Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blood Feud by Cullen Bunn

Blood Feud is my literary wasabi. That’s right, literary wasabi! It cleanses my palate between books. I have read this fantastic short story at least five times in the last month. It is just so good. I’m amazed that Cullen Bunn was able to pack so much hilarity and horror into 22,000 words.

Imagine an easy going American Folktale with a hefty dose of blood, spiders and the undead. All of this takes place in a backwoods town filled with some genuine "good ol’ boys". Creating these Ozark Hillbillies is where Bunn really shines. He is a master of developing honest and engaging characters. Sure, the story was fresh but what made reading Blood Feud a special experience were those amazing characters. They really helped propel the story and provided some of the funniest moments I’ve read in awhile. The comedic timing was perfect and the one-liners were spot on. I was honestly laughing out loud. Heck, Bunn was even able to give a bull a strong and humorous personality. Isn’t that the mark of any great genre writer?

Blood Feud is the perfect novella. It heaps on the blood, the laughs and the action leaving the reader completely satisfied in the end. I think I’m still in awe that a vampire yarn told through the eyes of a country bumpkin would work so amazingly well.

Pick it up for an insanely low price here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Snow by Ronald Malfi

I am a Dad. I have two lil’ guys at home and they are my entire world. I guess this is why I am a sucker for a good story about a Dad overcoming all obstacles to be with his son. In the case of Snow, those obstacles just happen to be some of the most inventive monsters I’ve ever encountered.

The story is a simple case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Todd Curry is trying to get home to his son for Christmas. Unfortunately, a blizzard in Chicago grounds his flight. In an attempt to atone for previous sins Todd NEEDS to be there for his son on Christmas. Instead of waiting out the storm, Todd assembles a few other stranded passengers and together they rent a Jeep and make their way home. Once on the road they encounter a very strange man who claims to have lost his daughter. This stranger leads the wayward travelers to a seemingly abandoned town where there is something just a little “off”. This is really where they story picks up its pace and never really slows down.

Malfi is relentless with the horror and action without ever losing focus of the story. I guess somebody a bit more traditional than me might say that this one was “a real thrill ride of a page-turner” and I would have to agree. What sets Malfi apart from most of his peers is his expansive imagination. Most authors would be content with creating a new type of monster. Not Malfi. He has no less than 5 variations of the monsters that inhabit the pages of Snow and all of them are gloriously frightening. Of course this creativity would all be worthless if Malfi didn’t have the literary chops to describe the creatures and setting with such brilliance. Lucky for us Malfi is a true master of his craft and all of his talents are on full display in Snow.

Malfi has officially been added to that group of authors that I can see myself obsessing over in the very near future. Forget Dickens and adios Clement C Moore. I think I have my new literary Christmas tradition right here!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Dweller by Jeff Strand

When looking back on my life I can pinpoint some pretty important literary moments that changed the way I looked at the whole process of reading. I can clearly trace my development as a reader through titles like It, The Silence of the Lambs, Swan Song and Boy’s Life. I remember the magic associated with all of those experiences and recently, I became painfully aware that it had been years since I last felt “changed” by a novel. Well, that all changed as I read the final page of Dweller.

At its simplest Dweller tells the story of an outcast who finds comfort and companionship in a large jawed, razor clawed monster that resides in a cave in the woods. It has elements of pure horror and dark humor but what really sets the novel apart is the sheer innocence involved. I guess its tough to imagine a story that handles murder, alcoholism, and isolation being terribly innocent but (like all good fairy tales) it takes the macabre and reevaluates it through the eyes of a child. When I read Strand I am reminded of those early King novels where he was able to channel youth and childhood in such an authentic way. The main difference between a book like It and Dweller is that King is able to describe the children while Strand makes you FEEL like a child.

I have been talking to everyone I know about this book and the description does it no justice. I’ll talk about how it traces the life of a boy and his best friend (who happens to be a forest dwelling monster) or how the story can be dark and funny at the same time. Of course, none of my descriptions do any justice to the masterpiece that Strand has created. The magic lies in Strands writing. He weaves words together in such a way that your brain begins thinking like a child again. This makes such a fantastic story so believable. For a few hours Jeff Strand successfully made this jaded 30-year-old feel like a child again and that is quite an accomplishment.

Do yourself a huge favor and pick it up here and head on over to Jeff's site for some good ol' belly laughs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ur by Stephen King

Ur is a Stephen King novella that was released solely for the Kindle. Some people claim it is nothing more than an advertisement for Amazon but I would disagree. Ur is an engaging story filled with imagination, morality and a welcomed dose of allusions to his previous works.

English Professor Wesley Smith is an old-fashioned type of guy. He isn’t too big on computers, he likes his relationships simple and he likes his books printed on paper. All of that changes when he buys a Kindle to impress his girlfriend who accuses him of being completely out of touch with the times. As is typical in King’s work, the Kindle arrives but instead of downloading the books that most of us are familiar with, this unique Kindle is able to access alternate realities where authors had different output. Is this weird? Sure, but Wesley Smith is more amazed than frightened. That is until he catches a glimpse into the future and is forced to save the life of the one closest to him.

Ur isn’t great but it is fun and that goes a long way with this type of story. King’s enthusiasm for the electronic medium was really evident here and he seems to take some liberties within the new digital medium. He used the novel idea of an other-worldly Kindle story as a Kindle only exclusive to its’ fullest extent. Then just as the idea begins to wear thin King brings it to a tidy conclusion (which includes a fantastic nod to some of my favorite King characters in stories past.)

Ur isn’t for the King novice (or the horror novice for that matter) but for those of us who grew up with him, it is a great read. It is really interesting to see how he operates when writing for a very specific demograp

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Valley of the Scarecrow by Gord Rollo

Gord Rollo’s latest offering is quite the sordid affair. In Valley of the Scarecrow, Rollo masterfully weaves a vivid tale of horror and revenge that centers on a crazed preacher turned demonic scarecrow named Joshua Miller. Almost seventy-five years ago the village of Oak Valley turned on their once beloved Reverend when he made a devilish deal with “The Dark One”. The villagers strung Miller up to a cross and left him for dead. Unfortunately he didn’t stay that way…..

The story reads like a well told campfire tale. You know the type that will keep you up for a few nights and will be retold again and again. The type of story that really isn’t too concerned with the characters, but instead slithers its way into your subconscious with vivid imagery and unnatural violence. Rollo describes the abandoned village and its long dead (or so we thought) inhabitants with an eerie beauty. I felt like I smelled the sweet ears as I walked through the massive cornfields and could feel the musty claustrophobia of the long deserted church. Rollo has a rare talent for this type of graphic description which elevates his work above his peers.

The real centerpiece of the book is the villain. Reverend Joshua Miller is given the perfect “bad guy” treatment. He is the walking, stalking embodiment of evil. The reader has a front row seat as we witness the good reverend go from heretic, to unnatural being and finally his final form – The Scarecrow. Rollo describes this horrific transformation through flashbacks, glimpses into Miller’s mind and, of course, vivid imagery. As far as crazed and frightening killers go, I would rank Joshua Miller with Michael Myers, Pennywise the Clown and Jason Voorhees.

The book was fun and depraved while moving at an unrelenting pace. It truly is everything a genre fan could want. Valley of the Scarecrow shows the work of a very mature and talented writer. Rollo has the knack for creating images in your mind that tend to linger and haunt you for quite some time. If there is any justice in this world, Gord Rollo will be a mainstay in the genre for quite some time.

Pick it up here and check out Gord here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley by Brian Keene

Queue the Ennio Morricone.  Grab your Stetson and saddle up.  Brian Keene is about to take you to the Old West (with a Sasquatch or two)…..

From Deadite Press:

The Old West has never been weirder or wilder than it has in the hands of master horror writer Brian Keene.

Morgan and his gang are on the run—from their pasts and from the posse riding hot on their heels, intent on seeing them hang. But when they take refuge in Crazy Bear Valley, their flight becomes a siege as they find themselves battling a legendary race of monstrous, bloodthirsty beings. Now, Morgan and his gang aren’t worried about hanging. They just want to live to see the dawn.

To say this is a weird Western may be a bit misleading.  It is weird in the same way that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a weird western.  Both are firmly planted in the era of the Old West and adhere to the preexisting conventions of the genre but both do it in a refreshingly new  fashion.  McCabe & Mrs. Miller toys with the viewer’s sense of traditional locale by setting the film in the snowy Pacific Northwest while An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley (although also toying with the traditional setting) has the reader examine what constitutes good and evil in a Western.  Keene doesn’t have a posse hunting a group of outlaws.  No way, that would be too easy.  Instead, Keene creates a race of monsters ,known as the “crazy bears”, who have been wronged by this group of rogue thieves.  The “crazy bears” follow the standard conventions that most heroes adhere to in classic Westerns except, y’know, they are scary as all get out.

These “crazy bears” are no joke!  Imagine of you took the savage humanity of the cannibals in Off Season, mated them with the fierceness of the beasts in The Cellar and filtered it through some down-and-dirty Bigfoot mythology.  These are the “crazy bears” and they mean business.  They may be visitors from space or they may be biblical beings that have been hidden away for centuries but either way, they are angry and out for revenge.

I’ve been on record as saying that Brian Keene can write about the working man like nobody’s business.  His words drip with the authenticity that can only come from the pen of a man who has been through the ringer and lived to tell the tale. This is his strength.  This is what makes him so important to so many readers.  We can identify with the characters on the page- even in a story set in the Old West, involving a pack of terrifying humanoid beasts and a band of despicable bandits.  Keene takes his “every man” sensibilities and applies it to a group of murders and thieves with superb  results.  This are the working class of the era and, after an initial brush with senseless violence, the readers grows to care about these characters who are left to fend off a group of crazed animals.  Again, this is Keene’s strength and this is what makes An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley such a fun and effective story.

The dynamic of Morgan’s gang is very intriguing because a normal author would have you hate these people based on their background.  Not Keene.  Keene even adds fuel to the fire by having an opening chapter which invites the reader to despise Morgan and his cronies. I honestly believe that Keene enjoys the challenge of trying have the reader relate to a character they once hated. The story then begins to slowly build these characters up in very convincing fashion.  We see their faults and fears and begin to feel for them as they fight for their lives.  Eventually, we are a member of Morgan’s gang and we, too, are fighting for our very survival. This is the hallmark of Keene’s writing and this why a story about crazed sasquatch set in a long-gone can feel so damn personal.

An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley is a fun story that packs a whole lot of tension into a very small space.  This is definitely “read in one sitting” territory here, folks, and I guarantee you’ll leave the story fully satisfied. Check it out if you’re looking for something a little off-beat!

 If the review above doesn’t sell you, there is also a short story included.  “Lost Canyon of the Damned” is a fun little tale that finds Keene venturing gloriously close to bizarro territory as he tells a story that is one part Western, one part Zombie with a heaping helping of prehistoric, inter-dimensional weirdness.  This is a fantastic piece for those interested in Keene’s upcoming bizarro novel that he has hinted at for the past few years.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Starfish Girl by Athena Villaverde

“In an underwater hell, the only hope of survival lies in the mind of a bizarre young girl…… with a starfish growing out of her head.”

That is what I envision the tagline to be if Athena Villaverde’s superb debut bizarro novel ever got optioned to the big screen.  Actually, I hope that this book will get optioned for film because this is the most cinematic novel I have read in quite some time.


 In a post-apocalyptic underwater dome, there lives a girl with a starfish growing from her head. Her name is Ohime. She is the starfish girl.

 Alone in this world, Ohime must fight for her life against lecherous crabmen, piranha people, and a yellow algae that is causing humans to mutate into fish. Until she meets Timbre, a woman with deadly sea anemone hair. Ohime thinks she is safe with her new protector and friend, but Timbre is on the run from a violent past. Now they must escape Timbre’s former master, the evil Dr. Ichii, who is determined to conquer the underwater dome . . . and destroy the starfish girl and her friend in the process.

 Starfish Girl plays out like a finely tuned exploitation flick.  There is an impossible mission, some amazingly cheesy scenery and an undercurrent of unspeakable dread that flows just below the surface.  I loved those off-beat exploitation films growing up but I have never really gotten that feeling from a book….until now.  Villaverde has created the perfect exploitation anti-hero with Timbre, giving her a sick and twisted back-story that make her personal journey for redemption all the more powerful. She is a certified badass mama that one can’t help but cheer for. Timbre is pitted against the unthinkably evil mad scientist known as Dr. Ichii.  Together these two characters engage in some of the most off-the-wall battles and banter that you are likely to find in genre fiction.  They are both searching for a hidden vessel that will bring the few remaining survivors to the water’s surface so they can start to rebuild civilization.  The vessel’s exact location lies in the mnd of the innocent little Starfish Girl, Ohime. If that doesn’t sound like the perfect premise to a grainy film being shown on a 42nd St. theater screen, well then, I don’t know what does.

Villaverde simply lets the story flow as we follow Timbre and Ohime on their quest to save humanity.  Despite the delightfully strange scenery, the story seems to grow and flourish in a very organic fashion- leaving the impression that no plot point is being forced or contrived.  In the end, this is the real strength of the novel.  This is not a bizarro novel that is trying to tell a story, this is a wonderful story that incorporated the elements of bizarro.  There is a real emotional attachment that the reader will make with the these rich and colorful characters.  There are moments of sadness followed by bursts of sheer jubilation as we are sucked into this underwater world inhabited by ghastly monstrosities and flawed protagonists.  This type of attachment is hard to come by in a genre ruled by blood and guts and this is really what sets Starfish Girl apart.

Villaverde’s prose is very simple , with each word chosen for maximum impact.  The net result is a story that moves at a very brisk pace with absolutely no filler to be found.  Villaverde writes her novel like a screenplay- only the essentials are included and the rest is left to play out in the readers mind.  This is the perfect style for this type of novel.  The author is smart enough to never let the words interfere with her stellar story.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Insanely Instupituous Contest of Terror and Dread- Laymon Month Edition

I am so excited to offer a Headline hardcover of Out Are The Lights from my personal library in celebration of Laymon Month.  This is a fantastic collection that is not rare, but certainly is a bit more difficult to find here in the states and now it could be yours...... for free!

All you have to do to win is leave a comment on ANY post during Laymon Month. The more comments, the more chances to win. It is as simple as that.

Now go ahead, get that rump in gear and START COMMENTING!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Mailman by Bentley Little

I was at the post office the other day when an overwhelming sense of impending dread crept over me.  The unexpected feeling didn’t initially register with me but on a subconscious level I knew it was there.  As I got in line to purchase some stamps, I noticed that my palms where sweating. This was starting to get weird because I’m not a nervous type of guy and I certainly don’t get anxious very often.  Then the unthinkable happened.  I looked toward the counter and made direct eye contact with the kindly old gentleman donning the uniform of a postal worker.  My bowels clenched and my heart started beating out of my chest.  All thoughts of buying stamps left me as I made my way to the door in hurried fashion.  When I finally arrived home safely, I gave this bizarre event some thought.  I was looking for a possible reason for the extreme reaction to this pretty common situation and then it hit me.
The blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Bentley Little and his yarn, The Mailman.  Now for those don’t know, Bentley Little writes some of the best modern pulp stories that you are likely to find.  Sure, his books proclaim him as the next Stephen King and other such nonsense but make no mistake my friends, Bentley Little is the master of crafting a pulp story.  His tales do what pulp was meant to do- take everyday occurrences and sensationalize them to the point of being entertaining.  As a point of reference, pick up any of the old Gold Medal Pulp titles and they are nothing more than everyday events which happen to spiral into a series of extraordinary events.  That’s what made those stories so damn fun and that is what makes Little such a special talent.  The Mailman represents Little wearing his pulp influences on his sleeve and completely terrorizing the reader in the process.
The story obviously hits home for anyone with a mailing address.  The mailman can be an angel or a devil depending on the day.  We get elated when he walks to our doorstep with that package we have been waiting for but tend to cower behind the curtains when we catch him dropping off that past due bill. Little masterfully exploits the emotions associated with the latter and crafts a frightening tale around it.  In The Mailman, the town of Willis has been assigned a new mailman after the bizarre suicide of their previous package handler.  The new mailman, John Smith, appears gleefully distant with his pale skin and red hair.  Everything starts off swimmingly as the residents of Willis discover that there is no more junk mail and many of their long-lost acquaintances are now sending them letters.  How odd. The good vibes slowly fade as a rash of lost payments result in utility outages and eventually the mail takes a much more sinister turn when letters from dead relatives start arriving in the mailboxes around town.  All of this is directly linked to the new mailman as the residents notice some peculiar changes at and around the Post Office. Things begin spiral out of control quickly as one horrifying event after another assault the reader with Little ratcheting up the tension at an excruciating pace. The story quickly leaves the realm of reality and takes the reader to a very dark place filled secrets and shadows. All of this culminates with some real life horrors that were reminiscent of the worst bits in Laymon’s The Cellar. It is a brutal way to bring the reader back down to earth and make them realize that even the most fantastic events are possible.
The Mailman is so good at delivering the terror that I never really saw it coming.  Sure, I cringed a few times during the reading but I was never truly terrified.  Well, I wasn’t scared until I went to the post office and all of Little’s brilliance manifested itself in my heart.  That is the power of pulp writing.  It is so approachable and entertaining that the reader never realizes how much it is influencing them. I can’t even count the amount of times that I’ve read a hardboiled detective story and picked up a bottle of Jack on the way home. These stories are just so simple, yet so effective. On the surface, many of these books may be considered silly (Little’s titles included) but that is where their power lies.  Their unsuspecting nature allows us to welcome them into our lives, only to find that these stories are really ticking time bombs just waiting for the right moment to explode.
The Mailman is no different. There are some genuinely silly moments in the story that keep your gurad down.  I’ve heard people site the “dancing mailman” scene as too silly to be taken seriously.  Little knew what he was doing when he wrote that.  He is lulling you into a sense of security. As with many things in our beloved genre, too many readers dismiss him because they don’t understand the subgenre in which his writing is steeped.
The Mailman is a brilliant tale that I encourage all of the Dreadful Tales readers to check out.  Also, if you’re looking for some good pulp stories to familiarize yourself with the genre, check out the public domain titles over at Munsey’s.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Insanely Instupituous Contest of Terror and Dread- March Edition


Well it’s another month and it’s time for another contest. This month I’d like to celebrate the work of Bryan Smith. Bryan is the author of several mass market horror novels, including House of Blood, Deathbringer, The Freakshow, Queen of Blood, Soultaker, Depraved, The Killing Kind, and The Dark Ones. Deadite Press became his primary publisher in late 2010, issuing Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies in October of that year. Deadite will also be releasing Bryan’s back catalog that was once owned by Leisure.

Bryan recently put out his first self-published novel, Darkened (formerly Deadworld). I would love to see this fantastic book be Bryan’s highest selling title to date. What does this mean for you? Well, I’d like to give away a copy of Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies to a lucky reader who purchases Darkened.

How To Enter
Go to Amazonor Smashwords and buy Darkened (formerly Deadworld)! Then come back here and leave a comment to let me know you made the purchase. I also ask that you email me (gradezhorror@live[dot]com) with the name of the only blog listed in the “Acknowledgments” at the beginning of the book. This way I know you actually bought the thing.

How To Increase Your Chances

There are two ways to increase your chances of winning.

1) I will automatically enter anyone who follows the site so if you are a follower AND you leave a comment/send email you have two chances.

2) Every Monday I will send a tweet out as a reminder. Anyone who retweets the reminder will automatically be given an addition chance.

The contest will run until the end of March.

Good luck!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Insanely Instupituous Contest of Terror and Dread- February Edition

The contest is officially over and the big winner is MadShadows!!!!! Shoot me an email (gradezhorror@live[dot]com) with your mailing info and I'll get the book out to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered and retweeted the contest info! It was a fantastic way to spread the word about Brian's new releases. It is greatly appreciated. Feel free to stop by the site often for reviews and other contests. In fact there is one going on right now so head here by to win a copy of Bryan Smith's Rock & Roll Reform School Zombies.

Also be sure to stop by Amazon and pick Jack's Magic Beans.


Hey, it’s the first ever Insanely Instupituous Contest of Terror and Dread here at Grade Z Horror. This month I wanted to celebrate the unholy marriage of Brian Keene and Deadite Press by giving away a copy of Jack’s Magic Beans! In case you missed it, Deadite picked up Brian’s back catalogue and will be releasing new editions (including e-books!!!!!!) of all of those Leisure titles we love so much. We will also be treated to some unreleased and rare goodies as well. I am so stoked!

Here is your chance to get one of the first releases for free.

Just look at that cover art!

How To Enter
Just leave a comment in this post with the name of your favorite Brian Keene book. That’s it! At the end of the month I’ll use some sorta fancy random number generator website to pick the winner.

How To Increase Your Chances
There are two ways to increase your chances of winning.

1) I will automatically enter anyone who follows the site so if you are a follower AND you leave a comment you have two chances.

2) Every Monday I will send a tweet out as a reminder. Anyone who retweets the reminder will automatically be given an addition chance.

That means that if you leave a comment, are a follower and RT every Monday you will have 7 chances to win this amazing book.


Good luck!
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