REVIEW: Ugly Little Things: Collected Horrors

4.5 stars out of 5

Reviewer’s Note: I was provided with an Advance Release Copy (ARC) of “Ugly Little Things” by Crystal Lake Publishing in return for a fair and honest review.

The Basics:

Todd Keisling is a nice, unassuming, generous, funny, and talented author. He is a delight to interact with and—as forward writer Mercedes M. Yardley says—“He’s somehow privy to more than we are.”

He is younger than I, yet so much wiser.

This collection is delightfully evil. I enjoyed each story between the covers, and have noted my favorites below. These characters creations of Keisling’s are amazingly real. As real as you, me, your coworkers…

Or your grandmother.

You will fear for them, cheer them on…wish them well or ill. And that is all by the author’s grand design. Pick this one up and enjoy the nightmares from the mind of an author who knows how to send old-fashioned chills rocketing up and down your spine.

The Details:

“A Man In Your Garden” is the perfect overture piece for this anthology. Keisling, in one brush stroke, shows us to expect the unexpected and reminds us that we can be our own worst enemy.

“Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave” both surprised and horrified me. I’ve seen those videos of caskets floating down streets after Katrina. This was one of my favorites from this collection.

“Radio Free Nowhere” preys on your worst fears if you’ve ever traveled lonely roads without radio reception. Imagine: no cell signal, your ipod is out of juice and Sirius isn’t syncing up. It’s just you, the road, and a haunting tune sung by an unseen “woman…”

Next is “The Otherland Express,” about a teenager caught between unrequited love and an abusive father. The seventeen-year-old is met on the bus by one of many nobodies in the world and a choice is made. This one will leave your skin crawling.

“Saving Granny From The Devil” is a modern take on the Devil and Daniel Webster. Keisling’s delightful character development in the exploration of an age-old trope makes this one fresh and unexpected. Decisions made for the right reasons sometimes have unintended and horrific consequences.

Next was my least favorite story—“The Darkness Between Dead Stars.” Told in a “This is really what happened” style from the viewpoint of an engineer for a doomed Mars mission, I really didn’t sympathize with either the narrator or the “MVP.”

“Human Resources” made me laugh out loud, and I so do enjoy Keisling’s dry sense of humor. In the form of an e-mail resignation letter from a newly converted Human Resource Manager, this Lovecraftian note brings back for an encore performance Charles Boid (Praise His Glory).

Still chuckling over the last story, the horrific college boy/lust piece, “House of Nettle and Thorn,” is disturbing for many reasons, not the least of which is the depiction of the main character’s roommate: “Nick Edgleman’s contribution to the great human identity would be equal to a crusted stain on a pair of boxer shorts with the reek of Axe body spray.” We ALL knew somebody like him…

My second of three favorites was “When Karen Met Her Mountain.” Once again, Keisling’s deep character work creates a believable protagonist, whose own past horrors are reignited and amplified when a cult kidnaps her husband.

“The Final Reconciliation,” a novella I’d just recently read, completes the Ugly Little Things collection. It is the story of The Yellow Kings (delicious Lovecraft and “True Detective” reference), a heavy-metal band of four youngsters from Kentucky who set out on their first tour–told historically through an interview with the metal band’s now aged guitarist, Aiden Cross.

Keisling’s knowledge of Heavy Metal and his meticulous description of “band life” makes this piece my top pick of my favorite three.

Beware the groupies and preorder a copy today!