Sunday, February 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of February 8, 2016

NOTE: For submission info please see bottom of main page. Thank you.

THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES by Tony Tremblay (2016 Crossroad Press / 155 pp / eBook)

Having read a couple of Tremblay's stories in anthologies, I was looking forward to his first collection, and the wait was well worth it. These 13 tales bring the chills in unique ways, and there are several surprises.

Opening novelette 'The Strange Saga of Mattie Dyer' is a slick weird western with Lovecraftian happenings, 'The Old Man' finds a former gangster finding it hard to hide from his past, and in 'The Burial Board' a man learns the secret of the title object in this early 1800's-set chiller.

Robert learns there's more to killing someone than meets the eye in 'Something New,' then siblings overcome their abusive father in the grim but beautiful 'Stardust,'and a woman learns the truth on why her late husband refused to attend an awards ceremony while in the service in 'The Soldier's Wife.'

One of the best here, 'Tsumani,' shows a woman's faith challenged after she loses her family while on vacation, then, after murdering his unfaithful wife, a man pays for his crime in a most unusual way in my favorite of the collection, 'The Black Dress.' What an ending!

'Chiyoung and Dongsun's Song' is the author's take on a Korean folk tale that I found hilarious. It touches bizarro territory and would make a great episode of MASTERS OF HORROR (if directed by Frank Hennenlotter) should the series ever return to the airwaves.'Husband of Kellie' is a short and sweet zombie tale, and 'An Alabama Christmas' is one of the creepiest holiday-themed stories I've read in quite a while.

I had recently read 'The Pawn Shop' so can report it holds up well to a repeat visit. Then NIGHTMARES ends with 'The Visitors,' which finds a motel owner meeting her fate at the hands of two strange patrons. It had a sort-of David Lynch-feel and had me on the edge of my seat from the first page.

Having shared cigars and drinks with Tony at a couple of conventions, I wasn't sure what to expect from this mild mannered photographer, book reviewer and all around nice guy. I'm always nervous when reading the work of a friend, but with THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES, the only thing that made me nervous were some of the stories. This here's the real deal: serious horror and noir (with a touch of humor) that will surely win the author some new readers. Kudos to the brief introductions for each story. Definitely check it out.

-Nick Cato

I WILL ROT WITHOUT YOU by Danger Slater (2015 Fungasm Press / 152 pp / trade paperback)

I’ve been familiar with this guy through his readings and appearances at various events, but had somehow not until now sat myself down to read one of his books. And, of course, having finally done so, it blew me the heck away. I mean, I kind of expected it … this is Danger-Bleeping-Slater we’re talking about here, a barely-contained one-man-storm of raw talent.

His way with words is staggeringly awesome, poetic, and grotesque. A person could, like in that one South Park, get physically barf-your-guts sick from this stuff, yet keep going back for more. It’s that potent. That vividly, viscerally, in-the-face, full surround sound sensory experience potent.

If you – like me – get squicky about stuff like mold, roaches, decay, and peely dismemberments, um, well, I don’t know what else to tell you but tough up and read it anyway.

I WILL ROT WITHOUT YOU is, in a sense, the ultimate break-up novel. It’s the story of Ernie, whose life has been falling apart in just about every way since his girl left. His apartment’s bug-infested and there’s weird stuff growing in the bathroom, his landlord and neighbors are each freakier than the next, and to top it all off he seems to be coming down with something.

It just gets weirder and grosser, more surreal and more bizarre, from there. A complete inside-out upside-down trip through the wringer, fascinating, impossible to walk away from or forget. Even as it feels like things are crawling on, growing in, sloughing off, and squiggling under, your skin.

And if you ever have the chance to see him do a live reading/performance, seize the day, people. Danger-Bleeping-Slater. Great stuff.

-Christine Morgan

BLUE EEL by Lorne Dixon (2015 Cutting Block Press / 240 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Dixon (author of the grossly underrated 2011 novel ETERNAL UNREST) returns with a difficult to classify tale of cults, kidnappings, and strange, blue eels.

Branson Turaco has been a suspect in his daughter's kidnapping for several years, but when a lock of her hair is found in the home of another suspect, he decides to go after the perpetrator in the hopes his daughter might still be alive. He manages to buy a gun for protection, and with the help of a new intern at his day job and a former filmmaker (!), Branson uncovers a dark underworld that gets weirder the deeper he digs.

He finds out his daughter has been sold to a cult who live on a floating barge (of sorts) out in the middle of the ocean. This group are being transformed into glowing meta-humans by an unknown species of eel, whose juices give hallucinations and even cause people to see the future. Dixon mixes genres and keeps the reader guessing at almost every turn, and delivers an interesting cast (although I'm not sure why the alien-like cultists needed to use shotguns so much?).

BLUE EEL is an absorbing, fast-paced read, with a twist in the final two chapters that I'm still on the fence about. It's not disappointing, just something some may have a hard time buying.

If you like your horror on the strange side, give this one a try.

-Nick Cato


PAPER TIGERS by Damien Angelica Walters (to be released 2/29/16 by Dark House Press / 300 pp / trade paperback)

I still have not seen CRIMSON PEAK, and after the reviews of it, might be a while … because, THIS book is much more the sort of thing I would have expected/wanted from a lavish, moody, atmospheric, gothic mystery-drama. Anything less, really, is going to be a major let-down.

Okay and so maybe I could totes see Hiddleston as George, so what?

The point is, PAPER TIGERS is a gorgeous tapestry of pain from an author who specializes in just such intricate needlework. It’s about suffering, and wholeness, fear, longing, insecurity, self-loathing, and the prices we’d pay to get back what we lost.

Main character Alison is a burn victim. Not a survivor, but a victim, because her condition consumes her every waking moment and rules her world. Half her body is a disfigured mess of scar tissue. She thinks of herself as Monstergirl, having lost her hopes, her future, and everything but a hollow and reclusive existence.

Despite the efforts of her mother, her doctor, and her physical therapist, Alison hardly even ventures outside. On one of her rare excursions, she finds an old photo album at an antique shop and adds it to her collection – she enjoys looking at these images from the lives of others, making up stories to fill in what’s captured in the pictures.

There’s something strange about this particular album, though. It has an entire haunted house of dark history within its pages, and its inhabitants want Alison to join them. The offer is tempting – in their world, she can lose her scars, she can lose her pain … but at what price?

So, yeah, movie-making people, this is the one you need to do. It’s awesomely written, the sets and effects and costumes would be beautiful, it’s got tragedy and romance, it’s got it all. Somebody get Hiddleston’s people on the phone. And if he’s not available, how about Radcliffe?

-Christine Morgan

RAGE AND REDEMPTION IN ALPHABET CITY by Amy Grech (2015 New Pulp Press / 153 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Grech's latest collection features five stories (two are novellas), but long time fans should note there's only one new piece here.

The title tale, 'Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City' is a lengthier version of her story 'Apple of My Eye,' a gritty, disturbing tale of incest and revenge.

For those who haven't read them before, '.38 Special' is a darkly humorous look at a cheating housewife who also likes to play Russian Roulette, 'Cold Comfort' features a man cheating on his girlfriend after meeting someone at a bar (but there's a twist ending), and 'Prevention' shows the dangers of a mother favoring one child over the other.

Grech's new story, the novella-length 'Hoi Polloi Cannoli' is easily the best of the lot. In a society after a world-wide financial collapse, one man manages to overlook a community of survivors, but they must abide by his strict rules. Once a year, two lucky families are chosen to partake in a massive feast, where there's an endless buffet of food. The winners get to pig out for four hours in the company of their leader, but of course there's a catch. One young girl, who refuses to eat sweets, manages to turn the tables. Fans of end-times tales will eat this one up (full pun intended).

RAGE AND REDEMPTION is a fine collection for those new to Grech. Considering her first two collections are out of print, it's good for the author to have these tales back in circulation, but it would've been nice for New Pulp Press to mention this wasn't an all-new collection.

-Nick Cato

A COIN FOR CHARON by Dallas Mullican (2015 Winlock Press / 281 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Serial killer … or angel of mercy? Sadistic, murderous butchery … or divinely-guided release from suffering?

To the perpetrator, and even the victims, the distinction might be up for debate. To the cops, however, it doesn’t matter. You don’t just go around leaving a string of ritualistically displayed corpses all eviscerated and partly skinned without causing something of a stir.
In this nicely-turned thriller, the main characters are all deeply damaged people, in understandable, sympathetic, and sometimes frustrating ways. From the terminal cancer patient stubbornly keeping the truth from his family, to the counselor who’s able to talk others through the worst of lows while herself trapped in an abusive situation … from the detective trying to cope with devastation and loss, to the well-spoken young man who seems so gentle and polite … and all of them drawn into a grim world of violence.

I think the only real thing I tripped up on in this book had to do with Max. Did he have insurance? How was he paying his doctor bills? Wasn’t he worried about leaving debts? Those pesky questions did some interfering as I read, but not enough to knock me out of the story.

The mixes of theologies and mythologies worked well, I like the way the killer’s selection of targets is handled, and his backstory. Good descriptions, some touching moments and a lot of compassion and tension throughout, leading to some surprises and a fairly satisfying conclusion.

-Christine Morgan



Another packed 96 pages of fiction and commentary kicks off with Stephen Volk on the similarities between horror and comedy and Lynda E. Rucker getting to the bottom of what exactly makes something 'goth.' Both are the usual solid commentaries well worth your time.

Heading off the fiction is Georgina Bruce's 'White Rabbit,' a hallucinatory tale of Alec, his dead wife, and how they bond over a skip in a record. "Grieving" stories are popular in BLACK STATIC, but Bruce's take is fresh and wonderfully written.

'Man of the House' by V.H. Leslie finds a 35 year-old man caring for his widowed father. He spends most of his time customizing and arranging a detailed doll house. Leslie's study of isolation and maturing kept my interest, but it's a stretch to label this one a horror story.

In 'Child of Thorns' by Ray Cluley, Nessa helps her friend birth an unusual baby and later finds out she just may have one of her own. A bizarre horror fantasy full of crisp images and easily my favorite of the issue.

'Greenteeth' by Gary Budden takes place in a future London where overpopulation and lack of work forces many to live on boats in the waters surrounding the city. It's a nice apocalyptic set up but doesn't seem to go anywhere.

'Foul is Fair' by Tyler Keevil: On the final night of a Macbeth performance, Peter learns his daughter may be the result of a supernatural occurence. Keevil's novelette may be the lenghtiest piece here but it reads the quickest. Good stuff, but it's another story this issue that barely registers as horror.

Finally, Tim Casson's 'Bug Skin' introduces us to a woman who discovers her late son was the victim of subliminal messages. It's sort-of like an updated 80s "Satanic Panic" tale and works quite well.

Peter Tennant delivers another barrage of in-depth book reviews (was nice to see three volumes of the 'Dark Screams' series covered) and interviews author Simon Bestwick, then, after several years, Tony Lee gives us his final DVD/blu-ray review column (and there's a brief commentary on film censorship), and I for one am sad to see him go. Here's hoping his replacement keeps the goods coming.

BLACK STATIC is always a great read, but for the 50th issue I was surprised to see a couple of stories that could've easily been placed in a non-horror magazine. Good tales, mind you, just strange to see them here. Or maybe it's just me?

Subscribe or sample an issue here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato



We continue to receive a lot of submission requests despite what our submission info listed at the bottom of the main page says. We're a small group who do reviews out of a love for the genre. We don't get paid by presses or authors for our opinions. Please don't be insulted if we don't get back to your query. The amount of review material sent in is staggering, on top of the books we review that aren't sent in as review material. Thank you for your understanding.

-HFR staff

Monday, January 25, 2016

Reviews for the Week of January 25, 2016

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

SKULLCRACK CITY by Jeremy Robert Johnson (2015 Lazy Fascist Press / 344 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a staggeringly well-written and amazing book. The scope, the skill, the story, everything about it is just fantastic. Deep and complex, yet funny. Gory and scary, yet heartwarming.

You know that bit in Hitchhiker’s Guide about the wall of Magrathea’s factory floor? How it’s described as not just defying the imagination, but seducing and defeating it? That’s what this book does. To the imagination, to genre, to literature.

It’s … a cyberpunk Lovecraftian gritty horror thriller screwball cult action comedy conspiracy with elements of romance and family drama … the ultimate combination of so many awesome things into a gestalt beyond gestalt … all things to all people … Brian Keene referred to it as “a total mind-(bleep)” and that’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

To attempt to summarize: would-be whistleblower plunges into a drug-fueled crazy world of paranoia with extradimensional demons AND brain-eating genetically engineered monsters; desperate race against time, fate of humanity in the balance. Plus, a pet turtle who somehow, despite a spectacular cast of great characters, still steals the show.

A truly masterful masterwork. I’m calling it now: next Wonderland Award Winner, right here.

-Christine Morgan

ALL SOULS DAY by Martin Berman-Gorvine (to be released 2/1/16 by Silver Leaf Books / 412 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, I must say, this really is one of those cases that proves the rule about not judging a book by its cover … I was sent a PDF and didn’t even see the cover until I looked up the website … and good thing too because I might’ve been disinclined to give the book a chance otherwise.

That would have been a shame, because ALL SOULS DAY is a darn good read. Set in an alt-timeline aftermath version of the 1980s, the community of Chatham Forge survives intact, thanks to the intervention of the great dread god Moloch.

A mysterious Wall surrounds the town, protecting its inhabitants from the blighted world beyond. Select groups are permitted to venture through for occasional battles or raids on the Muties outside, but most are content to stay put and be safe. After all, Moloch only demands one Virgin Sacrifice a year, and is that so much to ask, all considered?

They’ve adjusted their society to a new set of laws and religion, retconning history, revamping church services and holidays. And high school. Yes, high school. The stereotypes we all know – Jock, Nerd, Punk, Slut, Nice Girl, and others – have become a rigorous caste system. Your caste determines how you must dress and behave, who you can date, how you’ll be treated, and what your adult life opportunities will be.

So, in a sense, it’s kind of a YA dystopia, but it’s one of the better-handled takes on the theme I’ve seen. Well-thought-out, internally consistent, taking fun but sharp social-commentary swipes. I was reminded in good ways of Robert Deveraux’s SLAUGHTERHOUSE HIGH.

The particular story is that of Amos, a Nerd with dating aspirations outside his caste, and Suzie, a Nice Girl with a streak of frustrated rebellion. They soon discover that not everyone in Chatham Forge is as happy with the arrangements as they pretend, and a plan gets put in motion to see about getting rid of Moloch once and for all.

My only real complaint (besides the cover) is that the ending was on the abrupt side; I wanted a bit more resolution and final wrap-up answers. All in all, a solid and satisfying good read.

-Christine Morgan

VOODOO CHILD by Wayne Simmons and Andre Duza (2015 Infected Books / 230 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In this loving homage to 80s slasher films, Simmons and Duza introduce us to three female friends who go for a getaway in the woods for some much needed rest and relaxation, and to visit the isolated cabin where one of them was raised by her grandparents. And like any good 80s slasher film, the cover boldly proclaims this is "Based on a true story!"

As fate would have it, 3 horny jocks are also camping nearby in the Louisiana woods, and there's a legend of a young woman who was drowned in the nearby lake by the locals for being a witch.

Despite taking a bit long to set things up, at about the halfway point Duza and Simmons bring the retro goods (there's as much weed smoking as slashing at play here). We also get witch sightings, alleged possessions, and a stuffed scarecrow of sorts (see cover image above) who gets the blame for the killings, yet the reader doesn't know if someone is messing with everyone or if a supernatural element is truly at work. I found the voodoo-practicing grandparents to be the stars of the show here, as well as a middle-aged sheriff who I found more interesting than our leading ladies. That's not to say they weren't finely done, but there was something about the older characters here that worked well for me.

There are a lot of things going on in VOODOO CHILD, but it's a fun time fans of old school stalk and slash films should enjoy (after all, there are many slasher films that are all over the place, most not half as in control as this novel). I liked the supernatural element (or is it? Muhahaha!) and the authors did a fine job creating the feel of a genuine 80s slasher flick.

-Nick Cato

GHOST IN THE COGS edited by Scott Gable and C. Dombrowski (2015 Broken Eye Books / 252 pp / hardcover, trade paperback & eBook)

An anthology of 22 steampunk ghost stories … I like steampunk, I like ghost stories, I like combination themes … if you do too, then this is a book you’ll want to read. It’s got all the apparitions and automatons you could want, and then some.

My top pick this time came down to a tie:

'The Lady in the Ghastlight' by Liane Merciel for its sheer beauty of language and imagery, and its unexpected yet highly poignant and satisfying outcome … and Jonah Buck’s would-be-debunker getting a big surprise in 'T-Hex.'

I also noticed a tie for my top picks of outstanding opening line, and just have to share them:

"The day she turned eleven, Effie’s father showed her how to die" – 'Asmodeus Flight' by Siobhan Carroll.

"It is winter in Pal-em-Rasha and all the roosters have been strangled" – 'Golden Wing, Silver Eye' by Cat Hellisen.

I mean, because, well, wow, how can you NOT read on after grabbers like those?

Other faves include:

'The Shadow and the Eye' by James Lowder, who may be known as an anthologist and gamer, but is certainly no slouch in the writing department and more than proves it in this ominous tale.

Elsa S. Henry’s 'Edge of the Unknown,' in which we’re shown, whether it’s Tumblr or a Victorian finishing school for proper young ladies, that one should never underestimate the power of the fangirl.

There are, of course, a couple of nods to Carnacki, because where better for a famed occult detective? 'The Twentieth-Century Man' by Nick Mamatas and 'The Blood on the Walls' by Eddy Webb both play well with the familiar frame narrative.

So yeah, if you like ghosts, gears, gents in goggles, gutsy gals, and gaseous gadgets, this one is a definite don’t miss.

-Christine Morgan

REINCARNAGE by Ryan Harding and Jason Taverner (2015 Deadite Press / 248 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It’s been, what, more than thirty years now that we’ve had the unstoppable slasher-killer as a genre? We know them like rock stars, some of them needing only a single name. Like the Universal Horror classic monsters, they’ve spawned tons of sequels, would-be successors, and shabby imitators.

You might think that, after all this time, there’s nothing new under that particular sun. That there’s only so many ways teenagers or hapless vacationers can get dismembered by garden tools and other creative around-the-house DIY mutilation.

But, in REINCARNAGE, Ryan Harding and Jason Taverner find a way. What if, they ask, it happened for REAL? What if there WAS a killer who couldn’t be killed, not for keeps? Who DID keep coming back, somehow, even after being seemingly put down again and again?

People would DO something, wouldn’t they? The government would have to DO something, right? National security and all that. Like if there were real, live supervillains, or aliens, right? Stick ‘em in a mega-uber prison or lab or something.

Or something. Welcome to the Kill Zone, home and stomping grounds of the maniac known as Agent Orange. Walled off and secure, monitored, it’s like a wildlife preserve without the tourists … not counting the occasional death-defying thrill seekers and daredevils … at least, that’s what most of the world thinks.

To the random group of strangers who wake up and find themselves there, well, the truth’s a rude surprise. What follows is a frantic struggle for survival as well as unraveling the mysterious conspiracy of how they ended up there.

What also follows is a grim and grisly spectacular body count. The up-close-and-personal POV style does a great job of making this anything but your usual cheer-the-mayhem slasher flick, even when it’s the obnoxious characters you thought you couldn’t wait to see get picked off in horrific, gruesome ways.

As a bonus, the entire book is laden with wonderful zingers, descriptive bits, groan-worthy jokes, and fantastic turns of phrase. But it is, don’t forget, very, VERY gory!

-Christine Morgan



Monday, January 11, 2016

Reviews for the Week of January 11, 2016

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

AMAZING PUNK STORIES by David Agranoff (2015 Deadite Press / 270 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A collection of punk horror horrorpunk, this is one big book of mosh pits, ink, mohawks, tattoos, and rebellion. The stories span a gamut of genres and settings, from far-future sci-fi to Lovecraftian, post-apocalyptic to Cold War, zombies, supernatural, grindhouse splatter … with elements of romance, western, cyberpunk (what else?), family, and faith.

Now, admittedly, I know practically zilch about punk. Of the real bands mentioned, I’d heard of maybe two or three, so I sure wasn’t going to be able to guess which were made up by the author – he kindly includes a list in the appendix. My ignorance of the music did not, however, stop me from enjoying the stories.

My personal faves of the bunch are 'Tasha and the Fountain,' in which an old lady is given a second chance at a new life, the delightfully over-the-top 'Blacker Than The Darkest Night Of The E-Vile Souls,' as a guy takes on a new gig with a band very serious about their Satanic goals, and the clever twists of 'Reunion Show.'

Other bits that particularly shine include the chilling end of 'Born Again,' the opening line and gooshy descriptions in 'Best Of, At The End Of,' and the sheer horror-movie fun contrasts of 'Book Your Own F***ing Life' and 'The Last Show At The Mortuary Collective.'

-Christine Morgan

MURDER GIRLS by Christine Morgan (2015 Evil Girlfriend Media / 320 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sweet little Christine Morgan. Author of the fine Trinity Bay trilogy which I reviewed back in the print editions of THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW. As many of you reading this know, Christine has become a prolific writer in the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, and still manages to write non stop reviews of other people's work for the fine eZine you're currently reading. So I was thrilled to see she had a new horror novel out, which she humbly forgot to tell me about (hahaha---busted baby!).

But seriously ... MURDER GIRLS introduces us to 5 college roommates who turn out to be more than slightly unbalanced. When they discover they're being spied on by a perv, they bet each other that they can "get away" with killing him. And they do. But that isn't enough for our murderous posse, who deep down seem like ordinary girls with every day issues.

They're sick and tired of the amount of male serial killers who have been covered by the media over the years, so they decide to get in on the action. They create a soundproof room above a barn next to their apartment, and begin to kidnap, torture, and kill men. Police believe another male killer is on the loose. The girls get more pissed...

Now, I have a sick sense of humor, and to me this worked well as a very darkly humored tale. I'm not sure if others will see it that way, but if not too bad for them. MURDER GIRLS has the feel of a prime time horror/comedy/drama show only taken to an absurd extreme. And if you've read any of Morgan's older novels, you know she isn't afraid to go heavy on the sauce...

I'm going to assume this is the first installment of a series, as the ending is kind of abrupt, and a few questions are left unanswered (in particular, the events of one girl's violent past). Here's hoping there's more to come from these 5 college nutjobs...and if not, MURDER GIRLS is a fine way to kill a weekend if you enjoy grim horror with a humorous bent.

-Nick Cato

CUT CORNERS VOLUME II by Ray Garton, Monica O'Rourke and Shane McKenzie (2015 Sinister Grin Press / 66 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Ray Garton. Monica O’Rourke. Shane McKenzie.

Any ONE of those authors would more than make grabbing this book worthwhile, but the three of them together? Definitely not to be missed! I’m not even sure what more there is to say. I mean, we’re talking top-notch talents here, some of the genre’s best.

Garton's 'A Flat And Dreary Monday Night' DOES hit way too close to home, based as it is on actual events (mostly, only mostly, we hope).

I’ve yet to read anything by Monica O’Rourke that doesn’t leave me wincing and flinching in many unspeakable ways, and 'Exposed' continues that squickworthy trend. Shane McKenzie, in 'Bleeding Rainbows,' takes a slightly more paranormal and philosophical turn, though rest assured there’s still plenty of satisfying gore.

So yeah, get this book (as well as the first volume from 2012, that features tales from Bentley Little, Ramsey Campbell, and another from Garton), read them, support them. This is a series I’d love to see continue!

-Christine Morgan

ECSTATIC INFERNO by Autumn Christian (2015 Fungasm Press / 183 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I got my hands on a copy of Autumn Christian’s new short story collection ECSTATIC INFERNO from Fungasm Press. Being a fan of the author’s work for years prior, I went into the collection holding onto a certain expectation or standard of what to expect. And let me tell you, the book meets all of these expectations and then some. Autumn Christian has a unique way of drawing the reader into the dark realm of her mind. She does this with extraordinary detail, bending genres between the dark side of Science and Horror Fiction with a hint of some of those fantastically dark, grimy Southern Gothic tropes. The author manages to describe a plethora of dark and sometimes even morbid subjects with beautiful adjectives that have the power to standalone, but when combined with the subject matter and overall aura at hand, we as the reader are sucked into this dark realm quickly, and with the turn of a page one may feel a genuine darkness, beauty, and overall discomfort takeover as if you’re experiencing some sort of literary demonic possession through topics of nihilism, post-traumatic stress disorder, relationship abandonment, and any and all adverse side effects found within ones damaged psych.

Whether this is impacting the conscious or subconscious mind in reality or a lucid dream world, the author’s words are strong and well-written, leaving you as the reader with some sort of lingering dysfunction that is both equally pleasant and uncomfortable as it is genuinely pleasing and memorable.

Favorite stories: 'Crystal Mouth,' 'Pink Crane Girls,' 'The Singing Grass.'

-Jon R. Meyers

THE MIDNIGHT CREATURE FEATURE PICTURE SHOW by David C. Hayes (2015 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 184 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The concept of this collection, nearly a chronological chronicle of homages to many of the schlockiest of the shlock – from Universal classics to biker-babe-sploitation, zombies, alien abductions, sword-and-sandal manliness, fetish porn – is sheer fun, and the stories themselves back it up in all respects but one.

Hate to say it, but I have to; EDITOR, stat! Especially in a collection, when most of the pieces have been previously published and presumably run past a few sets of eyes, it’s hard to overlook. Maybe I’m just too picky (this should not be a surprise to anyone), but it did make me nearly give up on this book, more than once.

But only nearly. As mentioned above, the sheer fun-factor and concept drew me back in enough to stick with it. A vampire who runs a comedy club … how far would a method actor go for the sake of a role … hippies vs. hellcats … the mysterious creature living in the wooded foothills … sex and violence, blood and guts and gore … yeah. It’s a lot of fun.

If I had to pick one fave from the batch, I’d probably need to go with 'Barbarians! Savage Sword of King Conrad: Genesis' for its complete shamelessness and the hilarious enjoyability of the voice. There are also plenty of terrific turns of phrase, crazy characters, and awesomely done descriptions throughout. It just needed one more good solid edit-pass.

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Top Ten Reads of 2015 (Part Two)

In the second installment of our TOP TEN series, staff writer Jon R. Meyers gives us his favorite reads of 2015.

by Jon Meyers

10) TERRA INSANUS by Edward Lee. C’mon, guys. It’s Edward Freaking Lee. Although this was far from being my favorite Lee book, it is a great collection and something very different from one of my favorite authors writing books today.

9) CRYSTAL ROSE by T.S. Roberts. This was a great tale about a brilliant paranormal investigation. It was very well written and given the content it was unique and clever in all the right ways.

8) A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS by Garrett Cook. In my opinion this is one of the best books Mr. Cook has written to date. Clever, different, and keeps the reader turning pages to find out what happens next. This was also one of the most unique narration points of view I’ve personally seen in a long time. Great book!

7) ZERO SAINTS by Gabino Iglesias. Zero Saints is the noir novel we’ve been missing for years!

6) CREEP HOUSE by Andersen Prunty. A great collection of unique, absurd, and horrific horror stories that manage to stand in a league of their own like most of Prunty’s other work. This is a great collection.

5) RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt. This is my favorite book from author C.V. Hunt to date. She manages to effectively write from the male point of view. The character depth is brilliantly executed. Overall this book is very unique, well written, and uncomfortable in all of the right ways to make for a great and enjoyable reading experience.

4) THE WRETCHED WALLS by Brian Kaufman. The Wretched Walls is a clever and unique tale set in a haunted Victorian age house. There were dark secrets in this once thriving Bordello of Blood, and a nice, creepy collection of vintage pornography hidden inside a black box in the walls.

3) THE NAMELESS DARK by T.E. Grau. A great collection of well written stories for fans of Dark Fiction and Horror alike.

2) FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER by Mark Allan Gunnells. Mark Allan Gunnells is a brilliant writer. His collection of stories will haunt, terrorize, and make you laugh at the same time. Each tale is unique. The author manages to spin a tale like no other on the market today. This was one of my absolute favorite collections of the year.

1) THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King. They don’t call him the King for nothing, duh.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top Ten Reads for 2015 (Part One)

In the first of what we hope will be a 3 or 4 part series, the staff of THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will be sharing their favorite reads of 2015. First up is from this e-zine's founder, Nick Cato.

by Nick Cato

I had a difficult time choosing my top ten books this year, as the amount of excellent reads in the horror genre were plentiful. I keep a "running tab" during each year, and the main way I decide my list is on the titles that stayed with me the longest, or those that kept coming back to mind. A couple of the books listed below grew on me, and in the case of one, I actually went back and re-read the second half to make sure its impact was as great as I've been claiming (that'd be my number one choice).

There were several titles I didn't get to that were highly recommended (I'm especially hoping to get to Tim Lebbon's THE SILENCE soon), but out of the 55 novels and novellas I read in 2015, my favorites are:

10) DOLL FACE by Tim Curran is like an extreme episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE that features plenty of old fashioned scares and will have readers racing to the final chapter. Wonderfully weird and full of truly creepy images.

9) OUT OF THE WOODS by William D. Carl: picture THE HILLS HAVE EYES meets FROM BEYOND on the set of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT with a finale so heartbreaking you just might scream out loud. Carl's ode to grindhouse cinema takes its inspirations and a healthy dose of dark humor into what is easily the author's best and most entertaining novel to date.

8) ORPHANS OF WONDERLAND by Greg F. Gifune is a horrifying look at childhood secrets, demonic activity and what may be waiting for us on the other side. Gifune's blend of "satanic panic" and government conspiracies is a fresh take on genre tropes, complete with an incredibly dark conclusion.

7) RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt. More so than any other novel I've read this year, this is just so over-the-top (without being silly) it managed to bring the chills on a grand scale I wasn't expecting. Hunt's small town terror tale is deeply disturbing and definitely not for the squeamish.

6) THE CONSULTANT by Bentley Little. After several more experimental tales, Little is back with another "old school" type novel, only this time the dark humor is done to perfection and doesn't hinder the macabre happenings. An excellent return to form from one of my all time favorite writers. I think with the right actor in the title role, this would make one fantastic horror film.

5) ALECTRYOMANCER AND OTHER WEIRD TALES by Christopher Slatsky. There was a serious rise in "weird fiction" this past year, and Slatsky's collection proved he's leading the pack by a wide margin. His story 'Corporautolysis' shows off his skills as a writer and storyteller and his hard to discern blending of genres keeps readers guessing in every tale. A few of these stories hold up great to multiple reads, and some even require it.

4) THE DEATH HOUSE by Sarah Pinborough. This 2014 UK novel was released in the U.S. this year and is easily Pinborough's finest. Until the age of 18, children can catch a fatal disease and are sent to an isolated home on an island. This reminded me of GIRL, INTERRUPTED meets OUTBREAK, with an unforgettable ending and well developed characters. One of those novels you hate to see end.

3) SLOWLY WE ROT by Bryan Smith. I never thought a zombie novel would make my list here in 2015; despite zombies being well over the saturation point (and frankly, I'm just sick of them), Smith managed to create an irresistible zombie tale like no other, with an amazing cast and depth unusual for any kind of novel, let alone one about the undead. There are countless "road trip" zombie novels, but none can touch this. Not even close.

2) A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay is a nearly flawless, fresh spin on the possession story and delivers a conclusion that will be debated among genre fans for years to come. Genuinely scary and impossible to put down, Tremblay's novel topped most fan's favorite horror novel lists for 2015. It lives up to all the hype it has received and then some.

1) MR. SUICIDE by Nicole Cushing is one of the best debut novels in years, and I don't say that lightly. This is an absolutely brutal, horrifying read that doesn't rely on splatter to disturb. Cushing's tale manages to get under your skin and into your head and refuses to let go. Seriously...this one messed my head up for days. Most notable here is the author's use of a second person viewpoint, which enhances the novel's overall sense of dread and terror. Expertly crafted to freak you out, MR. SUICIDE is not to be missed by any serious fan of horror fiction. After a couple of fantastic novellas and a short story collection, this novel has catapulted Cushing to the top of my must-read list.

As I mentioned earlier, 2015 was indeed a GREAT year for horror fiction, and as honorable mentions I'd like to note three more titles that are highly recommended:

- INFLICTIONS by John McIlveen is a fantastic short story collection featuring 23 tales and not a slow one in the lot. McIlveen often masterfully blends horror and humor to killer effect.

- DEAD RINGERS by Christopher Golden went in a direction I didn't see coming, and what looked like a scifi-type tale became an original occult horror yarn to be reckoned with.

-HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS by Gary A. Braunbeck is a mammoth collection of tales from one of the best writers in the business. I had read several of these stories two or three times before and none have lost their power.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Reviews for the Week of December 21, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

THE VISIBLE FILTH by Nathan Ballingrud (2015 This Is Horror / 68 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Will is a bartender working in New Orleans. He finds a cell phone on the floor after a brawl ends. Figuring he'll bring it back to work with him the next day, the phone buzzes a text message as soon as he gets home, and he decides to read it. A desperate, spooky message has Will wondering if someone is breaking his chops or if the texter truly needs help.

From this simple set up, Ballingrud builds the suspense slowly but never loses the reader's interest, and by throwing in a side plot dealing with cockroaches, this slick thriller meshes into a creepy-crawly nightmare that should please anyone looking for a solid single-sit read to knock off an hour or so.

This is the first tale I have read from the author and am quite impressed.

-Nick Cato

FAT ZOMBIE; STORIES OF THE UNLIKELY SURVIVORS OF THE APOCALYPSE edited by Paul Mannering (2015 Permuted Press / 170 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know those people who are convinced they’d do just fine in any sort of survival or post-apocalyptic situation. Some of us even are those people, or wish we were (I’m in the wish-I-was category, but since I don’t even camp well, am fat and squeamish, and depend on eyeglasses and meds, I realize I’d likely be zombie chow in short order).

In reality, while hardly anybody’s truly capable and ready, just like in real life there are advantages and disadvantages. Some are, for whatever reason, going to have it harder than others. And not simply in terms of not being an Olympic athlete or expert marksman.

This book is for those characters, the unlikeliest of survivors, the ones who already face burdens and struggles in their everyday lives that the average person might not even have to think about. Each of these eleven clever tales presents a different unusual take on the theme.

It opens with the painfully tragic and well-handled heart-wrencher, 'Denial,' by Jay Wilburn. Senility, Alzheimer’s, and dementia are terrible. High on my own list of worst-ever fears, emotionally agonizing after seeing loved ones decline.

'Perfect,' by Rachel Aukes, strikes a similar painful, poignant note, deftly dealing with the chaos and fear of the outbreak from the point of view of a little kid with Down’s Syndrome. Strongly done, impressive and effective.

Others high on my list here would have to include the Don-Quixote-esque glory days of 'El Caballero Muerte' by Martin Livings, Dan Rabarts’ wickedly devious 'Endgame,' and the brilliant resourcefulness of 'Mr. Schmidt’s Pet Emporium' by Sally McLennan.

The anthology closes with the ever-awesome Stephen Kozeniewski’s 'The New Dark Ages,' sure to strike some familiar chords with every gamer geek and LARPer among us … a funny/gross tale that takes a sudden, dark, sick turn toward the end.

-Christine Morgan

FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER by Mark Allan Gunnells (2015 Crystal Lake Publishing / 314 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

First of all I’d like to say that I am a huge fan of this man’s work. I’ve read a couple of other titles by him, and, from what I’ve seen so far, he delivers something unique and clever every time. This book is no exception, boasting a highly promising blurb from horror legend, Clive Barker himself. Gunnells manages to write every story from the bottom of his heart, in a way that the reader can connect to at all times even whilst managing to leave you in fear of wondering why you can connect with them from the start. This may even lead to some sort of psychosis you should probably get checked out sometime sooner than later.

According to the book description, here are “Seventeen Tales to Frighten and Enlighten. Gunnells will take you on a journey through landscapes of light and darkness, rapture and agony, hope and fear." 

This book delivers just as it promises. It kept me wondering what kind of story was coming next. I literally didn’t want to stop reading this book. The stories are all beautifully crafted and well written, Gunnells really managing to show us a genuine knack for the overall power that can be unleashed in a good old fashioned short story.

My personal favorites were 'Welcome,' a hard hitting in your face story of a legendary haunted house, in which a curse just so happens to consume the patrons inside for as long as necessary, or until the next lucky contestants just happen to come knocking, leaving those few inside the walls with no chance in hell of ever escaping it.  In 'The Possession,' Gunnells shows us in first person what it’s like to be a blossoming male pornstar in the big city, and not only does he do this with precision, he does this with an almost humorously first-hand account of a demonic possession. This wasn’t the only tale the author used sex and humor to sell us a horrific masterpiece either. He takes on a similar theme in 'Transformations,' although instead of being an up and coming pornstar in the big city (yes, pun intended. I’m sorry), the protagonist summons a homosexual demon, and he has to feed this man demon thirteen of his hot and bothered one night stands in exchange for something fiery and unforgettable. Our main character lures his dates home, shoves them back in the closet, and feeds them to this mysterious homosexual demonic entity. The author shows us just how prolific of a writer he really is by knocking out of the park 'The Bonadventures,' which reads somewhere between doomsday horror and science fiction, with a little of that old fashioned Goonies humor, and a plethora of glowing eyes amidst a haunted cemetery on a real live ghost hunt.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys their reading material well-written, dark, doomy, bizarre, grimy, witty, clever, and post-apocalyptic. A real gem for fans of horror and dark fiction alike.

-Jon Meyers

THE ALGERNON EFFECT by Gene O'Neill (2015 White Noise Press / 28pp / deluxe limited edition chapbook)

First time novelist Timothy Scully has a runaway best seller that's set to become a motion picture. His agent takes him to see a jazz concert at a secluded home for special needs people in the Napa Valley. Timothy falls for their house guide Ellie, and he eventually moves to 'The Mountain Farm' and becomes romantically involved with her. Timothy's agent learns Ellie is actually a resident and not just a worker there, and when he reads the first 75 pages of Tim's second novel, he is disturbed by how terrible it is.

A homage to Daniel Keyes' classic novel FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, O'Neill delivers a story that brings the weird in a meloncholy manner and the slick prose is highlighted by White Noise Press's always beautifully designed layouts.

Fans of the author don't want to miss this, and collectors are directed to WNP / The Algernon Effect

-Nick Cato

SING ME YOUR SCARS by Damien Angelica Walters (2015 Apex Book Company / 200 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

From the very beginning, with her debut novel, it was easy to see that Damien Walters was going to be an author to watch. This collection of her short stories only further proves the point. She is good. Really, really good. Not just a practiced wordsmith, not just a natural talent, not just an artist, but a genuine master artisan of the craft.

I mean, it’s kind of obnoxious, how good she is. Terms like ‘lyrical,’ ‘poetic,’ ‘evocative,’ and ‘powerful’ instantly spring to mind. Beautifully vivid descriptions, a deft but firm touch to the emotional harpstrings on any note from joy to dread.

A few of these stories, I’d seen before in their original appearances, but it was a treat to see them again. And even more of a treat to experience ones I hadn’t seen before. The real challenge came when it was time to write a review and try to single out my top picks. I don’t know if I can narrow it down much beyond: “they’re ALL terrific!”

Well, that and any sort of honorable mention is ever going to have to go to 'Always, They Whisper,' because it’s a mythology story, it’s a Medusa story, it’s an amazing, chilling, tragic, wonderful Medusa story. I love it.

The title tale is a haunting take on the Frankenstein theme, setting the tone for several explorations on the concept of self, of what makes us what we are – our physical form, our minds, our souls, our actions?

Others delve into the nature of family, of parenthood and parental influences for good or for ill, pain and loss and love and wonder in their myriad forms. And femininity, in its deepest essence, without being the least bit ‘girly.’

This is strength, and power, unseen mysteries, dark-secret magic. This is some Major Arcana High Priestess next level stuff here.

Did I mention, it’s kind of obnoxious, how good she is?

-Christine Morgan

HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS by Gary A. Braunbeck (2015 JournalStone / 576 pp / hardcover, trade paperback & eBook)

Usually, when I read a collection that features some stories I've read before, I tend to skim or skip them and focus on the new material. I attempted to do that here, but as I discovered, re-reading a tale from Braunbeck--in most cases--is actually beneficial. I intended to skim through the several I've read before but couldn't, and in fact found myself getting more out of them than I did the first time around.

In his foreword, Braunbeck explains what HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS (the title) is all about before launching into the fiction that's divided into three sections.

Part One, titled 'Throw it Against the Wall and See What Sticks' features what the author claims are stories from "All over the place," and among my favorites are 'Crybaby Bridge #25,' where an unnamed man deals with a past mistake on one of 25 legendary "bridges." Here's one powerful opener. 'House Hunting,' which is only five sentences long, is actually quite terrifying; 'All the Unlived Moments,' stars a de-programmer who uncovers a sinister group after saving an old woman's son from a cyber cult in this near-future noir; A sheriff takes in an old man with the mind of a 7 year-old in the beautiful 'Consolation'; Keeping with the old man theme, a senior citizen contemplates his life in the metaphorical epic, 'Bargain.'

'Patience' is a story I've now read three times, and it shows horror can be extreme without getting overly graphic: a man avenges his wife's suicide, caused by a hypocritical marriage counselor. If the conclusion doesn't make you cringe, you need some serious help. In the creepy 'Always Something There to Remind Me,' a couple watching DVD transfers of old home movies see life events that never actually happened. Serious goose-bump city here, folks.

Part Two, 'With a Little Help From My Friends,' features 16 stories, each introduced by different authors. We open with the incredible 'The Great Pity,' a disturbing look at memorial vigils and how different people view and use them; one of my favorites follows, titled 'In Hollow Houses,' about a junkie prostitute who is used to breed aliens by the Men In Black. The point of view here is fantastic. 'Afterward, There Will Be a Hallway' is arguably one of the all-time best short stories dealing with the afterlife--this is another tale that gets better with each reading. Bram Stoker and Charles Fort are characters in the excellent 'Curtain Call,' a vampire yarn as only Braunbeck can do it. 'Tales the Ashes Tell' is yet another great look at the afterlife as a girl tells us how she helped her dad deal with his wife's death.

In 'Just Out of Reach,' a real estate agent shows a man his future with an old-style Polaroid camera, then things get brutal in 'El Poso Del Mundo' as a Mexican thug tries to go big time but is hindered by a sleazy American. Did I menton this one was b-r-u-t-a-l?

'Redaction' features an office worker who can't remember his name, which has even vanished from all his I.D. cards. But that's only the begining of the weirdness in store for him; 'Chow Hound' is possibly the strangest tale of the collection, and easily one of the best; then we're treated to Braunbeck's 2005 Stoker-winning novella 'We Now Pause for Station Identification,' which I had the pleasure of hearing Gary read at the 2005 World Horror Convention in NYC. I think this was the 4th or 5th time I've read it, and it just never gets old. One of the best zombie stories of all time, and it wasn't until this latest revisit that I realized just how damn scary it is. Add a plus here for an encouraging introduction from Jonathan Maberry.

Part Three, 'Sometime When,' closes the collection with 12 tales the author considers to be among his best work, and the first two stories alone can easily be considered a part of that: 'Rami Temporales' (which I first read in the classic BORDERLANDS 5 anthology) tells the story of a helpful man who meets a strange character who has been assigned the task of making a face for God. Incredible doesn't even begin to describe it; In 'The Sisterhood of Plain-Faced Women,' an ordinary woman becomes beautiful, but learns there's more to life than looks. A surreal, beautiful narrative makes this a true standout.

'Union Dues' introduces us to a young man who becomes a factory worker in the wake of his father's death in this gripping look at family loyalty and blue collar hardship. Braunbeck adds brief but chilling elements to amazing effect here; In 'Dinosaur Day,' a man befriends his co-worker's abused, misfit son in an unforgettable tale with a finale to die for.

'Iphigenia' is a study in paranoia as a man attempts to attend a concert with his girlfriend and another couple. He's haunted by the death of his kid sister who died under his watch at another concert, and the author uses this springboard to crank the surreal terror up to 11; If you've never read 'Duty' before, get ready for an emotionally devastating time as siblings must keep their promise to pull the plug on their mother who is on her deathbed in ICU. This one will shake you to the core no matter how many times you read it.

For those who may have never read Gary Braunbeck, just be warned he has a way of digging into your soul like few others can. His ability to scare as he brings you to the point of tears is no easy feat, and despite how hard you may think you are, several offerings here have the power to reduce anyone into a bawling, shaking basket case. While a few genres are explored in these 40 tales, they all meet on a dark edge where, often, things are far from what they seem on the surface.

HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS will easily be cherished by fans of the author, and those who write dark fiction would be wise to pay close attention to Braunbeck's style and structure. Here's one thick volume that I'll surely be reaching for again and again.

-Nick Cato

SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE WEREWOLF by Mark Orr (2012 Belfire Press / 246 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

So, over roughly the same couple-week span of time, my sporadic recreational entertainment consisted mostly of this book and Netflix’s Jessica Jones. Is it possible to get super-noir overload? Super-powered in the viewing case, super-natural in the reading case, but dang, what a ride!

Plenty of grit, plenty of drama, dangerous attractions, secrets, scandals, violence, wisecracks, and witty banter … what’s not to love? Best of all, in both, the actual flamboyance of the genre tropes was downplayed to take a backseat to the detective angles instead of being center-stage. Here are main characters with unusual abilities that certainly come in handy in their respective lines of work, but aren’t made a big flashy deal of.

Or even really explained, in the course of things. Just isn’t needed. We can accept without being given all the info dump history right up front that Jessica has extraordinary strength … and we can accept, without being told a reason, that Harvey Drago can go insubstantial. That’s just the way it is, and it isn’t the main focus of the story.

Neither, despite the title, is lycanthrope. Yes, there’s been a series of grisly murders, courtesy of what the press has dubbed The West-End Werewolf, and yes, Drago’s been hired to look into them. But what follows isn’t a monster hunt. It’s a mystery, and unraveling the various clues and connections like any good gumshoe is the whole point.

Along, of course, with complicated entanglements involving the ethics of involvement with clients, professional detachment, working with (or around) the police, etc. The more Drago pokes into the case, the more he’s led into deeper trouble, and the more enemies he makes along the way.

The glut of minor characters did bog me down a few times, and some of the relationships between them came off a bit forced, but overall Drago presented as a likable and sympathetic guy, troubled but not broken, unable to get close to anyone for not quite the usual reasons.

The setting’s modern and Tennessee, but the noir-nostalgia factor is there, and it still feels in many ways like an old black-and-white movie. And the ending leaves opportunity for further adventures, which is always aces in my book.

-Christine Morgan