Review of “Shelter for the Damned” by Mike Thorn

While looking for a secret place to smoke cigarettes with his two best friends, troubled teenager Mark discovers a mysterious shack in a suburban field. Alienated from his parents and peers, Mark finds within the shack an escape greater than anything he has ever experienced.

But it isn’t long before the place begins revealing its strange, powerful sentience. And it wants something in exchange for the shelter it provides.

Shelter for the Damned is not only a scary, fast-paced horror novel, but also an unflinching study of suburban violence, masculine conditioning, and adolescent rage.


To sum up my thoughts on this book in one word, I’m IMPRESSED.  Horror books can be predictable and all read the same after a while, and it’s rare that I come across one that stands out as being so deeply smart and psychologically complex while also being creepy and appropriately bloody. You can tell how much time and effort went into making this book as good as it could be.  Though the premise and setting aren’t particularly abnormal, the author digs deep into the psyche of the main character and warps everything into a maddening descent from ordinary suburban life to a truly horrifying nightmare. 

The writing itself is extremely enjoyable if you’re a nerd like me who applauds that sort of thing.  The dialogue is completely believable as coming from teenage boys.  Even beyond that, it feels like you’re hearing the adults speak through the ears of a teenage delinquent – the parents sound out of touch and full of hollow punishments, the teachers are bland and authoritative without much personality, and the abusive dad’s chummy charade is answered with humoring caution…for a while.  The main aspect of the writing that I loved was that the descriptions don’t rely solely on visuals but also draw you in with unusual descriptions of smells, tastes, and sounds that remind you exactly of what the author means – for example, “empty, humming with the kind of drip-drop, fuzzy white silence saved especially for public restrooms.”

Again, this is a psychological kind of horror story.  There are bursts of action that are quite graphic, but the slow internal buildup was the part that was even more frightening, to me.  The toxic masculinity of the father figures is frightening in how subtly and believably it breaks these boys.  I was never sure quite what to think of Mark, and that works great to pull you along, especially considering Mark isn’t sure what to think of himself as he untangles whatever the Shack is doing to him.  And there’s something wonderfully creepy about using an unexplainable building as a source of evil.  I loved the way it all starts as “a gust of heat sighed from inside, breathed into his skin, massaged his muscles and coiled his bones.”

I highly, highly recommend this one if you’re a lover of language who also likes a good horror story.

See it on Amazon!

Review of “Trampled Crown” by Kirby Kellogg

Valerie Barnes is tired. Tired of wrangling snarky teens through their math lessons, tired of helicopter moms with no respect and even less kindness, and – most importantly – tired of hearing about Canary Lane High’s upcoming homecoming dance. She’s been planning it for months and promises, if only to herself, to give the kids a night they’ll never forget.
But when strange things start happening and people’s lives are threatened in the days before the dance, that promise becomes more ominous than ever. Even the administration is getting antsy, and fingers are pointing to Valerie. With time running out and stakes getting higher, it’s up to Valerie to keep her students safe, clear her name, and figure out who’s been threatening all of their lives.

This one feels like it could easily be a movie. Set in a high school, centered around an upcoming dance, the story could be predictable and all-too familiar, but the interesting part for me was that this was from the perspective of a teacher. That certainly kept it from feeling like just another teen horror/suspense story. In addition, the main character has to cope with the challenges of being gay in a small community, and the author did a great job of using this to add additional drama to the story.

The characters at times do or say things that feel a little off or forced for the sake of the plot. It’s not entirely a shock who the bad guys are. But the main character really makes you care, and I kept reading because I felt for her situation and wanted to know she was going to figure things out and be okay. I also enjoyed the portrayal of the teen students. Again, they could have been typical teenagers you see in movies, but I liked that they weren’t all little jerks to their teachers. And their interactions were believable.

The horror/suspense aspects were pretty chilling at times, and this is certainly not a book for the queasy. There was one murder scene that was a total surprise to me, jumping the plot into serious tension very quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed this fairly quick read and would recommend it to anyone who likes dark high school stories with a twist.

See it on Amazon!

Review of “Darkest Hours” by Mike Thorn

36309774.jpgIt might be odd to call a collection of horror/noir short stories “beautiful,” but that is the impression I’m left with.  These are incredibly well-crafted, well-written stories from an author I quickly grew to respect.  Thorn’s mastery of prose is an absolute delight to read.  His creativity is refreshing.  His subtle ability to make the horror sneak up on the reader is a gift.  I compared these stories many times to my favorites from Poe, and they indeed share the chilling truth that the worst monsters are the ones within.

The range of stories here was a surprise.  I never knew what to expect from story to story – in one you have a guy unnaturally obsessed with hair, in another you have a ghost doomed to wander, in another you have a terrifying monster that assimilates unsuspecting campers.  In every story,  it was easy to get into the mind of the characters and see the horror through their eyes.  And, again, the writing itself is worth your time.

Any book that has a monstrous blob devouring the works of Derrida has my vote.

5 Stars

See it on Amazon!

Review of “The Sea Was a Fair Master” by Calvin Demmer

40033777.jpgThis author never disappoints in coming up with unique, impressively well-written shorts.  This collection of 23 stories has a little bit of everything – from crime to love to androids to the worst English class imaginable.  There’s a great balance of creepy, troubling, sometimes funny (in an “oh, that’s terrible” grinning kind of way), and heart-wrenching tales.

I also love that these stories aren’t straight horror aimed for gore and terror only.  They feel more akin to the works of Poe – there’s a point, if not a message, about humanity in every one.  Some stories are thought-provoking, others intentionally make you sympathize with the baddies, others are horribly sad but have something beautiful thrown in.  And Demmer is a master at last lines.

Give this collection a read!  These stories are super-short, so even if you don’t like one or two, it’s not like you’re wasting time.

5 Stars

See it on Amazon!

 

Review of “Hardened Hearts”

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I finished this collection the day after Valentine’s Day, which was kind of perfect.  These are not your typical love stories, although “love” is the general theme connecting them.  I was very impressed with each writer, and I didn’t feel like there was a weak story in the bunch.  The writing is solid.  The range of genres in the collection is cool, too.  Most of these stories are so uniquely weird in their own way, and yet how the stories are organized makes them cohesive, like they naturally belong in the same collection.

A few of my favorites were “Heirloom” , “Dog Tired”, “The Heart of the Orchard,” and “Matchmaker.” Honestly, I liked something about almost every single story.  Despite many being short, they packed emotional punches. The immediate weirdness of many drew me in and held my attention.

If you like your love stories a little on the dark side, definitely check out this collection.

4.5 Stars

See it on Amazon!

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