I read a book: The Cursed Among Us, by John Durgin

I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book in the horror social media circle. I am generally wary of books with a lot of social media buzz, because oftentimes it is more a sign of a strong marketing campaign than it is of a great book (see the CoHo* phenomenon). When John Durgin offered Audible codes for The Cursed Among Us to reviewers, I decided it’s time to see what all the fuss is about. I found the kindle version available on KU and read along with the Audible narration.

I have seen this book described as a lot of things that I am usually not interested in reading. Coming of age. YA. Kids vs evil. Nostalgic? It is definitely not YA, despite the main characters being a group of teenagers. Yes, they unleash and then end up fighting an evil force. There are lots of references to bands and movies of my youth. Are the boys now reaching 40 and keeping their parents’ secrets? I can’t help but laugh when I think about the world I grew up in being considered retro. Apparently the 90s are in, because my own teenager has asked me what it was like growing up in the 90s on countless occasions. And I suppose it could be described as a coming of age story. But what a way to come of age.

This is the story of a group of teenage friends who accidentally unearth a town secret when they venture too far into the woods. They’ve been warned all their lives not to do that, but they’re filming a horror movie for class (and for funsies) and need the perfect spooky location. They stumble onto a grave site marked with stones covered in unfamiliar sigils, and their fictional horror story becomes reality. What follows is a string of grisly deaths at the hands of dead witch possessed by a demon and the kid who acts as her puppet. For a minute it looks like evil will prevail, but the boys are determined to fight it until the bitter end. There are survivors, but there is no happy ending. We are left with a hint that the story is not over yet. It’s not quite a cliffhanger and it ends on a note that doesn’t really need a sequel, but there is an opening for one.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Durgin crafts a compelling story in a way that manages to make the reader cringe at some of the descriptions while being unable to take their eyes off the page. Joe Hempel’s performance is great, as usual. I’ve never been disappointed by a Joe Hempel narration. I wonder if Howie got his ass whooped for missing curfew. I know you just watched half the town get murdered by a supernatural horror, but rules are rules, son. If you like horror but don’t necessarily want to read the more extreme variety I usually review, check this one out. It is not YA, but I would be comfortable recommending it to teenagers and adults alike.

Big thanks to John Durgin for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy The Cursed Among us, by John Durgin on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

*I just want to clarify that CoHo gets no hate from me. I’ve read a few of her books and liked them well enough, but I consider them popcorn. Nothing wrong with that, I love popcorn. I read a lot of books that are dark and disturbing and sometimes I just want to chomp my way through something light and airy. And something I’ve seen from a lot of CoHo superfans is that her books got them interested in reading or rekindled an old love of reading and that’s always a win in my book.

I read a book: Orchard of Skeletons, by Eli Wilde

I read a book of poetry written from the perspective of a vampire by Eli Wilde not too long ago. I wrote a brief review stating that I liked parts of it, but it fell a bit short for me. I rated it 3/5 because there was plenty that I did like about it. The author saw my review and offered me the opportunity to read his upcoming dystopian horror novel, Orchard of Skeletons. I read the synopsis on Goodreads and accepted.

Let me tell you, the synopsis does not do this book justice. The story is told from the perspective of a young man, who is initially unnamed, making his way through life in a dystopian future. Most of humanity was killed off by a sickness long ago. The remaining humans are mostly infertile, making fertile people (especially women) a hot commodity. Babies and fertile people are regularly kidnapped and sold to the Mountain People, remnants of a previous generation who fled the pandemic and hid under a mountain. The Mountain People didn’t anticipate the impending infertility crisis and now resort to kidnapping women and breeding them repeatedly to keep the population from dying out completely.

This story begins with our narrator, later given the name Isaac, telling us about his position as a mechanic at Sloan’s garage. He tells us that he is paid in crap food, beer, and sex with the owner’s daughter Macy. Sloan uses her to pay off his gambling debt and apparently his employees salaries. Macy’s entire existence before meeting Isaac has been inside her bedroom, waiting for meal time and whatever “guests” Sloan sent in.

One of those frequent visitors is a man named Finch, Sloan’s brother. Finch is as nasty as they come, a man made for survival in their world. He is known far and wide as the guy who doesn’t just take his vengeance on anyone who crosses him, he makes sure everyone around knows it. He likes to chop off and barbecue (and eat) the limbs of living people. He leaves heads and torsos lying around and burns buildings and vehicles to the ground as added warning. You know, in case anyone isn’t terrified of being dismembered and eaten while they’re still alive. It’s very effective and plays a big part in this story.

Isaac’s visits with Macy are different from the rest. She finds herself attached to him because he treats her like a person, something to which she is unaccustomed. They get to a point where they sort of acknowledge that there’s something different about their relationship, and then they find themselves in a predicament. Sloan and his wife are dead and they need to run or face Finch’s wrath. Unfortunately, neither of them have any real life experience so they have no idea what to take with them or where to go or anything practical. They steal some cash (which is no longer valuable to anyone other than Sloan) and a solar powered Mustang. Isaac’s driving skills are limited to moving cars around the garage, but he gets the hang of it and they are on their way to the beach, despite neither of them knowing where that is or if it’s even a real place. The rest of the book details their journey, the people (and replicants) they meet along the way, and the Finch’s relentless pursuit. He has plans for them and will not be stopped.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. This was really good. The writing style evolves with the narrator. In the beginning it is simplistic and aloof, but as the story progresses and Isaac forms relationships and grows as a person, it reflects his growth. Orchard of Skeletons is the book Isaac wrote to chronicle their journey. Is that a spoiler? Whoops. I’m sure I’ll be reading more of Wilde’s work.

Big thanks to Eli Wilde for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Orchard of Skeletons on Amazon and begin reading it on March 27, 2023.

I read a book: Cthulhu Fishing Off the Iraq Nebula, by Chris Meekings

This is one of those books that drew me in on multiple levels. First there’s the cover art depicting a person in a space suit tethered to something with Cthulhu in the background. Then there’s the title which is just so freaking bizarre that you just have to read the synopsis. And then there’s the synopsis. It’s the story of a man flying through space in his AI controlled house in pursuit of the elder god who destroyed the Earth (and everything else in its path). It’s a little bit Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe and a lotta bit Moby Dick.

There’s just something about how this is written that I love. It feels familiar, like I’m reading a friend’s diary. The opening line, in space no one can hear you vomit, hooked me. The fact that the main character never programmed his house’s AI is super relatable. How many times have you installed some new software or set up a new device and skipped the customization during setup, rationalizing that you will take care of that later. The plot is ridiculous, as I expect of any good bizarro story, but EnterUserName’s mental and emotional journey is quite relatable. The reader follows him as he uses alcoholism to cope with the realization that he is the last remaining human (and possibly last living thing in the universe), makes a friend, loses a friend, thinks he’s gone crazy, realizes that maybe there’s no point in revenge, and eventually finds his peace. I found myself just laughing at the absurdity of it all with him at the end.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Ultimately, this made me smile. Maybe it doesn’t go anywhere, but it goes where it needs to. I like how it just sort of ends rather than wrapping up with a tidy solution. It just ends. The reader knows what happens without it being written.

Big thanks to Chris Meekings, Planet Bizarro, and Booksprout for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Cthulhu Fishing Off the Iraq Nebula on Amazon and begin reading it on March 15, 2023.

Monthly roundup – February 2023

When I look at these collages I make every month, count 11 boxes, and think I had a slow month, I feel a little silly. I read 11 books! Sure, some of them were short. Two were audiobooks. One was a collection of short stories. My page count probably isn’t very high. And ultimately the numbers don’t matter. I read 11 books and enjoyed them all. But there were several days when I didn’t read anything because my brain just didn’t want to brain. Depression. And that makes me feel like it was a slow month. Depression brain is weird.

The books I did manage to read were pretty great. My favorite was Bowery. It’s not a joyous story, there is no happy ending. But it made me feel things and that is the mark of a good story to me. When people ask me why I read so much extreme horror, the answer is simple. I want to feel things. I read bizarro for wonderment. I am always so amazed at the sheer absurdity that some of these authors I love come up with. And Matt Shaw just makes me laugh. One day I’ll do a full why I read the things I read post. Today is not that day.

On the agenda for March, I have a few ARCs from Planet Bizarro that I’m excited about. Hoping to finish Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig and read the next book in the Gone series. I also have a couple of collections of short stories that I’m itching to read. And of course whatever Book Lovers Cafe chooses for the group read. It’s looking like it’ll be a Grady Hendrix book, but I’ve got my fingers crossed for Jennifer Weiner. I know, that makes no sense when you look at the collage above. I do stray from horror and monster porn on occasion.

In other news, I am in the process of redesigning this blog. When I resurrected it about a year ago, I chose a free template and picked some colors I liked and didn’t really think much of it because I wasn’t sure of where I was going with this. Totally Normal Human is now Cool Ghouls Book Club. I feel like that’s more fitting of the content and of me as a person. I’ll still post random totally normal human things, like my old band appreciation posts or the compartments. It’s gonna take a minute to figure out how I want this place to look, but I’ll get there.

I read a book: Grot (Backyard Goblin Gods #3), by Roxy Collins

Grot, by Roxy Collins is the third installment of the Backyard Goblin Gods series. We got a hint of this book’s main characters in the previous volume that had me wondering about the woman with two suitors.

Jessica is different from our previous heroines in that she is one of the Chosen Ones from a first family. These are humans who keep the gobelin/human agreement alive by teaching their daughters about gobelins and Underhill and their destiny to offer themselves as potential mates to the gobelins when the crust opens. Jess isn’t really interested in that life and is convinced that she is the least desirable of her sisters, therefore doesn’t really have to worry about being chosen. She is hopeful that she can go through with the ceremony, not be chosen, and then go on with her life with her mother finally off her back. Instead, she finds herself being pursued by two gobelins who are determined to win her favor. And her life is made more chaotic with the disappearance of her sister. She needs to make sure her sister is safe and sound before she can even think about her predicament.

Grot, like all of the gobelins we’ve met so far, is complicated but amazing. He is the cinnamon roll monster romance hero I crave. He’s utterly dedicated to doing everything he can to help Jess find her sister and ultimately win her over. He knows she is his fated mate but he humors his brother’s challenge and competes in this mating quest. After all, there can be only one.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ This series just keeps getting better. I love the way we get more and more gobelin lore as the story progresses. Can’t wait to see who’s next. I love that we get more character detail. And I love that each couple shows a different perspective. This is my favorite book in the series yet.

Big thanks to Roxy Collins and Booksprout for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Grot, by Roxy Collins on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: The Comfy-Cozy Nihilist, by Nathan D. Ludwig

They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but let’s be real. We all do it. No one would care about bookstagram without beautiful images of eye-catching book covers. In my opinion, horror and bizarro books tend to have the coolest cover art. The cover art on this one is reminiscent of Happy Tree Friends and I just love it. The Comfy-Cozy Nihilist: A Handbook of Dark Fiction, by Nathan D. Ludwig is wild. It’s dark and hilarious. It fulfills my bizarro weirdness loving desires.

This collection starts off strong with a story called Fuck Fangsgiving. The reader follows a pair of siblings who go home for Thanksgiving under the impression that their family are vampires and have invited them home to feast on them rather than turn them. It’s violent, sad, and totally absurd. So good. I knew the general direction Welcome to the Show was headed, but what a twist. I freaking love a bizarre twist. Adding Worst Laid Plans to my watch list. Nearly every story leans toward dark comedy (which I love!). My favorite was probably the doppelganger clown story, For My Next Switch, I’ll Need a Volunteer. There’s just something about doppelgangers and clowns that I find super entertaining. Don’t be fooled by the cheerful looking cover (yes, I consider it cheerful even with the bear about to blow its brains out). These stories are dark and there’s lots of gore, but it’s got just the right amount of humor.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. The stories themselves are all great, but I think my favorite part of this collection is the author commentary after each one. I love that little peek into the creative process. I enjoyed the intro and outro chapters. It makes me feel like I’ve gotten to know the author in a more personal way. And while I didn’t care to try and figure out what authors of the classics were trying to say back in high school English class, I do enjoy being clued in via author commentary now. I suppose it’s different when you’re existing in the same webspace as the authors you’re reading.

Big thanks to Nathan D. Ludwig, GenreBlast Books, and BookSirens for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy The Comfy-Cozy Nihilist, by Nathan D. Ludwig on Amazon for a couple bucks.

I read a book: Grouch (Backyard Goblin Gods #2), by Roxy Collins

Grouch, by Roxy Collins is the second book in the Backyard Goblin Gods series. We met the two main characters, Drew and Grouch, in the first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect Drew to be the next one to make an offering but I was pleasantly surprised.

There is a lot to love about this book. I found Drew’s character to be far more fleshed out than Cassie’s was in the first book. The reader really gets to know Drew and understand her motives behind her offering to Underhill. Unlike Cassie, Drew knows what she is doing when she drops a gold ring into the crack in the crust. She understands the implication of her actions and does so with a plan. While she does seem to understand some of the gobelin tradition, she is not in it to find a mate. She has a lot of stuff to work through and the reader is along for the ride. And Grouch, despite his name, is delightful. His initial reaction upon meeting her is less than dignified, but he dials it back immediately and though he knows she is his fated mate, he respects her boundaries and follows her lead. He is also fighting his own demons and they find they have a lot of common ground.

I have noticed in other reviews that there is not a lot of love for Drew. People love a strong independent female lead until she proves that she truly is strong and independent. I actually really liked the fact that she didn’t fall all over Grouch right away. She was on a mission and was determined to see it through. She knew what she didn’t want (a relationship/mate) and didn’t really warm up to the idea until she’d nearly completed her mission.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Collins addresses a lot of the issues I had with the first book by creating stronger characters with solid arcs. The main characters grow to know and care about each other before the big frenzy, which is something that is often missing in a fated mate story. There are some loose ends (what happened to Drew’s aversion to sex?), but overall a satisfying story. I am looking forward to the third book, Grot, coming to Kindle Unlimited on February 19, 2023.

Big thanks to Roxy Collins and BookSirens for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can buy Grouch, by Roxy Collins on Amazon for a couple bucks or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. It’s Valentine’s Day. Treat yo self.

Monthly roundup – January 2023

My January reads. Nearly all were great and I’ve added a few more authors to my unending tbr. Just bury me with my kindle.

It would be easier to tell you which ones weren’t my favorites. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck was a reread for book club. It’s not bad, but it’s super repetitive and could probably have been a blog post. I still consider it the best self help book I’ve ever read. I’m Still a 10-year-old Boy and Spare are good for what they are, memoirs. I don’t like to be too harsh on memoirs because it feels like I’m judging their lives and I really don’t want to do that. Nancy Cartwright’s book is carried by her colorful narration. This is great for Simpsons fans or anyone who is interested in voice acting. Prince Harry’s book is about what I expected. In a lot of ways, he’s still that sad little boy trying to make his way through life as a Royal after losing his biggest ally, his mother. White Noise was a chore to get through, but still not terrible.

Here are some links to my full reviews for the month. All ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Incel, by Matt Duchossoy
Like a Tramp Yelling at Trains, by Peter Caffrey
They Are All Monsters, by J. Boote
Strangled Epitaphs, by Axl Barnes
Peculiar Monstrosities, A Planet Bizarro Publication
Songs About My Father’s Crotch, by Dustin Reade
Goddamn Electric Nights, by William Pauley III

I’ve got quite a few ARCs lined up for February. Lots of horror, bizarro, and monster porn. My favorites.

I read a book: Incel, by Matt Duchossoy

You might be wondering why I would pick up a horror novel called Incel written from the perspective of an incel doing extreme incel things. I wondered that myself as I started reading and that familiar icky feeling filled my belly. If you are not an incel and you’ve ever browsed any of the incel subreddits, you know that feeling. Truth be told, the author was the driving force behind that decision. Matt Duchossoy is the pen name that Matthew A. Clarke uses for his horror novels. I like his writing style. But I also like books that put you in the minds of horrible people. I like books that make me uncomfortable. And boy does this one deliver.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term incel, let me introduce you to the main character of this book, Wayne. Wayne subscribes to the involuntary celibate movement, an online community of mostly men who are unable to attract women for one reason or another. Wayne describes it the way any incel would, laying blame squarely on women’s shoulders. He refers to attractive men as Chads and women as Staceys, femoids, foids, and other derogatory terms. Women don’t want to fuck him because they’re shallow sluts and he won’t have a shot at them until they’re old and used up. He addresses the existence of femcels, the female incel, and answers the most obvious question by stating that neither incel nor femcel believes they should lower their standards to couple with one another. The foids are shallow for not doing so though. It’s a disturbing mindset, but one that most are familiar with even if the term incel is new. The author did a ton of research into the movement while writing this book and it shows.

Anyway, while Wayne is deep in this mindset, he still has hope and tries to live a normal life. He has revenge fantasies, but no real intent on carrying them out. But this would not be much of a horror novel if he didn’t cross that line, now would it. His world is turned upside down when a cute waitress shows interest in him. He has no idea how to react or proceed, but he manages to successfully date this girl for several months. During this time, his friends have turned dark side and dragged him down with them. To be fair, they didn’t have to push much. He was ready, because despite his successful relationship, he never truly believed that his lady wanted him. He was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. He just assumed there was no happiness to be had for him. That defeatist incel attitude was ultimately his undoing, leading Wayne and his friends down a dark path filled with torture, sexual assault, and murder.

For a moment, I had the tiniest shred of sympathy for Wayne. The ending absolutely killed that. Like most incels, Wayne doesn’t have trouble with the ladies because he’s unattractive. He has trouble because he’s human garbage. He doesn’t see women as people. Good things happen to him and he still can’t let go of that incel ideology and try to be happy. But there was that brief moment where I thought he might redeem himself.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I hated this book. I also loved it. This is a cautionary tale that reminds the reader just how easy it is to give in to your dark thoughts, get caught up in the moment, and take things too far. It’s a reminder that some people have their heads so far up their asses that they can’t recognize the good when it happens. Thank you for making me feel things, Matt.

Big thanks to Matt Duchossoy for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. You can pre-order Incel on Amazon and begin reading it on Valentine’s Day (February 14, 2023) or read it as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription.

I read a book: They Are All Monsters, by J. Boote

Hot off the presses from the man who forever burned things like demon possessed sex with zombies and the subsequent pregnancies in your brain is the extreme horror novel, They Are All Monsters. This is the story of a pair of detectives leading the hunt for a serial killer who is targeting children who stay out after dark. This serial killer is especially brutal, mutilating his victims and leaving them where they drop.

Before I get any further into this review, if you have any triggers (namely violence against children, murder, gore, cannibalism), this book is not for you. Boote did his research while writing this book and all of the horrors within have been in the headlines at one time or another. Thankfully this is fiction and no one was hurt in the making of this story.

This book starts out like your average run of the mill detective drama with Clive Watson braving a dark and dreary night lurking around Belton, a small village currently being terrorized by a ruthless serial killer and an equally ruthless copycat, in hopes that he might finally crack the case. And he very nearly does, but the killer runs off and Clive is left to deal with the not yet dead young victim. He knows the kid doesn’t have much time left, so he loads him in his car and begins to drive. It seems like he might take the kid to the hospital, but he takes him to his home instead. Uh oh. At this point, my gears are turning and I’m wondering if we are learning the identity of the killer so early in the book. One thing is certain, if you’re thinking you’ve got it figured out already, you are wrong. This book is full of twists and turns. We get the story from the perspectives of Clive, his fellow detective Jeff, and the killer. Everyone has secrets and they are all monsters. Great character development and the story is engaging and keeps you guessing. And the descriptive language will make you squirm.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It is not often that a book (extreme horror or otherwise) makes me wtf. At around 30%, I paused and made a note stating that I would provide content warnings for this one and I rarely do that. This book kept me up way too late chasing that ending and left me hoping for a sequel.

Big thanks to Justin Boote for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Imagine my surprise when I found my name among the other ARC readers in the acknowledgments at the end of the book. I am humbled. Nearly every author who has seen one of my reviews of their books has been friendly and gracious, but this is the first time I’ve seen my name in a book.

You can pre-order They Are All Monsters on Amazon and begin reading it on January 25, 2023. It’ll also be available as part of your Kindle Unlimited subscription. If you love extreme horror and getting in the minds of serial killers, read this book.