Rotten Little Things – Justin M. Woodward
Reviewed By Steve Stred
In 2018 I stumbled upon a few stellar authors through association. I’d connected with J.Z. Foster, who at that time took me under his wing and was really helping me up my presentation and product. It was a blessing. J.Z. had asked if I’d read anything from Justin M. Woodward and I sheepishly said I didn’t know who that was. So J.Z. recommended his book ‘The Variant’ which I snagged and gobbled it up. It was a neat blend of urban fantasy, cosmic horror and real life fears. I then read ‘Candy’ and while it wasn’t my normal cup of tea, the plot line of some bumbling high schoolers who suddenly become embroiled in an action-adventure story was fun.
Then Justin dropped ‘Tamer Animals.’ One of the best coming-of-age, urban legend books released – ever. Stunning characters, fantastic depth and relationship development, super scares and the ending to top all endings. This book inspired me to write ‘The Girl Who Hid in the Trees.’
Between the time of reading both ‘The Variant’ and ‘Candy’ I’d connected with Justin, and we hit it off via social media. Full disclosure here, I consider Justin a friend. He’s kindly blurbed a few of my releases and even offered up a fantastic cover line feature for my novel ‘Invisible.’
Our relationship has grown over this time and Justin’s one of the nicest guys out there. Some will recall that I offered up my pre-sale profits from the release of ‘The Girl Who Hid in the Trees’ to help offset some costs of his mom’s recent Cancer diagnosis. That Go Fund Me is still going on and if you’re able to donate, that would be fantastic.
Then along came ‘Rotten Little Things.’ Justin announced this release about a month ago with the cover reveal, designed by the awesome Brian Scutt.
‘Rotten Little Things’ was pegged as a sort of prequel to ‘Tamer Animals’ as well as an inclusion into the Goatman mythology that Justin introduced in ‘Tamer Animals.’
Yesterday, Justin emailed me an exclusive first copy, which (as everyone should do) I read in one sitting immediately.
‘Rotten Little Things’ is a basic tale on the surface. Occurring a dozen years before ‘Tamer Animals’ we’re introduced to a family in transition. Jacob, his wife Monica and their son Zach have moved to a small town, for the opportunity of a new job. Jacob has found a house that works for them, with one key aspect. The ability to build a fence and add some animals. Chickens and goats for Monica to raise and tend while Jacob goes to work and Zach’s off to school.
We quickly learn that Monica has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia her entire life. This diagnosis proves to be the main reason they’ve moved to the new town. Woodward does a great job with creating depth in this character, but also creating a very empathetic husband in Jacob. It works really well that he stands by his wife and that he refuses to call her ‘crazy’ or ‘insane.’ It gives the reader a rock to depend on, just as much as the characters depend on each other.
One of the best things within this tale though, is Justin’s ability to make the reader question whether we can trust Monica’s point of view. We get some creepy “someone’s in the house,” moments as well as a stellar forest scene that will have you on the edge of your seat.
But the biggest star in this book that exudes the most amount of cringe-creep-horror is the thing that haunts Monica’s mind – The Tall Man. The main invader of her schizophrenia is a demented being who frequently stands in a corner of each room and threatens Monica with carnage and violence. Justin wrote some of the best scenes of his literary career within this tale, and The Tall Man features in those scenes prominently.
Throughout ‘Rotten Little Things,’ Woodward ensures that Jacob and Zach keep the reader grounded in the here and now, in reality, but his vivid descriptions whenever we’re focused on Monica will have you guessing time and time again as to whether her actions are actually occurring or if it’s something only she’s seeing.
The ending was a great twist, and while I don’t want to say it’s done in a similar way like how the ending of ‘Tamer Animals’ was a twist, there are some parallels in the sense you will not see it coming and when it arrives you’ll be pulling your hair out and possibly your eyeballs. It’s a phenomenal conclusion to a superb novella.
‘Rotten Little Things’ is the rare beast that can be read entirely on its own, with no prior knowledge of ‘Tamer Animals’ but also as a stunning companion piece for fervent fans of that release. It builds on the mythology, sneakily answers a few questions that you may still have lingering from ‘Tamer,’ but Justin makes sure to leave a lot of doors open in the best ways possible.
I hope we get to see more in this world. Justin alludes to it in the afterword, which is one of the better afterword’s I’ve read in some time, and I hope he continues down this path.
Star Rating (out of 5): 5*
Rotten Little Things is a book that further cements Justin M. Woodward as one the must read Indie Authors out there!
Rotten Little Things
TWELVE YEARS BEFORE THE EVENTS OF TAMER ANIMALS
Monica has suffered from paranoid schizophrenia her entire life. For the most part, she manages her disease well—that is, until her family moves into an old house in the woods, and she starts seeing an imaginary entity from her childhood creeping around the property.
NEW HOME. OLD HAUNTS.
Things quickly become terrifying for Monica as her reality begins to blend with fiction, and something else entirely. . . some indescribable evil out in those woods.
Steve Stred is an up-an-coming Dark Horror author. Steve is the author of the novel Invisible, the novellas Wagon Buddy, Yuri and Jane: the 816 Chronicles and two collections of short stories; Frostbitten: 12 Hymns of Misery and Left Hand Path: 13 More Tales of Black Magick.
Steve also has a number of works on the go and enjoys all this horror, occult, supernatural and paranormal.
Steve Stred is based in Edmonton, AB, Canada and lives with his wife, his son and their dog Oj.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
You can visit Steve’s Official Website here
The Girl Who Hid In The Trees
Something lurks just beyond.
Centuries ago a heinous act created a ripple that still haunts the residents to this very day.
Now the kids who reside near McConnell’s Forest live forever in fear.
Jason lost his brother when he was young. He left with his friends to ‘debunk’ the urban legend and never came back.
Now Jason and his group of friends are fed up and want to discover what is happening, what is the real cause of the terror holding their small town hostage.
But something is waiting for them. She may look sweet and innocent, but the friends are about to find out that pure evil can exist in the smallest of packages.
She’s out there. And while you may not know her name or what she looks like, the local kids will tell you if you ask, that you should fear for your life from the girl who hid in the trees.
From the dark mind of Steve Stred, the author of Wagon Buddy, YURI and Invisible comes this fast-paced, seat of your pants coming-of-age tale. A quick, violent, bleak read, The Girl Who Hid In The Trees will make you think twice about those sounds you hear far off in the woods.