I am writing this seconds after finishing the short story If God Were a Wound by Eric LaRocca, recently published in the horror anthology Shattered and Splintered.
There aren’t many short story first liners that grab you by the face demanding your attention. They’re few and far between. Sometimes, I feel terrible when I attempt to read a short story and just can’t get past the first few lines because if that’s the case, I am throwing in the towel and moving on. If God Were a Wound didn’t just grab my face, it punched me in the gut and forced me to read on with pleasure.
And the first line is, “If God were a wound, I think more people might be inclined to believe in Him.”
Whether or not you believe in God is besides the point. This short story doesn’t just have something to say, it needs the world to hear it and makes the world want to hear it. As a writer myself, the crafting of a short story is as difficult to formulate as a full blown novel. I was mesmerized by LaRocca’s poetic prose, story arc (yes, there are arcs in shorts,) twists, build up, and ultimately an end that makes the reader ponder afterward for quite some time. I could feel LaRocca’s vulnerability and when a writer accomplishes that, well I’d say they have accomplished as a writer.
This story is the type that should be read in classrooms, analyzed and discussed. So, dear reader, I will leave you with this excerpt from If God Were a Wound:
“Bad news?” he asks.
I don’t know how to answer. It’s not necessarily bad news. At least, not in the way most people might consider bad news, or take it for that matter. Instead, it seems more appropriate to classify it as “strange news.”
Believe me, you’ll want to find out what this “strange news” is, so help me God.
Do you love 1970s and 80s horror cinema? Or maybe you enjoy soft porn horror films (yes, it’s totally a thing!) Hear me out for a minute, as a horror fanatic myself, I was shocked that I had never heard of the Final Guys YouTube channel, a podcast dedicated to all things horror (reviewing horror cinema, games, books, etc.) But here’s the thing, this isn’t just any podcast, these guys and gals are our fellow indie horror authors! Your amazing hosts are Hunter Shea, Jack Campisi, and Jason Brant with guests like Chad Lutzke, Laurel Hightower-Wells, and more! If you’re hearing the faint calling of crickets right now, do yourself a favor and go read some of these authors’ books. ASAP. Here’s the good news, Final Guys is LIVE on YT every Tuesday at 8pm ET.
I’m going to do you a favor and highlight some of the best moments from last night’s Final Guys YT Live, which was my first, popping my cherry with horror soft porn (we’ll get to that in a bit.) Be prepared for drinking games, horror reviews, they got jokes, and amazing attendee chat! I’m going to break out of this paragraph format and dive into a list of highlights. Enjoy!
Best Moments from The Innocents Review - Final Guys Horror Show #272
Watch on-demand here.
Check out all the movie posters below because you know we all judge a movie by its cover!
Whispers in the Dark accomplishes many rare qualities. These qualities work together to form a unique story filled with horror but focused on the things that matter most to the female protagonist: family, love, motherhood, and her internal demons.
There are many elements that I loved about this book. It breaks the rules of how we are taught to write. I believe the genre of horror attracts writers who are rebels, outsiders, those who live on edge, those who don’t give a fuck, and those who have no fear of pouring out words onto the page. Hightower switches PoV throughout the chapters and, get this...she does it successfully.
Rose McFarland is our main character. She is a hard ass, a mother, a lover, a fighter, and struggles between what’s in her heart, what’s in her mind, and the things from her past. There are certain chapters where we get first person point of view from Rose and this pulls the reader intimately into her life. There are other chapters written as third person PoV as well. Here’s the thing: it’s done in a way that paces the story for us and doesn’t cause confusion. Movies do it all the time and Hightower does it here without holding back and it works damn well.
Another win for me: a female horror writer writing a female protagonist who is intelligent, strong willed, but struggling with emotional ties from her past and present - count me in. The themes of family, darkness that lurks within kin, and inner demons are intertwined with the horror elements that horror fans love and come back for the most.
Hightower’s character development is phenomenal. As a writer myself, I learned a lot from how she developed her characters. Each one was succinct and each one brought something of value to the story. Every character had a purpose, whether it was to bring out qualities and actions of the main character or cause her conflict, they all served to contribute to the development of Rose.
Laurel Hightower knocked this one out of the park and it won’t be her last time.
Check out Whispers in the Dark here.
Follow Laurel Hightower on Twitter and Instagram.
Laurel recently became a moderator on the Ink Heist podcast here.
Check out my last book review on True Crime by Samantha Kolesnik.
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This is, by far, one of the most difficult books I have ever read, difficult emotionally, mentally, and even physically. Why? The elements surrounding this story like character development, conflict, setting, and theme, are delivered with a pacing of pure, dirty truth.
Kolesnik unfolds a terrifying reality from the unique perspective of the main character who, starting off as a young victim of cruel abuse, moves on to become a victimizer. Kolesnik doesn’t just tug at the reader’s emotions, she yanks on them, forcing the reader to become very aware of the real abuse that takes place all around us that the world often ignores. The reader is emotionally connected to the main character who is being demoralized by the people around her and by the one person who is supposed to protect her the most, her own mother.
Can you blame the reader for siding with the main character all throughout the book, even after she decides to harm others because that’s what she knows best?
It’s such an interesting point of view, one that keeps the reader wondering afterward, what would I do? How would I endure and survive such abuse? Kolesnik faces one of the scariest truths of our world and she faces it head on with her writing. She holds the reader's attention and makes us imagine, watch, and attempt to feel every detail.
In terms of writing elements (setting, plot, character development), the story is written in first person, almost like the main character’s journal. This made the story more intimate for me. I wanted to set the book down at times because it was such an emotional and mental rollercoaster which, in my eyes, is a writer’s greatest success.
The setting and plot are not necessarily developed to a point of exhaustion and in this story, they didn’t need to be. Being in first person POV made it possible for this book to unfold in diary form and made every aspect of it, especially the ending, eerie and disturbing.
If you’re up for the challenge, if you have ever experienced abuse or know someone who has, and if you want a very different perspective on it, then I challenge you to read True Crime.
I am proud to welcome yet another talented and raw female author into the horror community.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from True Crime:
“When she was calm, she liked to play games only she enjoyed.”
“Maybe when God created me, he disliked his creation and turned off the part connecting me to him, like an artist who didn’t want to sign a bad painting.”
“Her stillness became the twinkle in my eye.”
“Only crime was true.”
“One man alone in the world, born to a mother with a wolf’s heart hiding in a sheep’s skin.”
“I wondered if my presence were worse than death.”
“I wondered how the world made its villains and why it never apologized for making them.”
“What did it say about me that my one true guardian angel was the earth’s devil?”
Check out True Crime here.
Follow Samantha Kolesnik on Twitter and Instagram.
Listen to Samantha Kolesnik on the Ink Heist podcast here.
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No doubt that this book is 5 STARS! REMAINS combines two literary worlds, one of a horrific tragedy and loss and the other made of the supernatural. The main character cannot seem to escape either.
The story takes place post tragedy. With her world turned upside down and forever changed, the main character Lucy struggles to make sense of the murder of her young son. She is trapped in so many ways, both literally and metaphorically.
Andrew Cull doesn’t tell you Lucy is trapped, he makes you feel it throughout the entire story. He masters the writing of the senses, tapping into each one and making you feel on edge with vision, sound, and touch. His use of descriptive showing of each scene is quite chilling. His writing awakens the reader’s senses as if you were experiencing what Lucy is experiencing.
If you are afraid of the dark, the pitch black darkness, the mystery of what lives in dark corners, then this is the book for you.
Warning: it’s an extremely sad story, one that will break your heart while at the same time frighten you, and leave you with tears and chills.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from REMAINS:
“The sound of the kettle built to a scream, loud enough to drown out the single sob that escaped her clenched jaw.”
“The darkness that waited patiently in the doorway behind her edged a little closer.”
“Hour after hour the empty silence had worn her down.”
“I guess we only take pictures of the times we want to remember.”
Check out REMAINS here.
Follow Andrew Cull on Twitter and Instagram.
Check out my other review:
My Best Friend’s EXORCISM by Grady Hendrix
I also did a buddy read with Laurel Hightower and we created a video review of REMAINS. Check it out below:
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If you love the 80s, if you love horror, if you love a great devil possession story, then you will love Grady Hendrix’s book My Best Friend’s EXORCISM.
Hendrix delivers on a coming of age story about two high school best friend’s immersed in all the horribly disturbing incidents that take place when one of them gets possessed by a demon. It’s a story about friendship, the deepest kind. This book will have you laughing at times all while getting a horror, exorcist fix.
Hendrix develops each character to perfection. The high school clicks are spot on and brings nostalgia of the shittiest parts and best parts of adolescence to the reader. The reader becomes part of these high school girls’ lives while feeling isolated from all the adults in the story.
I also want to point out that EVERYONE judges a book by its cover and I did just that. I spotted this book while at the bookstore and hadn’t heard of it before. The cover is one of the most beautiful book covers I’ve ever seen and it’s the reason I picked it up. I am thrilled that the book was also fantastic.
There are no surprises in this book. No major plot twists and if you are a horror fanatic, then you will know that this type of story has been done many times however I still give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It combines coming of age, a story of heartfelt friendship, and horror possession all against the background of the 80s. The writing is also done well. It’s exactly what I wanted and hoped it would be.
Learn more about Grady Hendrix by visiting his website.
Check out my other review:
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
Here’s one of my short stories:
A Goodnight's Sleep
Watch my YouTube book review on My Best Friend's EXORCISM below.
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The Cabin at the End of the World has been the best book I’ve read this year. Why? It’s anxiety in written form and was one of the fastest paced books next to Lord of the Flies. I couldn’t put it down and when I had to I was bummed. I took breaks to feed my toddler and kind of shower. The suspense was that good.
Here’s all the things I loved about this book:
Here’s the one thing I was not a fan of:
I wasn’t a fan of the ending, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. The ending did not ruin the journey for me or the experience. Tremblay took me for quite a ride and I cannot complain. As a writer myself, I can’t help but think about where I would’ve taken the story. I think all writers do that. It doesn’t mean I don’t respect how Tremblay ended it. I do. I am just very dark and would’ve loved for everything to come to a tragic demise.
That’s it. As always, I like to end my reviews with some favorite quotes.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Cabin at the End of the World:
“Right. Hell yeah, we’re gonna hit’em with logs.”
“Tears ring Andrew’s eyes as fear and the numbness of this irreality momentarily give way to absurdity.”
“Time is running out on the world, on us.”
“The most important gifts are often the ones we wish with all our hearts to refuse.”
“Do you have any idea how delicious it is to give yourself over to something else so completely?”
“Trust the process.”
CHECK OUT MY YOUTUBE VIDEO REVIEW BELOW
The Girl on the Glider is the first book I’ve read by Keene, and I am so glad it was. After reading this book, I honestly feel connected to Keene. That may sound creepy however the reader is literally looking into Keene’s diary and into his life.
The Girl on the Glider is a 99 page short and written in diary form with chapter titles named “Entry 1, Entry 2, etc.” So what’s the story about? Keene is a horror writer and this story is about his very personal, and very real experience about being haunted by a girl who died in a car accident at the top of his driveway in Pennsylvania. This actually happened.
Keene also name drops actual people within the horror community who are his friends, business partners, and confidants. He explains who each of these people are by using footnotes, opening up opportunities for the reader to discover other horror writers and publishing houses. I really appreciated this.
Keene describes the strange events that followed the death of this girl and how it affected his family: his wife, his baby, his dog and cat. He writes about it in the moment and moved on to publish it as a short book. It falls in line with classic accounts of haunting experiences that you might hear from a friend, a coworker, or a family member. Naturally, the reader learns about his writing process and his life as a writer. It’s so raw.
Was it scary? Yes. It wasn’t the type of fear you experience from reading about demons or vampires. It’s that fear we have all felt when we are purely alone, maybe alone in the dark, and you just feel something around you and you know something is there that you can’t quite see. The real fear that exists in real life.
Keene’s writing is authentic, sincere, and genuine, so much so that I teared up at the end. I teared up because although it’s creepy, the death of this girl at the top of his driveway forces Keene to turn inward and he discovers some truths about himself and his life. But it’s not just a discovery for him. It’s a discovery for the reader, one that keeps you thinking about your own life too. It’s an emotionally deep storytelling about someone haunting his house and haunting him.
This book is not merely entertainment. Imagine finding a writer’s diary, opening it up, and reading an entry called The Girl on the Glider.
(Oh yeah, and I found a signed copy at a bookstore near my house.)
Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Girl on the Glider:
The only part of my body I couldn’t write without is my brain, and apparently, my brain has decided to declare war on me.
They make fun of Whitley Strieber for saying he was abducted by gray aliens possessed with a disturbing fascination for his bunghole.
My name is Brian Keene and I am either losing my mind or I am being haunted. Or both.
Writing books like that - pouring your personal shit into a novel or short story - that’s like confession and an exorcism and six months of therapy all rolled into one.
“Chugga chugga, choo choo, spin around. Every letter has a sound.”
You might just be an echo of time.
...it was over before it had ever even really started.
Check out Brian Keene’s website.
Check out Keene’s podcast: The Horror Show with Brian Keene.
Check out my last book review: The Deal Maker by Lou Yardley.
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Would you ever make a deal with a demon? What if that demon could give you anything, help you to find out anything, and provide you with the answers you wanted to know, needed to know, would you then?
In Lou Yardley’s book, The Deal Maker, the premise is just that, all while achieving a balance between the dark and malformed workings of a demon and many opportunities for comedic dialogue. More and more I am digging horror comedy, especially when done right.
Let’s talk about structure of this story. I found the pacing to be just right and Yardley knows how to always keep the reader wanting more. Each chapter ending is truly only a beginning to what the hell is going to happen next.
This is no ordinary demon. I loved Yardley’s idea of creating a demon whose main purpose is to make deals with humans which revolve around the demon taking their body parts. He is described as being ugly and deformed because he mixes and matches different body parts from different humans - a hodgepodge of human parts if you will. Yardley is not afraid to dive deep into details about how he takes the body parts. It's gnarly, and that is awesome.
Let’s talk characters. The character development was good, however, there were a few times that I was confused as a reader on character backgrounds, current roles, etc. Now, as a writer myself, I would want other writers and readers to provide constructive feedback. This could’ve been worked through a little more. As a reader, getting confused can definitely be a distraction to the overall beauty of a story. I am not saying it’s easy because I know it isn’t.
Overall, The Deal Maker was a good read. Yardley had my own imagination working through the scenes as if it was happening right in front of me. My favorite scene in this book is the spider scene. It’s visual nature was so sickening, but in a good way. Do you want to know the details? Then check out the book!
Here are some of my favorite quotes from The Deal Maker:
He had no time to shit himself, he needed to search the house.
Making way for decay and the kind of sweetness and rot that can only come with dead things that should have been buried long ago.
Call me Jack. I’m a Jack of all trades, made of bits of all people.
The words tasted good on his tongue.
He needed to smell her panic and taste her horror. At the moment she was far too calm. Far too accepting. He needed to do something about that.
Now, ‘normal’ was hanging out with a demon who wanted bits of your body in return for small favours.
Hope was a cruel mistress.
Pain danced through his bones, twisting his muscles and squeezing on his internal organs.
Check out Lou Yardley’s website.
Here's my other horror book reviews:
Tribesmen by Adam Cesare
Spicy Constellation & Other Recipes by Chad Lutzke
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Adam Cesare’s Tribesmen, a novella, is one I devoured in less than a day. The story revolves around six characters and each chapter switches between each character's perspective. Cesare’s story mechanics of alternating perspectives is beautifully written and he makes it simple for the reader to keep pace of the plot, leaving more time to enjoy the gore and terror that erupt at an increasingly fast rate page after page.
It’s not easy to develop and write six characters into a story where each one brings some type of value but Cesare pulls it off. Each character is unique in their appearance and disposition while offering just the right amount of ingredients to the story. The reader hates the right ones and loves the characters that need to be loved.
It starts out as a semi-normal situation for a film crew and all goes terribly wrong at an alarming pace. Chapter 5 begins the bone chilling visuals that will stay with you while you fall asleep at night. Chapter 12 is when shit gets real, and real fast.
As I read this book, I was reminded that there is a dark and conspiring voice in all of us. The one that urges us to think about the worst we can do. The voice that diverges us off a sane path. Most of us allow this voice to run through us and then we decide to do the right thing. But, what if we didn’t? What if we listened instead?
There was a point while reading, when I thought to myself: This is literally crazy.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from Tribesmen:
“It was now a couple of years later and the girl from the theater was long gone, but the smack habit had stuck around.”
“Sweat dripped between his shoulder blades and his hands shook as he bounded through the jungle, ducking under branches and stopping in his tracks every so often to listen for voices in the distance.”
“Jacque took her by the filthy hand.”
“The wind brought with it the fresh smell of the sea, and a gentle howl.”
“His semi-flaccid bloodstained manhood flapped against his thigh as he marched around the base of the tree in circles.”
“As wrong as the feeling was - and it was wrong - he agreed with the voice.”
“There was no going back from dead.”
Check out other works by Adam Cesare by visiting his website.
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I am Sterp. I write dark fiction and have a very unhealthy obsession with disturbing narratives. I am the author of The Cult Called Freedom House: Sophia Rey Book One. My short story The Lost Tea Cup is in Issue 26 of The Literary Hatchet. I am also a painter.
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