Category Archives: Reviews

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!

REVIEW: BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder

Step right up, if you dare…

I was provided an Advanced Release Copy (ARC) in return for an unbiased review.

I have a secret obsession with dark, disturbing, weird, and well-written anthologies. Crystal Lake Publishing has come out with a few of my favorites over the past few years, and BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders is the latest favorite, following on from last year’s Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and their annual Tales from the Lake collections.

The Short Review:

Buy it. It’s amazing and editor Doug Murano did a marvelous job putting together the collection–which features amazing wordsmiths such as Clive Barker, Lucy A. Snyder, Neil Gaiman, Stephanie M. Wytovich, John Langan, Lisa Morton, Richard Thomas and many others. Oh, and a wonderful foreword from Josh Malerman that you really shouldn’t skip over. Five Stars.

The Longer Review:

Right from the gorgeous cover by artist John Coulthart, the reader is invited between the pages into a literary carnival of wonders and the grotesque.

Behold! is divided into three sections – Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders (as the title suggests). The choice of Lisa Morton’s LaRue’s Dime Museum kicks off the Oddities section. It is a delightfully different and weird “freak show” type tale that is both unexpected and fresh. Brian Kirk‘s Wildflower, Cactus, Rose was a tough story to read based on the subject matter—but was beautiful and spine-tingling at the same time. The Baker of Millepoix by Hal Bodner is the story that most resembles a painting—beautiful, colorful. Picturesque, even. Finally, Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament is a marvelously disturbing tales of guilt and horror intertwined with desire and love.

I was delighted at this point to discover that each section was separated by poetry by Stephanie M. Wytovich. An Exhibition of Mother and Monsters is between ‘Oddities’ and ‘Curiosities’ and As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party dove tails into Lucy A Snyder’s Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies close out ‘Curiosities’ and kicks off ‘Undefinable Wonders’

Curiosities begins with John Langan‘s Madame Painte: For Sale–a buyer beware story of sorts with a delicious ending. Chivalry by Neil Gaiman is next and is a feel good story….of a sort. Gaiman always draws me into his world-creations. Fully Boarded by Ramsey Campbell is a story that will give even the most stalwart traveller pause. Amelia’s Wake by Erinn L Kemper is a dark story of grief and sadness. Her story really resonated with me after the death of my dad last year.

A Ware That Will Not Keep, is an anecdotal story told by a grandfather about the atrocities of WW II and John F.D. Taft tells a sympathetic tale that is both sympathetic and horrific.

Horror to me is taking the everyday and turning it onto itself. Was the creaking floorboard REALLY just the house settling? Ed Pruitt’s Smoker by Patrick Freivald takes bee keeping to a very different place and works so very well.

Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies by Lucy A. Snyder had me laughing to myself (as it was 3AM at the time, my wife found this disconcerting). If you have a unique take on humor, you will adore this one.

Undefinable Wonders begins with The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows was such a real-world story, that I think you might have to read this one for yourself to process it. A nice one by Brian Hodge.

The Wakeful is another one of those ‘every day’ stories that make horror so disturbing. I’m just glad I was inside when I read it. Kristi DeMeester is now on my ‘to read’ list.

Christopher Coake‘s strange story Knitter , while clever was so different from The Wakeful that it shocked me into a different place. It is very well written and presented—I may just have not switched gears fast enough.

I adore subtle anti-religion tales, and that’s what Sarah Read gives us with Through Gravel. Deliciously executed.

The collection ends with one of my favorite authors, Richard Thomas and his short entitled Hiraeth. Yes, I had to look it up, and I’m glad I did before reading. Hiraeth, loosely translated, means homesick—but so much more. There is a passion and a sorrow in the Welsh word that no English translation can capture. This story was beautiful and deep—and is perfectly named. There is hope here. Beauty and wonder as well. And there is the knowledge that our world is unknowable in its complexity.

BEHOLD! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonder is a collection that you will read over and over. Pay the entry fee and discover the worlds within for yourself.

But take heed. Some of these stories may change you.