I was taken off guard by just how sad this novella is, and how deeply it hit me. Steve Brannigan is a man trying to hold himself together in the weeks after his young daughter’s tragic death. He is consoling himself with whiskey and soon quits his teaching job. Newly separated from his wife, the only company he has is the silence of his empty house.
... except for the thumping coming from upstairs.
This is the first story I’ve read by Kealan Patrick Burke, but it won’t be the last. His deceptively simple prose is key to the ingenuity of this short, horrifying tale: with only a few words or phrases he filled me with deep sadness, or fear. Think of early Ray Bradbury, but meaner. Having recently gone through a tragic loss of my own, this balls-to-the-wall rumination on grief and regret hit me especially hard.
Read for ‘Witches’ in Halloween Bingo. There is a witch, of sorts, at the center of this tale, but to say more would be a spoiler.
I. Hate. This. Book.
Okay, not really, but the ending, which I won't spoil, was upsetting.
So let me tell you, this book was well and truly full of spiders. Gross. It made me shudder just reading about them!!!! This sequel was all together creepier, and more serious than it's predecessor. John Dies At The End, while creepy, and it had it's sad parts, was a lot lighter and more humorous. Things in this book escalated quickly. Stuff got serious within the first chapter or two.
It doesn't take away from the book at all. This was equally good, and it was evident that things clearly had to get worse this time around. John and Dave are thrown into save-the-world situations, again, only this time they get separated and have to work toward the same goals while apart. It definitely made for some anxious moments and the reader routing for them to make their way back together.
There was still humor, and John and Dave's shenanigans will probably always be epic. I am very much looking forward to the next installment!
Once again, the gentlemen over at Valancourt Books knocked their anthology out of the park-maybe even out of the state! Last year's Volume 1, (click to read my review), was outstanding and Volume 2 is as well. My favorites of this volume are as follows:
Stephen Gregory's never before published: "The Boys Who Wouldn't Wake Up" was poignant and, in a way, beautiful. It was also very much unlike any other Gregory story I've read. I'm a huge fan of this author and this tale did NOT disappoint.
"The Nice Boys" by Isabel Colegate was a spectacularly eerie story, set in a relentlessly foggy Venice, Italy. A young woman heads there to vacation away a recent bad break up and meets two young men. As the tension grows the reader is drawn in, but the vivid and disturbing scene towards the end ensures this story will not soon be forgotten.
"Herself" by M.E. Braddon involved two of my favorite tropes-haunted houses and haunted mirrors. I'm not sure which it was, exactly, but I'm going with a combination of the two. I love these types of stories-where people are called in to help but are rendered helpless by circumstance and can only witness as bystanders the evil that occurs.
"Halley's Passing" by Michael McDowell. It's no secret that I adore Michael McDowell. (You do too, if you love Beetlejuice or The Nightmare Before Christmas.) This tale, however, is shocking and extra bloody which is unusual for him, but at the same time: so much FUN.
"The Elemental" by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Another FUN tale featuring a psychic that no one takes seriously. At first.
"Samhain" by Bernard Taylor. Taylor is an author that I was unfamiliar with until Valancourt Books republished some of his work. I am now an unabashed fan and stories like this are exactly why. Everything is going along, you think you have a handle on things, and then BAM! He punches you right in the face. It's often a bloody punch too, and this is no exception. I laughed out loud at the ending because I was surprised, it was bloody and I loved it!
"The Bell" by Beverly Nichols. A beautifully told tale about a man who was completely dependent upon his valet/butler and what happens when that butler dies. Who will then come to the insistent ringing of the bell?
Just like with Volume 1, I could list each and every story as a standout, because they were ALL just that good. Also like with Volume 1, is the fact that most of these stories have not been published over and over again. I'm not sure if it happens with all genres, but the same horror stories often appear ad nauseam in anthologies and it's irritating. With the cost of books these days, it's disappointing to buy an anthology only to discover you've read half the stories already in other anthologies. Rest easy, because that is not the case here.
Each story in this volume is prefaced by a bit of background on the story and on the author, many of whom were not known for writing in the horror genre. I think that fact brings a certain freshness to this collection that is often lacking in others. The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two is simply EXCEPTIONAL and belongs in the collection of any serious fan of the genre.
My highest recommendation!
You can pre-order your copy here: The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two
*This book was provided by Valancourt Books in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*