Grim Harvest, by Patrick Greene

Short Take: A too-brief visit with old friends.


(*Note: I received an advance copy of this book for review.*)

Good morning, nerdlings! I am mostly recovered after a late night out at the fair, where I was lucky enough to see Gabriel Iglesias, aka Fluffy live. He put on a fantastic show and my face still hurts (yes, I know, IT’S KILLING YOU) from laughing.

I also have to give a shout-out to local fairs, and all their fun traditions: corn dogs, rigged games, fried oreos, animal smells, cotton candy, rides with questionable safety ratings, and fried cheese on a stick.. Having always lived in a small town, I tend to take fairs for granted, and don’t go to them very much anymore, but it only takes a single whiff of the air to kick me right in the nostalgia-bone.

And speaking of nostalgia for small towns, dearies, welcome back to Ember Hollow, which we first visited in the gloriously Halloween-themed acid trip of Red Harvest. Consider yourselves warned: Grim Harvest is the sequel to Red Harvest and therefore, this review will have many spoilers for the latter. If you haven’t read it yet (dude, what?? Get on that already!), you should probably stop right here.

It’s a year after the Pumpkin Parade Massacre, when Ragdoll Ruth (religious fanatic) and Everett Geelens (psychopathic killer) nearly destroyed the town, killing dozens, injuring even more, and causing untold anguish before being slaughtered themselves.

Among the walking (read: staggering) wounded is Dennis Barcroft, former lead singer of the Chalk Outlines and no-longer-recovering alcoholic. Now, he’s off the wagon and into a ditch, leaving behind the band, his friends, family, and Jill, the love of his life. Dennis’s younger brother Stuart is also suffering from a humiliating condition as a result of last year’s trauma, on top of the usual growing pains of puppy love and pubescent body image issues.

Candace Geelens, Everett’s sister and the only surviving member of their family, is in foster care hell. Reverend McGlazer’s faith is being tested in ever more horrific ways as the unholy presence in the church grows stronger, and secrets from the town’s past threaten to destroy its future.

And if all that weren’t fun enough, Nico Rizzoli, Ragdoll Ruth’s lover and partner in crime, has escaped from prison and is out for revenge. Bloody, gruesome, gory, creative revenge. I mean sure, he could just kill everyone with a gun or knife or chainsaw, but it just so happens that he knows a witch who knows a spell to turn Nico and his biker friends into werewolves for a little extra havoc-wreaking. And maybe, if Nico can figure out just the right spell and sacrifice just the right person, he could even bring Ruth back.

Grim Harvest, as I mentioned, is the second book in the Haunted Hollow series, and it’s my understanding that there will be at least one more. It’s a decent follow up to Red Harvest (which I legit LOVED), but it feels more like the middle of a trilogy than a complete work in and of itself, a bridge between a fabulous introduction and an explosive finale. Other reviewers have mentioned that if you haven’t read the first book, this one is hard to follow, and I can totally see that, but I don’t really count that as a flaw. It’s kind of the nature of a series – if you have no idea that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, it makes no sense when he’s swinging on webs. 

My issue is more the sense that Grim Harvest is a placeholder between the major parts of the story, instead of a major part itself. Sure, there are a couple of new plot lines and characters that have a complete beginning, middle and end, but our main characters just don’t get much movement. They’re in the book, but it doesn’t feel like they grow or change in any significant way, or even play as much of a role as they did in the first book. 

Sure, they go to the places and do the things, but with so many characters and plot lines in barely 200 pages, they just don’t get to breathe the way they deserve to. All of the psychological fallout for each of them is explored in great depth and detail, throughout every scene, and in the end, each of them is fixed with a couple of sentences. It doesn’t feel earned.

One of the best parts of Red Harvest was the way the friends & families interacted with each other, the simple affection and humor that they had, and that feels somewhat lacking here. Even when Stuart and DeShaun are being their obnoxious thirteen year old boy selves, there’s part of Stuart that just can’t relax and enjoy the moment. It’s understandable, but it also undermines a lot of what made Red Harvest so much fun despite its horrific sequences. Ditto the group of punks – their friendship and banter were fantastic last time, and they don’t even really have a conversation this time.

So in the end, I’ll still read the next book, because Mr. Greene has never really let me down. I imagine that he’s got something incredible planned for the finale. 

The Nerd’s Rating: THREE HAPPY NEURONS (and some fried fair food cause I’m craving it again already.)


Red Harvest, by Patrick C. Greene

Short Take: Addiction is terrifying.


(*Note – I received a free copy of this book for review.*)

Yes, I KNOW that it’s still August (it’s so crazy-hot that my buns are perma-toasted) but today, I have an extra-special Halloween treat for y’all. Try, if you can, to imagine a world that’s pretty much our own. It has the same traditions, music, and movies, but with a few teensy little changes – cell phones and computers aren’t used, ghosts and psychics are real, and OH!! My darling nerdlings, the nerds rule the school! Ok, they are absolutely terrible people, but they are still MY people, and so that last one tickled me purple.

On the surface, Red Harvest is Our Town on a nightmare acid trip. You see, the town of Ember Hollow itself is one of the main characters, in that there’s a strange, possibly dark and pagan history to the town’s founding, and traditions such as the annual Pumpkin Parade, and a lot of people with only a degree or two of separation. It’s a small town where everyone knows everyone, but nobody really KNOWS what goes on behind closed doors.

Take for example Everett Geelens, a freakishly strong Michael Myers-ish young man who has a child-like obsession with all things Halloween, especially the blood and death. He’s kept locked up by his family, but when he gets loose on Devil’s Night, well, I don’t have to tell you that nothing good will come of it, do I?

Or Ruth. She has recently discovered religion, and has decided that it’s God’s will that she do whatever it takes to put an end to all the “satanic” Halloween festivities. And if “whatever it takes” involves some decidedly un-Christian acts, well, the ends will justify the means, of course.

Then there’s Dennis Barcroft, lead singer of the Chalk Outlines, a punkabilly band with a spooky sensibility. He’s tried to channel his demons into his music, and his thirteen year old brother Stuart is only too happy to tag along, especially if it means the chance to impress Candace Geelens, who is Everett’s younger sister and the object of his first real crush.

I could list another dozen or so really great characters, but you see, all these fascinating people, and the beautifully complex web of alllllll their relationships isn’t what Red Harvest is really about. Neither is the high-octane plot that swings effortlessly between the strands of Everett’s violent spree, Ruth’s growing madness, a haunted church, a minister with his own difficult past, all the trials and tribulations of high school, and a zoot-suit wearing music agent.

What Red Harvest is REALLY about is addiction. Every one of the characters has their drug of choice, whether it’s Halloween, booze, religion, music, or power, and that’s what makes this book so amazing. It’s easy to make bad guys bad and good guys good. But by showing us how thin the line really is, and how even good people can do bad things for the sake of what they value most, or how bad people can genuinely believe they are doing a Good Thing, Mr. Greene has brought a brilliant level of complexity and humanity to a horror novel.

Don’t get me wrong – the horror elements are flawless in this one, but for me, the real horror is how believable so much of it is. Except maybe for the nerds who are drunk with power. That just seems needlessly cruel. 

The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and a pumpkin spice anything, because I’m so ready for fall now!)

Loved this book!!

Stingy Jack And Other Tales, by Patrick C. Greene

Short Take: Even the tricks are delicious.

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

Hello all you lovely internet people! I come bearing some seriously spookalicious stuff from one of my favorite masters of mayhem. If any of you have been following this site at all, you’re already familiar with my fan-girly squeals over Mr. Greene, and you may have already read my reviews of a couple of these stories, from other collections. Most of them, however, are new to me, and I can say without reservation that each one of them is exactly the ooey gooey (and slightly oozing?) Halloween treat you’ve all been jonesing for.

As most of you know, I am not super into short stories, but Mr. Greene’s shorts somehow manage to satisfy my craving for something big & meaty. (Did that sound dirty? I feel like that sounded dirty). The author manages to describe a decade of backstory in just a few sentences, and can make you see a complete character with just a brief snippet of dialogue. And as for the plots, well… Besides loads of good, old-fashioned, bloody terror in each and every one, there are also liberal doses of heartbreak, redemption, and humor.

I can hear all of you howling and gnashing your teeth, imploring me, “yes, Nerd, the stories are great, but what are they ABOUT??” So without further ado, here’s a brief overview of each one.

Stingy Jack, Ol’ Scratch, and a Head Full of Fire:  A medieval-era fire-phobic, self-pitying, manipulative, lecherous, turnip-loving drunk makes a deal with the devil (is this Nerd surprised that the devil is a fratboy? NOPE). A Halloween must-read.

Unto The Earth: A terribly toxic marriage is not what it appears to be.

Nightbound:  Breaking into an abandoned mansion and finding coffins in the basement seems like a horror cliche, but 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.

Gramma’s House:  A trio of methheads breaks into the titular house, only to enter… The Twilight Zone.

The Plagues of Winter:  After a blizzard, an isolated northeastern island community finds itself dealing with much worse problems than no internet.

Guardian of the Orchard: 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.

Cinderblock:  Once a world class boxer, always a world class boxer.

Black Cloud:  If you’ve ever done something terrible, you know that the black cloud never really leaves. What you may not realize is that it might have a mind of its own.

3:33 The Bloodbird:  Sibling rivalry is no joke.

How Me and Bozy Became Dads:  A typical day of a group of inmates doing roadside clean-up duty becomes something entirely unexpected.

The Curse of Kirby: 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.  What could go wrong?

So to sum it up, this is the Halloween candy you have been craving, minus the calories. You know you want it.

The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and a full-size Milky Way bar. Seriously, whoever came up with the concept of “fun size” doesn’t understand fun.)

Loved this book!!

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!!

The Abductors, by Patrick C. Greene

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


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


Progeny, by Patrick C. Greene

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


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


Holiday Wrappings (Anthology)

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


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!)