Knuckle Balled by Drew Stepek

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     Wait up a minute, you have read the first book in this series, right? Knuckle Supper? I hope you have, because this book is (obviously) a direct sequel. I REALLY want you to read the first one, so consider yourself spoiler warned if you proceed…

     Drew Stepek, how dare you write another book about that nasty, junkie vampire, RJ Reynolds?! I was already dealing with this crusty punk worming his way into my heart, and then you had to go and make it worse. Now I can’t quit RJ even if I wanted to.

     Stepek’s second entry into his Knuckle series is sure as hell no sophomore slump. The action, the violence, the humor, and the HIGHLY inappropriate content are just as spot on as they were in the first book. As I’ve said before, all that stuff is awesome if you can stomach it. Thankfully, I can. But what really keeps me coming back is the heart and humanity in these seemingly unlikeable characters. Knuckle Balled picks up the action after Eldritch (that gothy little drama king) and RJ have avenged Bait by killing her sucky parents (okay, that’s really RJ’s deal) and, at Eldritch’s insistence, have now basically kidnapped Bait’s little sister, tiny Paulina, aka Pinball.

     Now the trio are in hipster-infested Austin, Texas and plotting what the hell to do now. We've learned “vampires” are all over the county, and the home of the South by South West festival is no exception. Just wait until you meet these guys. Let’s say they’re a tad more theatrical than the LA contingent. We do have some reoccurring faces as well; Personally, I was elated that Eldritch featured prominently in this novel. Eldritch is a stereotype of the romantic, dark, intellectual vamps I was raised on, thanks to Anne Rice. He is also excruciatingly funny. I can’t think of many characters that could go toe-to-toe with RJ the way he does. Their dynamic is a large part of what makes this book work so seamlessly. Paulina doesn’t have as much “screen time” as her sister did, but what she gives and represents to Eldritch and RJ speaks volumes. These human kids cure something corrupted and lost in these two.

     Just like Knuckle Supper, I had no clue where this book was going, nor what was in store for me as a reader. I couldn’t have hoped to guess and, really, I’m glad I didn’t try to. Part of the fun of these novels is simply strapping in for the ride and letting the story take you away. Vampires in Stepek’s world live funky, unpredictable lives. His characters go to seedy and harrowing places. Yet, Drew always gives you plenty of humor and gore to keep it all from getting too emotionally draining.

     Like it's predecessor, this book opens with a note about the Children of the Night organization. They do incredible work for kids who need help dealing with trials most of us cannot imagine living through. Also like it's predecessor, proceeds from this book will benefit Children of the Night. A brutal horror writer with a conscience and heart, Mr. Stepek has my loyalty. More importantly than that, his characters have my allegiance! I don’t know if RJ is ever going to get the monkey off his back for good, but I’m sticking with him till the end.


 Drew Stepek (@knucklesupper)

Drew Stepek (@knucklesupper)

Knuckle Balled will be available from Amazon on November 23, 2017

Knuckle Supper is currently available from Amazon (hardcover or paperback)

Knuckle Supper: Ultimate Gutter Fix (kindle edition) will be available from Amazon on November 23, 2017

 


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Knuckle Supper (by Drew Stepek)

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     If you’re looking for a romantic tale of whimsical and virtuous vampires, this sure as hell is not the book for you. As a horror fan, I have ingested countless vampire stories; Books, movies, TV shows, graphic novels, gaming, you name it, someone has found a way to stick a blood-sucker in it. So when this subgenre manages to surprise me by taking the tropes in an unpredictable direction, I am overjoyed. Drew Stepek’s vamps are not the tried and true lost boys of yesteryear. They are, well...junkies. Not to mention obscene, murderous, deviant, nasty, gory, violent, and just unremorseful gangsters. The best part of all? I absolutely loved them. I hope you will too.

     This is a spoiler free review, but I have to be upfront about a couple of things as this novel is going to set off triggers for some readers out there. Allow me to be a responsible reviewer and run down the touchy topics. Knuckle Supper does contain substance abuse, sexual assault towards adults, plus sexual and physical violence towards children. For me personally, I did not feel that the author used these devices to be exploitative. Instead, these devices drive major plot and character development points. Drew Stepek also clearly knows that these devastating issues affect REAL minors out there. The book opens with a note about a charitable organization called Children of The Night. This group is dedicated to rescuing kids across America, who are forced into prostitution, and helping them get on track to living the lives they deserve to have. Up to 10% of the revenue from this novel goes to the Children of The Night.

     Knuckle Supper is narrated by our antihero, a heroin-addicted, vampire gang leader named RJ. This guy is a crusty punk who's more at home in band tees and combat boots than silk blouses and capes. He’s funny and likeable...for a ruthless killer. RJ runs a gang of undead fellas he named "The Knucklers." All of Los Angeles is divvied up into territories of other vamps who not only run drugs, but are addicted to the drugs they're running. A night of routine murder and heroin goes awry when RJ and his accomplice, Dez, abduct a pimp and prostitute and get more than they bargained for. It turns out the girl is just a child of twelve that (sickeningly) goes by the name "Bait." Overcome by some wave of compassion, RJ refuses to kill the kid. It looks like this badass vampire junkie just became a surrogate father figure. What could possibly go wrong, right?

     Keep in mind this book is not for those who find themselves easily offended by what they read. The prose is ripe with curse words and derogatory phrases. The blood and viscera practically splatters off the pages, and no details are spared for the sake of your stomach. Let me say, this horror bookworm could not get enough. I cringed, I “ewww’ed,” and I ACTUALLY laughed out loud so many times I lost count. I know I have never read a book that alternated so dramatically and frequently between gross and hilarious. Most impressively, Knuckle Supper also has heart and depth without being corny or predictable. Take a step out of your comfort zone and devour this novel like I did. Just don’t say Drew and I didn’t warn you.

 Drew Stepek ( @knucklesupper )

Drew Stepek (@knucklesupper)

Knuckle Supper is currently available from Amazon (hardcover or paperback)

Knuckle Supper: Ultimate Gutter Fix (kindle edition) will be available from Amazon on November 23, 2017

Stay tuned for Sandra's review of Knuckle Supper's sequel, Knuckle Balled (coming November 23, 2017)


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Why Shirley Jackson's Haunting of Hill House is Still Terrifying

I am disappearing inch by inch into this house, I am going apart a little bit at a time because all this noise is breaking me; why are the others frightened?”

When it was published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House brought new style and substance to the haunted house genre, making it more cerebral, more psychological. In doing so, Jackson created one of the creepiest haunted house stories on the market that still inspires that chill-down-your-spine feeling.

The story follows a group of people investigating the paranormal activity reported at Hill House. Led by Dr. John Montague, a supernatural researcher, the group embark on a retreat for the summer at Hill House with plans to report their findings. As the group dives deeper into the house, strange things begin to happen that set everyone, especially narrator, Eleanor Vance, on edge.

The remarkable thing about The Haunting of Hill House is that the ghosts never make a visible appearance. They are an invisible force throughout the book, always in the corner of your eye. Paranormal activity manifests itself with doors suddenly being open when you swear it was closed moments before or violent knocking in the early hours of the morning. In fact, the ghosts and paranormal activity kind of take a backseat to the characters in the novel, focusing on Eleanor’s relationship with everyone in the house.

By choosing to focus on the characters instead of the ghosts, Hill House is much scarier than your typical ghost story. As everything begins to unravel and you start to realize the madness the house can produce, that proves to be infinitely scarier than any ghostly vision. It’s by setting up a character that you root for and want to succeed and witnessing their spiral into madness and obsession that makes Hill House a tense, frightening ghost story.

Hill House is the kind of book that makes you feel anxious about whether you are truly home alone. It’s the kind of book that encourages your house to start settling, creating all kinds of creaks and groans that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That is why The Haunting of Hill House is so successful to this day and continues to make an appearance on top horror novel lists. It instills that fear that a simple house could disrupt whatever sanity you cling to.

~ Kat

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

 

Lovecraft Country | Author: Matt Ruff | Published: February 16, 2016

In a story filled with monsters, creepy cults, and other things that go bump in the night, Lovecraft Country’s focus on Jim Crow-era America elicits the most fear and tension.

Set in the 1950s, Lovecraft Country explores the many facets of being a black American during the reign of Jim Crow — a name that actually sounds very cultish and creepy. With an overarching plot that is divided up into separate chapters for each character, the book tells the story of a group of people trying to get by while being squashed down by laws affecting their race and other sinister forces at work.

Atticus, a young man who researches travel destinations for his uncle’s book, The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is pulled into a malevolent plot when his father, Montrose, goes missing. Atticus goes on a road trip to find his missing father and along for the ride are his uncle, George, and their friend, Leticia Dandridge. According to the map, they are heading straight into Lovecraft country.

As the name suggest, there are a lot of Lovecraftian elements in this book. From mysterious cults to otherworldly monsters and haunted houses, the book draws a lot from the acclaimed horror author. However, it doesn’t ignore Lovecraft’s own racism or idealize the author in any way. Matt Ruff took the bits he wanted, creating a tale that is creepy and nerve-wracking while also telling a great story about family and what makes people family.

After finishing the book, I was tempted to start over again because I couldn’t put the characters away just yet. All the characters are three dimensional and feel human. The villains aren’t the stereotype you usually get when authors try to utilize Lovecraftian style. Each main character gets their own chance to shine in their own chapter with most of the chapters hitting it out of the park. Some chapters are slower than the others which can drag the novel down a bit but it usually picks up in the next chapter.

Even though most of the creepy monster business isn’t very scary (aside from the haunted house chapter and yes, there is a creepy doll), the true horror lies in the racism exhibited by skeezy officers, detectives, and the wealthy members of the cult, Sons of Adam. There is a particular story that made me shiver about a researcher for the guide getting stuck in a strict Jim Crow county that will stick with me for some time.

Overall, I would highly recommend Lovecraft Country for anyone looking for a book that delivers a different kind of fear with characters that are smart and three dimensional and villains that aren’t cartoon caricatures. Lovecraft Country paints a truthful, un-idealized view of America during a dark period in its history and that is scarier than any of the creatures in the book.

~ Kat

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

 

Josh Malerman’s 2014 novel Bird Box sets up a world that is like a high stakes version of Blind Man’s Bluff (the game where you’re blindfolded and charged with tagging all the other players), only if you take the blindfold off, you go insane.

The novel sets up two stories running on contrasting timelines and telling vastly different stories with the same character in the middle of them both. The first timeline starts years after people start going insane and killing themselves. Malorie, a woman who lives in a house with all the windows covered, is preparing to leave her home to reach a new safe area. With her are two children only known as “boy” and “girl.” She has been preparing them to leave since they were infants and they are now old enough to safely make the journey. The only problem is: they have to traverse down a river — blindfolded.

The second timeline takes off at the beginning of the outbreak and begins with Malorie discovering she’s pregnant while her sister watches news reports about people becoming violent and suicidal in Russia. This report grows into many as a wave of insanity spreads across the world. The only thing people know is that the insane see something or someone before murdering whoever is around them, then swiftly killing themselves. Malorie, terrified of what is happening, finds a safe house for herself to stay at with a group of survivors who aim to wait out this mass insanity sweeping the globe.

Both timelines set up a different kind of story within the overarching plot of Bird Box. Timeline #1 is almost a road trip — albeit a harrowing one. It is about fighting back and no longer hiding from whatever is lurking out in the world, waiting to be seen vs. Timeline #2 which is a survival story about a group of people trying to get by and make it through a disaster and their own paranoia about what is happening.

I found the book a tense, nail biting read that had some terrifying moments — especially the moments where Malorie has her eyes closed or covered and can’t see what is happening. She describes what she hears and smells and feels and it felt worse than if she described what she was seeing. It developed a more visceral fear in me to not know what the character was seeing. The climax of both timelines had me on the edge of my seat which is impressive since I had a good idea of how Timeline #2 would shake out.

My main complaint would be that the prose is pretty sparse throughout which can be a detriment to the book in certain scenes where a bit more detail and fleshing out of the world would allow the novel to soar. However, it works in certain instances to heighten some of the creepier scenes and really showcases the emptiness of the world Malorie is navigating.

Overall, I would highly recommend Bird Box. It brings some seriously creepy scenes that managed to chill me to my core. It also introduced me to new things to be scared of: seeing something that makes me or somebody close to me go crazy and the monsters lurking within the comfort of a safe space.

~ Kat