Guardian of the Orchard, by Patrick C. Greene

Short Take:  I hate this.

Give your brain a snack!

Note:  I was given a free copy of this ebook in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve reviewed a few of Mr. Greene’s works here.  By now, most of you have probably figured out that I’m a fan.  And yeah, sure, he’s talented, yadda yadda yadda.  His works are pretty near flawless, blah blah blah.  He’s an incredible author, but you know what?  I’m getting pretty darn sick of awesome, amazing work.  The reviews are just too hard to write.  WHY WON’T ANYONE THINK OF THE REVIEWER??

Guardian of the Orchard is the tale of three brothers who like to sneak into Old Man Peterson’s orchard to steal apples (and maybe have a good old-fashioned rotten apple fight once in awhile), and Old Man Peterson’s twisted, demonic act of revenge on them.  Or maybe it’s about something entirely different.  I don’t want to give the ending away, but man, it’ll stay with you.  

Patrick C. Greene is fantastic at creating a mood, or a character, or a whole universe, with just a few sentences.  The dialogue between the brothers, little Simon’s heartbreak at losing a favorite toy, the bossiness and bravado of big brother Dale are so gloriously, heartbreakingly real.  I mean, even a bit of dialogue towards the end that seemed really awful turned out to be completely spot-on when another reveal happened.  So what am I supposed to do with that?  

I mean, here’s where I, as the person writing the reviews, SHOULD point out what’s good and not good about this story.  But when an author keeps hitting it out of the park, what am I left with?  I’m left looking like a 10 year old girl at a Justin Beiber concert, and let me tell you, that doesn’t look good on ANYONE.  (Which reminds me – whoever finds my body when I die, please make sure to hide my Dukes of Hazzard poster.  You’ll know the one, it’s got some weird smudges on it.  Don’t judge.)

So all I can say is yes, everyone who likes horror should read this story, and Mr. Greene, THANKS AGAIN for making my job impossible.  You jerk.

The Nerd’s Rating:  FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and a big Gala apple, because they are the best kind.)

Loved this book!!

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The Abductors, by Patrick C. Greene

Short Take:  How many horrifying things can you fit into one short story?  Apparently, ALL OF THEM.  

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I have mentioned before that short stories aren’t really my thing, but I was gifted a copy of this one in exchange for an honest review, so I figured why not?  It’s only 30 or so pages, no great effort.

I was wrong.

You see, Patrick C. Greene has a gift.  And he uses it in wonderful, terrible ways.  He can fill a few short words, or a single sentence with a sense of dread and terror.  And he has this way of giving the reader what they think they want, only to make you go oh no, wait, I didn’t want that AT ALL.

Ok, so I’m rambling.  For such a small tale, there’s a lot to process here.  The plot can be summed up very quickly.  Brian and Wendell are a couple of perverts for hire, who create horrific child porn for a price.  (Thankfully, the descriptions here are pretty spare, but I don’t know which is worse – seeing, or imagining.  Anyway…)  To that end, they kidnap Shelly, who is nine years old, blue-eyed, and adorable, and whisk her away to the remote forest where they usually do their dirty work.

But this time, it doesn’t go as planned, because Shelley has some awful tricks of her own up her sleeve.

So.  There are a lot of “captive turns the tables on captors” stories out there.  I’ve read a few, I’ve seen I-don’t-know-how-many movies about that.  And I can say with complete and utter sincerity, The Abductors is not like any of them.

Shelly is terrifying, and probably not for the reasons most people are thinking.  And what happens to Wendell… pure, concentrated, distilled nightmare fuel.  As much as Greene holds back on the descriptions of Brian and Wendell’s plans for Shelly, he goes right on to the other extreme when detailing what happens to the guys.  And I do mean extreme.

This is yet another review that’s hard to write, because I don’t want to give much away.  There are a few spots I would love to quote, but in a story this short, every sentence has weight to it, every word adds something crucial, and I absolutely don’t want to spoil this for anyone who wants to read it.  And I can say without reservation that if you’re a horror fan, you want to read this.

With the light on.

The Nerd’s Rating:  FIVE HAPPY NEURONS

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Progeny, by Patrick C. Greene

Short Take: A really cool book about being a parent, regardless of species.  And Bigfoot.

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Until reading Progeny, my impressions of Bigfoot were mainly from the 1987 cinematic masterpiece “Harry and the Hendersons”.  For those unfamiliar with this classic, it involves a family who accidentally hits a Bigfoot with their car.  They take the creature home with them, and wacky hijinks ensue.  Harry is basically a giant two-legged clumsy puppy.  He’s an adorable vegan pacifist.

The creatures of Patrick C. Greene’s Progeny are an entirely different breed.

When Owen Sterling, successful author and recent divorcee, buys nearly two thousand acres of Native American land, he senses that he is to be the protector of something sacred.  He and his dog Conan spend hours exploring the woods.  Through his journals, we see his eventual discovery of the creatures in the woods, and his efforts to understand and protect them.  Owen’s biggest priority, however, is his son Chuck, who will be spending the summer with him.

On the other end of town, Zane Carver and his buddies are gearing up for their big hunting trip, along with Zane’s reluctant, bookish son, Byron.  (Sidenote – is it weird that the redneck’s son has a literary name, and the author’s son is named Chuck?  Just me?  ok.)  Zane owns the local gun shop, and is one of those guys who believe that firearms actually solve more problems than they create.  Of course he resents some wimpy writer guy owning the best hunting land around, and not allowing anyone to hunt on it.

And of course, he decides to take his band of merry doofuses onto Owen’s land anyway, where they get into an altercation with the creatures, and find out firsthand how cruel nature can be.

Progeny is a fun little horror novel.  There’s a lot of action, a bit of gore, and c’mon – it’s BIGFOOT.  How can you not love it?

But there’s so much more to it.  Despite its premise (KILLER BIGFOOT), Progeny is really a book about fathers and sons.  Both of the boys (Chuck and Byron) are pretty much the polar opposites of their fathers, and Zane and Owen are faced with the uncomfortable reality that as kids get older, parents aren’t automatically their heroes anymore.   With Owen clumsily throwing a football, and Zane discovering an appreciation for the work of W. W. Jacobs, there’s a strong theme of fathers who will do anything for their children – a theme that’s also reflected among the creatures.  Hell, the title of the book itself is a synonym for “offspring”, and it could be referring to a number of ways the author explores the parent-child dynamic.

Greene also gives us a thoughtful meditation on the nature of violence, namely that it only begets more of the same.  His linguistic skewering of redneck gun culture is spot-on.

One issue I had is that I didn’t get the timeline right away.  Owen’s journals are dated, but the other chapters are not, so it took me a while to figure out that the events in the journal and the events in the house & woods weren’t happening at the same time.  I blame the sugar.

Also, there’s a lack of good female roles.  Deanne is pretty much the only woman in the book (Owen’s ex-wife appears very briefly, for a couple of less-than-flattering exchanges).  That in itself isn’t really problematic, like I said, this is very much a father-son kind of book, but in a novel with such other richly drawn characters, Deanne is a bit of a stereotype.  She’s Native American (read: exotic), drop-dead gorgeous, sweet to old people, madly in love with Owen, happy to be an instant mother to Chuck, able to react quickly in an emergency situation, and in short, cloyingly perfect.  She felt more like a placeholder than a person.

Overall though, Progeny hits all the best notes.  It works on the fun/action/gore side, and on the emotional/family side.  And no corsages were harmed in this book.

The Nerd’s Rating:  FIVE HAPPY NEURONS

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Holiday Wrappings (Anthology)

Short Take:  Put a little something spooky in their stockings.

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Note:  I was gifted a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I have reviewed some of these stories previously, in Wrapped in Black.  So I’m going to break this review into two parts.  If you’ve read my Wrapped in Black review, you can skip the first one, as it’s a copy/paste of my original.

Stories I have reviewed previously, from Wrapped in Black:

UNTO THE EARTH by Patrick C. Greene:   Probably the story that I felt had the biggest shocker-twist-wait…what?? ending in the collection.  I’m not going to spoil it here, but trust me, it’s a GOOD one.  This story is also the one that screwed with my emotions a surprising amount for such a brief tale.

HÄXENHAUS by Nick Kimbro:  The medieval setting was a great backdrop, and the atmosphere was wonderfully realized.

BEAUTIFUL, BROKEN THINGS by Rose Blackthorn:  A tough one.   It seemed to take place in a futuristic version of a typical US city, but that wasn’t really clear, so some of the references  (like the drug Prizm) were awkwardly shoved in.  I liked the story, but think it would have worked better without being bogged down by the sci-fi aspects.

SHE MAKES MY SKIN CRAWL by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd:  Shenoa Carroll-Bradd is just not right. This is one of the most crazily-inventive stories I’ve read in ages, but damn did it make me queasy.  Some serious nightmare-fuel, but at the same time, so ridiculously out-there that you can’t help but love the craziness.

HAIR SHIRT DRAG by Gordon White:   The voice of the narrator (Jesse) is so completely matter-of-fact about himself and his life and the extent to which he is “over it” that you can’t help but want to listen to him all night.  I mean, come on: “I ain’t never read the Key of Solomon, but I read the Book of Kings. Rest of the Bible, too, back when Mama thought that’d help me fit in. It didn’t, I won’t, and, truth be told, I ain’t all that broken up about it.”  With three sentences, White has created an entire personality.  Oh yeah, there’s a story here too, and it’s a good one (seriously), but truth be told, I would read a whole novel of Jesse doing things like grocery shopping and making coffee.


New (to me) stories:   

DADDY’S GLASSES by Allison M. Dickson:  This is not a ghost story.  This is a story about family and secrets and guilt and love that just happens to have some creepy glasses in it.  As always, wonderful detail to character, voice, and place.

MY BOSS IS A VAMPIRE by Michael David Matula:  FUN.  Funny.  “Even with a monstrous paycheck, could she in good conscience work for such a monster? Could she take his blood money and buy a nice apartment and a ton of awesome shoes?  Probably. Yeah. That sounded exactly like something she’d do.”  Giggling while reading horror stories is a good time, y’all.

INSEPARABLE Solomon Archer, Ph.D.:  Trippy, atmospheric, and gory.  The story moves like a top that’s winding down.  It spins, and tips, and dips in a different direction, and rights itself, and spins a different way.  It’s the bad dream that you can’t quite wake up from, and can’t completely remember.

DADDY USED TO DRINK TOO MUCH by Michael G. Williams – wonderfully voiced, finely nuanced, a story of the sacrifices we make for our children, and the demons that all of us live with.  And a vampire.

THE CURSE OF KIRBY by Patrick C. Greene – his 2nd entry in this collection.  So let’s say you have the neighbors from hell.  And you happen to bump into a Goth-ish girl who can communicate with ghosts, and sort-of control a particularly strong one.  The results could be gory, hilarious, a bit heartbreaking, or even all of the above.  LOVED THIS.

VERMILION by Bryan W. Alaspa:  Ohhhhhh, the visuals on this were so great! The flood, the attacks, the explosions…. this is one of those stories that I’d love to see as a movie.

AIN’T THEY BRIGHT by Cecilia Dockins – Hospitals are creepy even when they aren’t haunted.  This story is a great, weird mix of medical lingo, emotional upset, and gore.  It’s not an easy or quick read, but worth the bit of extra effort.  The sadness of the ending was an unexpected bit of loveliness.

NIGHTBOUND by Patrick C. Greene – (Before I review this story, I’d like to point out that Patrick C. Greene is the only author to have three stories in this collection.  When I skimmed the table of contents, and saw his name over and over, I may have rolled my eyes a bit at the lack of variety (I will neither confirm nor deny this).  But after reading all three of his entries, all I can say is:  He’s just really that good.)

Nightbound may be my favorite story in this collection.  Breaking into an abandoned mansion and finding coffins in the basement seems like a vampire story cliche.  But the buildup is what elevates it.  There’s a whole other story here, about escaped convicts, a heist, bags of money, a sociopath, and a girl who’s prettier and greedier than she is smart.

Overall, this is one of the more solid short story collections I’ve read in ages.

The Nerd’s Rating:  FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and maybe a bit of mistletoe.  Happy Holidays!)

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Wrapped In Black (Anthology)

Short Take:  Sometimes you get your wish, and sometimes, your wish gets you…..


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Note:  I was gifted an advance copy of Wrapped in Black in exchange for an honest review.  So, below are my honest opinions!

I’ve said it before, I’ve never been a fan of the short story.  My preference for oversized novels is pretty well-known.  Lately, though, I’ve started to re-think my position.  Maybe it’s that I’m getting older, and my patience and attention span aren’t what they used to be.  Maybe I’m finally starting to see the beauty in a lack of excess, enjoying the idea of something smaller, but just as well-crafted – the lovely, personal tiny house versus the soulless McMansion.  Is reading a collection of short stories by very talented but not very well-known authors the same experience is diving into the latest thousand-page Stephen King tome?  No, it isn’t.  But that’s not to say it’s a lesser experience in any way.

Wrapped in Black opens on the perfect note:  “Hair Shirt Drag” by Gordon White.  The voice of the narrator (Jesse) is so completely matter-of-fact about himself and his life and the extent to which he is “over it” that you can’t help but want to listen to him all night.  I mean, come on: “I ain’t never read the Key of Solomon, but I read the Book of Kings. Rest of the Bible, too, back when Mama thought that’d help me fit in. It didn’t, I won’t, and, truth be told, I ain’t all that broken up about it.”  With three sentences, White has created an entire personality.  Oh yeah, there’s a story here too, and it’s a good one (seriously), but truth be told, I would read a whole novel of Jesse doing things like grocery shopping and making coffee.

The downside to such a strong opening is that the rest of the stories will almost certainly suffer by comparison.  The next story, “Comes the Rain” by Gregory L. Norris is a good piece with some spooky touches that somehow seemed a bit hollow, more of a scene than an actual story.  Loved the nightmare Mary Poppins, but it just felt lacking.

“Number One Angel” by Allison M. Dickson is a similar type of work, in that the whole story happens in the space of a few minutes, but it felt more fleshed-out.  The author knows how to get into the head of a character though, and with a few well-chosen phrases, she gives us decades of history between Louise and her mother.

“Unto the Earth” by Patrick C. Greene is probably the story that I felt had the biggest shocker-twist-wait…what?? ending in the collection.  I’m not going to spoil it here, but trust me, it’s a GOOD one.  This story is also the one that screwed with my emotions a surprising amount for such a brief tale.

“Haxenhaus” by Nick Kimbro was also a stand-out.  The medieval setting was a great backdrop, and the atmosphere was wonderfully realized.

I adored “Stories I Tell To Girls” by Michael G. Williams, mainly because I loved the idea of the Book people, and am hopeful that one day they’ll open a chapter in my local library, and let me hang out with them.  But it’s also terrific at creating a sense of stories within stories, and complicated relationships, and pasts that become futures and… yeah, you’ll just have to read it.

James Glass’s “The Rising Son” is a tough one.  I loved the hints at the antagonist’s identity (some will recognize him at once). I don’t want to give too much away here, but it seemed like the author was going to go in a new direction, but instead, went for the expected one.  Beautifully written, though, and I will probably pick up his longer works.

“Beautiful, Broken Things” by Rose Blackthorn was also a tough one.  It seemed to take place in a futuristic version of a typical US city, but that wasn’t really clear, so some of the references  (like the drug Prizm) were awkwardly shoved in.  I liked the story, but think it would have worked better without being bogged down by the sci-fi aspects.

“Not This Time” by Mike Lester was probably my least favorite story in this collection.  It might just be that too much sugar has rotted my brain, but I couldn’t make sense of the story and relationships between the characters.  I had to re-read the ending several times to figure out what happened, and even then, it didn’t really stay with me.  I also couldn’t figure out if there was actual witchcraft involved, or just kids playing pretend.

“Into the Light” by Solomon Archer was more meaty than the other stories.  It had a bigger scope in terms of time period, characters, and actual physical action.  I actually wish someone would make a movie of this one, it’s fun and gory and fast-paced.

Shenoa Carroll-Bradd is just not right.  “She Makes My Skin Crawl” is one of the most crazily-inventive stories I’ve read in ages, but damn did it make me queasy.  Some serious nightmare-fuel, but at the same time, so ridiculously out-there that you can’t help but love the craziness.

Eric Nash’s “Pigeon” is a funky Rube Goldbergian (is that a word?) piece from the perpective of the Scorned Woman.   It’s an archetype as old as stories themselves, but with twists both digital and supernatural.  Fun, but the ending was a little flat.

“Pig Roast” by Aaron Gudmunson is the perfect ending to the collection.  Chet is the polar opposite of Jesse from “Hair Shirt Drag”.  He’s overweight, awkward, shy, and oddly attached to his mustard.  I sort of knew where the story was heading, but I wasn’t expecting the last few sentences.  YIKES.

Overall, this was a GREAT collection.  Every story was so unique that comparing them to each other isn’t comparing apples to oranges, it’s comparing apples to elephants to picture frames to knitting needles to meteorites.  And that’s the beauty of it – there’s literally something for EVERYONE.  You like in-your-face gore?  subtle metaphor?  killer birds?  Wrapped in Black has got you covered.


The Nerd’s Rating:  FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and one eye of newt.  Happy Halloween!)

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