GIRLS,” PSYCHOS,” “TOOLS & TECH,” and “MARTYRS & SACRIFICIAL LAMBS,” with each of his short stories falling into one of these categories.
Each short story is bite-sized and perfect to pick up and return to again over and over, and the fantastical element of short horror makes for a refreshing read. The short length allows these tales to grow more and more gruesome and disturbing. And every tale holds a more disturbing thought that is expanded upon to a truly terrifying conclusion.
My personal favorite in this anthology was “Puddles,” where Dora Watawitz’s obsessive cleaning routine turns into a waking nightmare when she starts to hallucinate the filth entering her home.
Mark Aronovitz delivers some truly real and a relatable material and to light brings disturbing thoughts such as “When DID I ever clean the toilet brush?” or, “How often do I ever really clean the bottom of my feet?”
These unsettling notions escalate into insanity (or perhaps a supernatural version of Doris’s personal hell) and all the cleaning, scrubbing, and bleaching just can never remove the filth plastered all over the walls of her mind.
Indeed, in a book where hell is described as an eternity consigned to an old Nissan Sentra in “The Echo,” there is something for everyone in this book.
Mark Aronovitz’s writing quality is stellar, and this is certainly a book to be enjoyed again and again.
Mark Aronovitz is the author of the novels Alice Walks, The Sculptor, The Witch of the Wood, and Phantom Effect. He has published two other collections, Seven Deadly Pleasures, and The Voice in Our Heads. He has published over fifty short stories in total and is definitely an author worth following!
After a car crash, Ogi awakens to find himself barely alive, caught in a vegetative state unable to communicate or move. After learning from the doctors that his wife did not survive the crash his sole surviving family member, his mother-in-law, begins to take care of his every need. However, when she discovers her daughter’s notes that point to past transgressions of Ogi. The mother-in-law begins odd obsessive behavior which aims to push Ogi to the brink of insanity — left to slowly rot with minimal care.
Being judged for one’s own actions can be a horrifying experience in itself, let alone adding in the nightmare of being trapped in a broken body unable to defend oneself against the onslaught. Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a horror/thriller existing in this realm of perverse uncomfortableness, having a caregiver slowly transform into a menacing force with full control over the life of another.
The book has been compared to books like Herman Koch’s The Dinner and Stephen King’s Misery.
And one can push even so far as to say it challenged the depressing body horror of titles like Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.
While the book does capitalize on the unease and horrors that come with captivity, both in one’s own body and by an exterior force, The Hole is unlikely to reach the same level of accolades heaped upon the previously mentioned titles. However, that does not mean the book is without merit or that it pales in comparison of a familiar formula.
*Slight spoilers ahead
Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole, undeniably, excels at capturing the waking nightmare of slow, meticulous abuse at the hands of another. Ogi’s internal struggles, a mix of reflecting on the past and trying to rationalize the current scenario he is in, paints a really tragic portrait. This is also heightened by the character’s humanity, as a man who is aware of the mistakes he made and is still trying to do well. As his mother-in-law learns of his marital problems the reader is aware of the narrative, as she understands it, is very one-sided.
Furthermore, Ogi is aware that his actions were wrong but also that his wife was not without blame. This is approached in a very mature practical manner, as Ogi explores the harsh reality that sometimes people just drift apart. Notably, the image he had of his wife when they first fell in love faded as they changed, him finding her dull and uninspiring is not so much born out of cruelty but two people drifting apart. Ultimately, The highlight of the novel has to be Hye-Young Pyun’s exploration of Ogi as a character through internal dialogue, painting the portrait of a man who does not deserve punishment, yet can also be seen as deserved from a third party.
However, where The Hole begins to slightly falter is in the development of other characters and dialogue, the change from self-reflection to being present in the room with others never holds the same profundity of Ogi stuck in dark ruminations. The mother-in-law, though intimidating feels more like the embodiment of justice over being a character unto herself.
There are also moments of narrative convenience, and even the set-up of the mother-in-law finding the notes of her daughter seems a bit contrived, in the sense she meticulously collected and recorded any argument, action, or negative word that she felt reflected her husband poorly. His status among peers and not having any family of his own also feels shoehorned in to capture that sense of isolation in an immediate fashion. It does make the situation grave and more tragic, yet Ogi can feel very one-dimensional at points due to the ambiguity of the situation and his lack of personal life beyond his wife.
Hye-Young Pyun’s The Hole is a deeply engaging read, that will draw fans of thrillers in with its frightening scenario and dread-inducing prose in exploring internal dialogue. It does feel a bit rough around the edges and some of the scenarios feel contrived and underdeveloped, but the overall experience is one of extreme discomfort that is certain to make the right reader squirm in all the right ways.