Sunday, March 2, 2014

MARCH, 2014 Reviews

MARCH, 2014 REVIEWS

(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story. Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out. Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.)

(NOTE: Authors and/or publishers looking for submission info, please see the very bottom of this blog page. Thank you).
 
NOW IN OUR 11TH YEAR!
 
 
GLIMPSES: THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF RICK HAUTALA (2013 Dark Regions Press / 308 pp / tp & eBook)
 
These 24 stories are collected here to show off not only Hautala's classic horror, but his dabblings in other genres. While most of the offerings in this career-spanning tome are horror (and all previously published), there are several I had not read before.
 
Along my favorites are 'Colt .24,' a fresh spin on the deal-with-the-devil story, 'The Hum,' which I found to be one of the creepiest of the book, and 'Blossoms in the WInd,' which I consider an absolutely brilliant take on 9/11.
 
Like most collections there are a few tales here that just didn't grab me (especially 'A Good Day For Dragons,' a YA-type fantasy tale), and a few were a bit predictable. But Hautala's prose is always sharp, and his ghost stories get some serious chills going (see 'Black Iron' for a fine example).
 
While I'd still recommend BEDBUGS for those seeking some of Rick's finer short stories, GLIMPSES is a good introduction to the late author's work for those who may be unfamiliar with him.
 
-Nick Cato
 
 
 
 
DEATH MACHINES OF DEATH by Vince Kramer (2013 Eraserhead Press / 150 pp / tp)

I got this book when I was supposed to be doing other stuff, made the mistake of glancing inside just to see what I was getting myself into, and had to damn near physically force myself to stop reading. I almost needed an intervention.

Because, come on, anything that opens with an Author’s Note like you’ve never seen before, then launches into Stephen King getting his butt kicked by appliances in a tribute that far exceeds even the most hilarious moments of Maximum Overdrive …

Suffice to say, that sets the stage more than adequately. DEATH MACHINES OF DEATH is the sublime AND the ridiculous in one wild, funny, gory, nasty bundle of LOL. Literally LOL; I had to stop several times to share choice gems with the rest of the household. Which mostly earned me thunderstruck looks and probably them thinking that yes, I did need an intervention after all. One of my housemates was all, "you’re reading this, why?" and I could just reply, "because it’s awesome!"

And indeed it is. It’s written in a delightful tongue-in-cheek fashion, with Narrator interludes and Author interludes and arguments between the Narrator and the Author. The fourth wall doesn’t get broken so much as demolished. The continuity errors are on purpose and for fun, the characters are wacky, the language is often offensive (if "the r-word" bothers you, then you might be in for a bad time here) but very clever.

There’s even a plot – Earth passes through the tail of a comet, machines start killing people, and at the world’s biggest fanciest hotel and convention center, several events are going on with no idea of what’s about to hit them. When the events include a singles mixer for people with mono, a seniors anti-aging and rejuvenation seminar, and "How to Stop Being Retarded, Crippled, Insane, or Gay" (remember that warning above), the usual band of survivors fighting to escape the apocalyptic carnage is anything BUT your usual band of survivors.

Reading this book is not unlike being at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party of hyperactive, caffinated and sugared-up twelve year old boys all trying to tell you about their favorite video games and robot movie fight scenes at once.

So, just remember – you’re reading this, why? Because it’s AWESOME!

-Christine Morgan



 
HELL HATH NO FURY edited by T.W. Brown (2012 May December Publications / 274 pp / tp)

HELL HATH NO FURY is an amazing collection of zombie stories, all written by women.

Some of my favorite stories include "Pieces" by Rebecca Snow, a heartbreaking story about the dead coming back to deal with unfinished business, and one woman’s attempt to show her past lovers how they broke her heart; "Waking the Dead" by Chantal Boudreau, an effectively creepy story about coffee beans obtained on the black market from Haiti so a local coffee shop can compete with big chains moving in; "Sliding Into Second" by Elsa M. Carruthers, a distinctively scary tale about a sexually transmitted disease turning its victims into zombies; and "The Petitioners" by Rebecca Lloyd, a darkly funny yet cautionary story about zombies showing up at the offices of a greedy and oblivious governor with paperwork in hand to get their benefits.

The stories in HELL HATH NO FURY are off-beat and original, with a unique perspective from the female authors who penned them. The artwork and story intros are a nice touch. All of the stories are entertaining and if you’re a zombie fan, you will love them.

~Colleen Wanglund



 


NAMELESS: THE DARKNESS COMES by Mercedes M. Yardley (2014 Ragnarok Publications / 310 pp / tp & eBook)

Yardley's first installment in this planned trilogy centers around Luna, a woman who has had the ability to see demons since she was very young. She lives with her brother Seth and together they take care of Seth's daughter Lydia. In THE DARKNESS COMES, Lydia is kidnapped and Luna is on a mission to get her back. She's helped by a demon she calls 'Mouth' (although her stubborness often fights his aid) and her semi love-interest Reed Taylor, a former drug addict.

While I enjoyed the character of Luna (I sense some readers might find her sarcasm and hard-headness a bit tiring at times, although I didn't), I'm hoping in the next two books Yardley reveals a lot more on why Luna is able to see and communicate with demons (although a bit is given when talking about her late father). While Mouth provides a lot of the supernatural interaction here, there's several scenes of Luna doing her thing with other demons that work quite well. These demonic interactions make the novel a bit different from similar urban fantasy tales that I've read, where at times we're not completely sure if Luna is actually talking with the creatures or having some kind of hallucination or flashback: much of her background is kept in the dark, but again I'll just assume this is to bait the reader for the next two books.

NAMELESS moves quickly, and despite being a (mostly) easy read, Yardley throws in a brilliant scene dealing with a suicide attempt that gives this otherwise humorous tale a serious dark edge, and helps prep the reader for a gruesome finale. I'm anticipating the next chapter and am interested to see where the author takes Luna and her little crew of outcasts in this promising dark fantasy/horror-hybrid trilogy.

-Nick Cato



 


GROWING CONCERNS edited by Alex Hurst (2014 Chupa Cabra House / 180 pp / tp & eBook)

Ever have one of those days where it feels like Mother Nature is getting mighty tired of her bratty kids? Sit down, shut up, quit poking your sister, you better not take that tone with me, don’t make me turn this planet around … that kind of thing? The noise, the mess, some of those stains are never going to wash out!

And really, could you blame her? Mother Nature, the environment, the eco-system, Gaia, the biosphere, the delicate balance, the circle of life, whatever you want to call it … we humans haven’t exactly been on our best behavior these past few centuries. Sooner or later, we’re gonna be sorry, and we’re gonna pay.
 
The theme of this anthology is just that, ‘eco-horror,’ in which the natural world strikes back. But not with earthquakes and ice ages, viruses, or nuclear war; not with asteroids or aliens or animals run amok. The focus of GROWING CONCERNS is the green stuff, plant life.

Which may start off small, but before you know it … it has a way of spreading, and digging in, and being hard to eradicate.

My favorites of the bunch include "The Wisteria" by Donna A. Leahey (by the time you notice something’s getting out of control, be it the foliage or the marriage, it might be too late for a quick fix), James S. Dorr’s "Seeds" (an inept ‘brown thumb’ myself, I felt for the guy in this one), "Finding His Roots" by Barry Rosenberg (a fun little mad science romp with some surprises), and the odd and eerily haunting "Stalagmite Girl" by Jennifer Clark.
 
These eighteen tales offer selections as wild, lush and varied as a stroll through the farmer’s market. Whether you’re into delicate flowers or tenacious ground-cover, botanical tinkering taken to the next level or going back to primal forces with pagan sacrifices to the hungry earth, you’ll find it here.

-Christine Morgan



 


THINGS SLIP THROUGH by Kevin Lucia (2013 Crystal Lake Publishing / 324 pp / tp)

In the small Adirondack town of Clifton Heights, four friends have gathered for their weekly poker night. Chris, the town sheriff, has decided he’d rather have answers than play cards. There have been strange disappearances since Chris came to Clifton Heights a year ago, disappearances that he has been unable to solve. Gavin, a teacher and former writer, is the one who will give Chris the answers he seeks. Gavin hands over a journal with short stories he has written about the strange happenings, from the original shooting that brought the four friends together, to Gavin’s story of alcoholism and redemption, as well as what happened to those who seemingly disappeared into thin air. As Chris reads through the stories, he ends up with even more questions.

THINGS SLIP THROUGH is a short story collection brilliantly disguised as a novel. Kevin Lucia spins an entertaining tale that allows the individual stories to seamlessly coalesce into one story of a very weird and creepy little town and some of its odd residents. The characters are well-developed, and I really empathized with Chris and his unique situation. Lucia’s prose is dark, sharp, and inventive and kept me hooked—I read the book in two sittings. I, for one, hope to see some of these characters again, especially the villainous Dr. Jeffers and his disturbing hospital. I highly recommend it.

~Colleen Wanglund



 


WORMS IN THE NEEDLE by Jonathan Moon (2014 MorbidbookS / 170 pp / tp & eBook)

Reading and reviewing this one at the height of the Olympics, so, this one scores well for spirit, difficulty of routine (first person present tense, a risky maneuver) and costuming … but it does lose some serious points on some technical issues.

Intriguing premise, fun story, but MAJORLY needed another editorial / proofreading pass. Mostly wrong-word stuff that a spellchecker wouldn’t catch, but prevalent and jarring enough to make the rest difficult to fully appreciate or enjoy.

So, here’s the squirmy-wormy lowdown: the fall of civilization is kind of our own fault, because when a hitherto-unknown species of glowing invertebrate is discovered in some weird ancient underground temple, after a while the scientists are going to run out of sensible experiments and someone’s going to realize they’ve found the newest designer drug.

Before long, most of humanity’s hooked. Productivity goes out the window. Society disintegrates. Governments and familial bonds break down. And, as is often the case in these matters, eventually the demand becomes greater than the supply.


We join our (nameless? I can’t recall a name for him and couldn’t find one on further checking, but maybe I just missed it) protagonist and his girlfriend, crashing after their latest Worm-induced high.

Their quest to secure the next dose takes them out into the decaying cityscape, where they have to navigate all the usual urban hazards plus some new ones – cultists, cyborg militia, fellow desperate strung-out addicts, and what seems to be a mutant strain of Worm with some worse-than-usual side effects.

In what, during the course of the story, seems a quite natural and reasonable progression of events, a simple attempt to find a drug dealer turns into a crazypants running gunbattle through abandoned tenements, armed camps, and cult compounds.

Lots of action, some really nice use of colorful and vivid description, ambitious, and entertaining. But yeah. Little more attention to the edits would be great.

-Christine Morgan



SPLATTERPUNK (Issue 1 / April 2012)

Edited by Jack Bantry, SPLATTERPUNK is a horror fiction magazine that will see just its second issue out this spring. It’s a small magazine but it packs quite a punch.

The short stories include "Love at First Sting" by Dave Benton and DW Gagliani about a man who hires a hitman to kill his wife and it seems as though she may get her revenge with a little help from Mother Nature; "Confession" by Jeff Strand about a psychopath who confesses to a string of serial murders—maybe; "Twisted Reality" by Jack Bantry about a serial killer with a twisted agenda; and "Brats" by Tim Curran about the world being turned upside down at a suburban train station where children seem to have gone feral and animalistic. I felt all of the stories were fantastic.

Included within the pages is a column by Wayne Simmons called Punk on Punk as well as two huge interviews. Jack Bantry interviews Jack Ketchum about his project The Woman with Lucky McGee. Wayne Simmons did a joint interview with Andre Duza and Wrath James White about the meaning of Splatterpunk and their collaborative novella Son of a Bitch. There is also some fine artwork by Adam Hall and Dan Henk. I really like the idea of a small zine that focuses on such great talent and I do recommend you check it out.

You can pick up your copy at splatterpunkzine.wordpress.com.

~Colleen Wanglund

 
 
 
 

PUS JUNKIES by Shane McKenzie (2014 Eraserhead Press / 180 pp / tp & eBook)

I’d been kind of figuring it’d be Wrath James White and/or Monica O’Rourke who fully tested my limits. Then I read this book. Shane McKenzie blasted past my limits so fast the sign was torn off the post and left spinning in the burning tire tracks.

Basically, this may just be the ickiest book of all time. OF ALL TIME. Especially the first ¾ or so … after that, it either eased up or my psyche was so damaged I’d gone numb.

Ickiest book. The title alone should warn you of that. If the title doesn’t, a glimpse of the cover should. Then there’s the author’s reputation. Then there’s reviews like mine here. If, after all that, you read it and still have the nerve to be shocked, surprised or offended by the ooginess, on your own head be it.

The central character of this charming adolescent adventure is Kip, your typical teen loser with no social life and a horrible complexion. Really horrible. Zit City. All over. Whole-body acne. Huge, painful, oozing, volcanic acne.

So bad, in fact, that the other kids call him Toad. But, funny thing, you know how there’s those toads whose skin excretes drugs? Crazy-mad, addictive, probably poisonous drugs? And still, people go around LICKING them?

Guess what Kip’s classmates are about to discover. Guess who’s about to become the most popular guy in school? Guess who’s about to learn the hard way that getting what you always wished for is usually not all it’s cracked up to be?

Kip’s cousin Zack has some ideas about that. Zack’s got looks and charm and bad-boy cred, doesn’t have any problems attracting the ladies, but Zack knows a little about drugs, and addiction, and what happens when people start getting desperate for their fix.

What follows is probably way worse than even your most "oh it can’t be THAT bad" expectations. Because, yes it can. Yes it is. The … sensory descriptions … visual and tactile and otherwise …

Having a Proactiv commercial appear on the TV just as I was finishing didn’t help. Or, it did. There’s an endorsement deal waiting to happen!

-Christine Morgan



 


FRESH FEAR edited by William Cook (2013 James Ward Kirk Publishing / 366 pp / tp & eBook)

Once again, we’re at the portion of the show where I shamelessly review an anthology in which I have a story, so, bias alert, woop-woop-woop!

Okay. Well. Of course this is a fantastic bunch of stories, 28 of them and from names including Ramsey Campbell, Lincoln Crisler, Billie Sue Mosiman, W.H. Pugmire and J.F. Gonzalez, with an intro from THE ART OF DARKNESS by W.J. Renehan. I defy anybody to tell me you can go wrong with a lineup like that, let alone the rest of the goodies packed between the covers.

I confess that while I normally read anthologies from beginning to end, this time I cheated and jumped ahead to read Shane McKenzie’s first. I couldn’t resist, and I wasn’t let down. If you’re only familiar with him from his more over-the-top works, this one ("So Much Pain, So Much Death") might seem mild by comparison but goes right for the nerve clusters and does this eeeeevil pinchy-twisty thing.

Other particular personal top picks:

"Strange Tastes" by Lily Childs demonstrates how hard it can be to find and keep good help these days.

D.F. Noble’s "Psych" and Dane Hatchell’s "The ‘takers" offer two very different but altogether creepy peeks into similar (and, to me, familiar) settings.

"Out of the Light" by Anna Taborska brings it old-school in several senses of the phrase, while Charlee Jacob’s "Locked Inside The Buzzword Box" tackles a challenging experimental style with aplomp.

"Scare Me" by Brandon Ford is a terrifying but engrossing journey down a road some of us might have traveled a time or two ourselves.

And for insidious revenge stories, Thomas Erb’s "Spencer Weaver Gets Rebooted" and Lindsey Beth Goddard’s "The Tooth Collector" are both very darkly satisfying.

So, yeah … you might not find everything you’re afraid of within these pages … but you’re bound to find a few of your favorite fears … and quite possibly discover some new ones you didn’t even know you had, but sure do now!

-Christine Morgan



 


BITE CLUB by Hal Bodner (2005/2011 wehovampire.com / 320 pp / tp & eBook)

If all "urban fantasy / paranormal romance" was like this, I would read it a LOT more. I mean, sure, I read Patty Briggs, I used to play Vampire: The Masquerade back in the day, I know the tropes (and, having been subjected to some of the Twilight franchise and its even worse derivatives, too much of the tripes).

THIS, this here in BITE CLUB, this is how it should be. This is a universe I’d love to game in. THIS is how ancient hidden societies of vampires and werewolves should function, in their oddball unique ways. And the ghouls? LOVE them!

Seriously. This is great stuff, right here. Funny, scary, exciting, hilarious, naughty, outrageous, the wicked wit of the west, and just all-around FAAAANGULOUS.

Vampires in West Hollywood.

What more, honestly, do I need to say?

Hot guys. Toned bods. Eye candy. Drag queens. Porn stars. Cattiness and bitchfights. Gyms. Clubs. Bath-houses. "Toy" shops. Fashion. History. And vampires. Gay vampires.

They don’t sparkle. Because, honey, they don’t NEED to.

There just are not enough words to express the magnificence of this.

Add a character I could identify with so strongly that I want to play her in the movie – the fat and forty-something city coroner, scalpel in one hand and unhealthy snack in the other … cutting up dead people on the job, BFFs with a brooding mystery man, and surrounded by gorgeous young studs? Where do I sign up?

When a series of bodies (hot, toned, eye candy bodies) start turning up mutilated and drained of blood, the coroner and other city officials have reason to be concerned. Especially with the Halloween party/parade coming up. They need to catch the killer. Which means finding the killer … who, of course, is no ordinary killer.

Neither the humans nor the vampires want the truth to get out about the monster in their midst, so some unlikely team-ups are required.
 
How weird is it that this is a vampire book I’d recommend to both my mom and my daughter? Yeah, okay, that does sound weird. But, if you knew my mom and my daughter …

I would, though. And to all my gay friends, my horror-fan friends, my … you know, I will recommend this to just about anybody. The people who’ll love it will love it as much as I do, and the people who’ll hate it, well, their heads will explode and good riddance.

BITE CLUB is, as of this reviewing, out of print, but about to be released in a new edition from Crossroads Press. Don’t miss it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the wolfy sequel’s calling to me like a full moon.

-Christine Morgan



 


FAMILY TRADITION by Edward Lee and John Pelan (2014 Necro Publications / 160 pp / hc, tp, & eBook)

I live in the Pacific Northwest, I love me some nasty-gross books, and we watch a lot of cooking and celebrity chef shows. FAMILY TRADITION, having all three, was therefore a can’t miss, and it more than lived up to expectations!

That said, I’ve lived in Seattle for more than twenty years now and have yet to hear any of the locals cutting loose with pure Ed Lee hillbilly jargon. But then, I also haven’t explored much of the more remote regions of the state … and no matter how beautiful the scenery, stories like this aren’t likely to encourage me.

Besides, eels. The picturesque lake of the setting here just teems with them, rare Crackjaw Eels that are a delicacy and eagerly sought-after by the spendiest restaurants. Fine. Good for them. Nothing like giant toothy ugly slimy EELS to make me want to go swimming or fishing or relaxing on a boat.

Eels. Yuck. Eels plus a pair of island-dwelling brothers – one of whom is into, shall we say, rather experimental haute cuisine. He can’t believe his luck when one of his television idols comes looking for those elusive eels, giving him a chance to fanboy and show off his skills.

The other brother is more prosaic, but no less freakish. And then there’s their grandfather, who has his own peculiar appetites. And deadly feuds between rival restauraneurs, and big-talking guys with dissatisfied girlfriends, and unfortunate hikers and would-be suicidal teens … it turns out to be a very busy weekend at the isolated lake!

The only problem with the book is some weird formatting, punctuation glitches that sneaked by. That is, unless you have problems with twisted sex, torture, cannibalism, and about every bodily function there is. If so, I shouldn’t have to warn you away.

Written with full freewheeling gusto and panache, Family Traditions enthusiastically starts off places nobody should ever want to go, and keeps right on going. Unforgettable. And likely to make you take a couple sidelong looks at your favorite cooking shows or pricey eateries.

-Christine Morgan


CHECK BACK TO THIS BLOG IN A FEW DAYS FOR A VERY SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT!




Sunday, February 2, 2014

February, 2014 Reviews

FEBRUARY,  2014 REVIEWS


(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story. Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out. Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.)

(NOTE: Authors and/or publishers looking for submission info, please see the very bottom of this blog page. Thank you).
 
 
PREVIEW:
 
THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Tim Waggoner (to be released 4/1/14 by Samhain Publishing / 248 pp / tp and eBook)

If anyone can give the zombie apocalypse a much needed kick in the pants, it's Tim Waggoner, who has a knack for taking conventional horror tropes and giving them a deliciously bizarre spin. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH is no exception.

One of our main characters is David, a man trying to understand why he's suddenly in a strange new world full of two kinds of creatures: one that looks human but are on a constant hunt for human food, and the other a demonic spawn who seem to want nothing more than hunt the human-like folks for sport. We learn right away that David is a zombie, and like Philip Nutman's classic 1994 novel WET WORK, much of this tale is told from the zombie's point of view, although fans of Nutman's book need not worry; this is done from a completely different angle, as David is guided on a quest to find his family by a strange young kid in a Megadeth T-shirt who seems to know why everything is happening.

A small group of people who weren't infected by the "Blacktide Virus" reside in a reinforced high school. Among them is David's sister Kate, who can sort-of communicate with her brother psychically, and her girlfriend who studies the zombies. The group is led by Joe, who had spent his time before the apocalypse playing zombie survival video games ... and his skills are actually used in a big way now that fantasy has become reality. And most interesting here is Nicholas, who just happened to have been a serial killer in the old world. But his urges have returned, and now he's getting tired of torturing the undead in an isolated shed and has his eyes set on the remaining humans.

THE WAY OF ALL FLESH offers some interesting ideas (one which was brilliantly used in Simon Clark's 1995 gut-muncher BLOOD CRAZY), but the ultimate reason for the zombie outbreak will cause hardcore fans (and writers) of this subgenre to slap themselves in the head and say "Why didn't I think of that?!" With plenty of gross zombie mayhem fans of this stuff have come to expect, several neat twists, and a conclusion that is as absurd, bizarre, and original as things can be while still being believable, here's one zombie novel that, while familiar at times, manages to unleash new things every time the reader thinks it won't.

-Nick Cato


 


INNOCENCE by Dean Koontz (2013 Bantam Books / 352 pp / hc, eBook, audioBook)

As long-time readers of the HFR may recall, I’ve occasionally had some less-than-stellar things to say about the later works by Dean Koontz. I’ve expressed the opinion that he peaked around the era of STRANGERS, LIGHTNING, and PHANTOMS … cruised along for a while, and then …

And then, well, he started overdoing it. Overwrought, over-poetic, over-written, over-preachy, over-everything. Lofty holier-than-though good-vs.-evil themes, wringing THE most obscure words from the thesaurus, beating the reader over the head with show-offy infodumps, etc.

Not always, though. That’s the hardest part. Some of the recent ones haven’t been that bad. It’s put me in a weird spot. Here’s one of my once-favorite authors, but I can’t quite bring myself to buy his books new, but I hold onto enough hope and nostalgia that if I find ‘em paperback at the used bookstore I might snag a copy (unless they’re Odd Thomas, in which case NO).

So, when I received INNOCENCE as a holiday gift, I decided to give it a try. At first, I thought it was going to be Koontz’s take on Beauty and the Beast fanfic – not the Disney movie; I mean the series with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton.

We’ve got this moody broody dude living in the sewers because he can’t show his face aboveground without fear of being attacked, and a mystery manic pixie dream girl, and secrets, and angst, and pining away. Plus, supernatural forces flitting about, a cariacature bad guy after the girl, magic items, freaky marionettes, and a whole lot of really squiky and uncomfortable rapey elements to prove how bad the bad guy is.

Urk. All that and the smug sort of I-know-something-you-don’t-know authorial taunting and teasing and withholding answers, which can be mighty annoying. Also, right about maybe when you’re thinking you’ve gotten through the book without too much quasi-saintly sermonizing and pure-perfect saintly angel dogs … guess what?

Mostly, though, what struck me about this book was that there’s a scene in which a character dies by ingesting poisonous creamed honey … and that pretty well describes what reading the prose is like. Thick, cloying, excessively rich and sweet, lavish, pretentious, and, honestly, kinda sickening and toxic.

-Christine Morgan


 
GRAVITY COMICS MASSACRE by Vincenzo Bilof (2013 Bizarro Pulp Press / 131 pp / tp)

Brian, or Brain as he is called by his friends, is on a road trip with Jack, Miko, Kirk, and Jamie. They are headed to the abandoned town of Hooksville, Arizona to see Gravity Comics, at one time the best comics store around and then the scene of some grisly multiple murders committed by the owner, Damien. While Brain is fascinated with Damien’s story, Jack, a drug dealer, has got it in his head to start a large-scale drug operation out of the empty ghost town.

When the group arrives in Hooksville, they find a lone man living on the streets, presumably homeless. One by one, the friends become victims of whatever is still surviving in the town, and more specifically, in Gravity Comics. Was Damien a psycho? Are aliens involved, as Brain believes? Is Brain a psycho?

GRAVITY COMICS MASSACRE is an excellent horror/bizarro story, with plenty of weird and gore to go around. The character development is fantastic. You almost feel sorry for everyone, even Damien at some point. Bilof’s book is schizophrenic, blurring the line between reality and delusion. You do not have to be a fan of Bizarro to enjoy GRAVITY COMICS MASSACRE, as it appeals to especially dark horror fans, as well.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


WHEN THEY CAME BACK by Christopher Conlon (2013 Bear Manor Media / 110pp / tp)

Here's a poetic tale set in 1899, Nebraska, dealing with a strange black rain that not only burns people's skin, but manages to bring the dead back to life. However, this is no zombie story and it's anything but a typical apocalyptic romp; it's yet another fresh creation that can only come from the mind of Christopher Conlon. Highlighted by Roberta Lannes-Sealey's moody and eerie photographs, Conlon's irresistible storytelling pulled me through this in one sitting. Short, sweet, and highly recommended.

-Nick Cato


 


TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS edited by Richard Chizmar (2013/14 Cemetery Dance / 200 pp / hc and limited edition hc)

"It was December 1988" … the first line on the back cover and in the introduction to this book, celebrating twenty-five years of Cemetery Dance.

Hits like a hammer-blow, doesn’t it? Wow. Does it make you feel old? It should. It sure does for me. A quarter of a century. Time enough for an entire generation to grow from gleams in parental eyes to responsible (we hope) adults.

So much has changed in the world since then! We’re living now in a future not quite like what anybody back then was imagining, some of it positive and others less so, highs and lows, ups and downs. But one thing, fortunately, has never changed all that much. We still – maybe not enough of us, to be sure – love a good story. And a good scare.

Horror has definitely seen its share of that highs-and-lows rollercoaster, and for these past two and a half decades, Cemetery Dance Magazine has been along for the ride. TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS is an anthology celebrating several of the great authors who’ve been there from the beginning and helped make it all possible.

And not in a best-of retrospective clip show, no. For one thing, after seventy issues and almost 300 books, such a best-of would end up being a gigantic cinderblock of a book (though really, who’d complain? not me!). For another, how would you ever be able to decide?

No, instead, TURN DOWN THE LIGHTS brings us ten original tales by some of the biggest names in the biz. Running the gaze along the Table of Contents is like scanning a Hall of Fame plaque. Or a horror fan’s dream Jeopardy category-board.

Seriously, look at this lineup: Stephen King, Norman Partridge, Jack Ketchum, Brian James Freeman, Bentley Little, Ed Gorman, Ronald Kelly, Steve Rasnic Tem, Clive Barker, Peter Straub.

The introduction by Richard Chizmar and the afterword by Tom Monteleone take us on a time-capsule flashback tour of how it all began, back in the day when some of you whippersnappers might not even have been born yet (I myself, being only a year or so younger than Mr. Chizmar, was also in college … but while he was launching what would be the start of a genre media empire, I was in charge of our gaming club newsletter).

The stories between introduction and afterword make a grand, fitting tribute to honor Cemetery Dance. Any one of them alone is well worth the cover price. As a package deal? You can’t get your hands on this book fast enough!

-Christine Morgan


 


HELL GATE by Elizabeth Massie (2013 DarkFuse / 251 pp / tp)

After a brutal murder in a hotel room in 1909 Coney Island, Suzanne Heath is asked by Lt. Granger to aid in the investigation. Suzanne has visions of a person’s life when she touches them, and had previously helped Granger’s daughter, Coralie, after the girl had been viciously attacked. Suzanne has had this ability ever since she was a child, but her mother believed her to be evil. Sending her away to school, Suzanne makes friends with girls who have similar "powers", but after a major incident, Suzanne runs away. Now living in Coney Island with her friend Cittie, who rescued her after she ran from the school, Suzanne is determined to discover the cause of the murder. She discovers a link with a "hidden" show full of zombie-like people and the propietor’s sinister motive. Suzanne is now in danger.

First of all, I love the setting for HELL GATE. It contrasts the innocence of the time against the brutality of what is going on with a seemingly innocuous side show, in a place full of distractions from everyday life. Suzanne is complex character, despising her powers on the one hand, yet determined to help solve the crime that the police have arrested her friend Cittie for. And she holds her own when forced to go up against a cop whose views on women are less than complimentary. As the story unfolded, I thought I knew who was who and what was going to happen. I thought wrong. Massie throws quite a curve ball that I never saw coming. HELL GATE is a supernatural thriller that is sure to make your hair stand on end.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


THE LAST NIGHT OF OCTOBER by Greg Chapman (2013 Bad Moon Books / 104 pp / tp & eBook)

Nifty tale of a 70 year-old man who dreads Halloween. He suffers emphysema, and when a substitute house nurse comes by to check on him, she lets a trick-or-treater in who causes both their worlds to meet with a dark destiny.

Chapman's novella takes familiar Halloween tropes and twists them into something fresh ... even his back story section is exciting and well done. A fine seasonal read and a great horror tale for anytime of the year.

-Nick Cato


 


CRIME SEEN by Michaelbrent Collings (2014 Amazon Digital / 233 pp / tp and eBook)

Dark, gritty, haunting and spooky … it’s paranormal cop drama action movie time! In book form, okay, but the writing is so visual it’s easy to forget you’re reading and not experiencing it in the theater.

In fact, it’s better this way, because you’re not getting gouged at the box office and again at the snack bar, you have your choice of comfy seats, are less likely to be surrounded by obnoxious strangers, and don’t have to endure 20 minutes of pre-preview ads, then previews, then more ads and a snarky reminder to turn off your phone.

Saying all that makes it sound like I’m against movies, which presents a problem because this book would really make an awesome film. It deserves to be. Someone get on that.

Crime Seen is the story of Evan White, a police detective on the trail of his wife’s murderer. Desperate for answers, he’s willing to follow up on any lead, no matter how bogus or weird. That’s how he and his partner, tough-but-gorgeous scrapper Angela Listings, end up waiting at a bar to meet a possible informant … who then turns out to be much more than he seems.

Next thing you know, they’ve got a dead drunk, and a killer with uncanny reflexes and the apparent ability to ignore gunshot wounds as well as vanish without a trace. Who also likes making cryptic, taunting remarks about White’s dead wife. While Listings wants to do this by-the-book (or, by HER book, which differs in certain respects from the official law-and-order book), White’s investigation takes him to an occult shop … and from there it just keeps on getting weirder.

For example, the shop’s security videos, which are distorted but somehow compelling. Or White’s discoveries about his wife’s secrets, including a mysterious connection to a mysic from the occult shop. Or what really happened the night that she died.

A great read with creeping insidious chills and sudden gut-punches, CRIME SEEN is another winner from an author who’s yet to let me down.

-Christine Morgan
 




IN DARK CORNERS by Gene O’Neill (2012 Genius Publishing / 320 pp / tp)

With an introduction by Scott Edelman and an afterword by John R. Little, IN DARK CORNERS is a collection of Gene O’Neill’s short horror and scifi fiction.

Among my favorites include "Metempsychosis", a funny but darkly creepy story about a man who has killed his business partner, only to have that man’s soul transfer into the body of a fly, which torments the businessman for the rest of his days; "Return of the Iceman", a bleak dystopian story in which reading, writing, and science have been outlawed in the wake of economic and ecological collapse; "Masquerade" about a party held by the decadent and cruel Uppers while below the Commoners struggle for survival; "A Fine Day at the Zoo", an immensely scary story about the lone survivor of a mass Ebola outbreak; and "When Legends Die" about an incubus hiding out in a mental hospital.


Other great stories include "Jackie" about a woman with Multiple Personality Disorder that is passed from person to person; "10th St. Wolfpack is Bad!" about a weird post-apocalyptic world where cities are run by gangs implanted with chips that allow them to change into animal/human hybrids, and what happens when one gang finds a vampire in their lair; "The Hitchhiking Effect", a frightening story about a crew "rescued" by aliens, only to turn them into an experiment on human emotional responses; and the heartbreaking "In the Big Window" about a man who jumps from the Golden Gate Bridge in suicide attempt, only to find himself trapped inside of a mannequin.

IN DARK CORNERS is an excellent collection, without a bad story in the bunch. If you like the horror/scifi mix, then O’Neill’s collection is a definite read.

-Colleen Wanglund




 
 
DOWN by Nate Southard (2012 Sinister Grin Press / 144 pp / tp & eBook)

It might be impossible these days not to compare something that starts with a plane crash and involves grim survival against inexplicable monsters and mystery to LOST so, I’ll just go ahead and get that out of the way right from the start.

Like LOST, only good! Much gorier, much scarier. Best of all, a compact story, tightly written and complete. Weirdness, yes, plenty of weirdness. A couple questions left tantalizingly unanswered, but in a way that makes sense.

The Frequency Brothers are a rock band, with a name that doesn’t quite fit since two of the three members are female, and they’re the only ones who are related … sisters instead of brothers. Accompanied by one of the women’s husbands, their manager, and a Rolling Stone reporter doing a feature, they board a chartered jet to fly from one gig to the next.

That’s when it all goes wrong. Or, when it starts to go wrong. Their plane doesn’t just crash, but crashes in a spectacular wreck of twisted metal and blazing debris. Smack in the middle of the wilderness. Killing some, injuring most, not leaving anybody in good shape to seek help.

Bad enough, right? Oh, never! Not when the crash site is nearly on top of a strange bloodsoaked sinkhole littered with carcasses … not when something big, roaring and hairy is trying to tear its way into the crumpled fuselage to get at the fresh meat … not when there are messages and strange symbols carved into the trees …

Besides, stressful situations tend to bring out the worst in people, even people who might normally have their act together. For people struggling with addictions, or secrets that have been weighing heavy on their minds, or urgent business elsewhere, it doesn’t take much to hit the breaking point.

Fun, exciting, at-one-sitting read … spine-tinglery for sure, especially if you’re not a fan of flying, or being stranded in the woods. So yeah, maybe NOT one to read on an airplane.

-Christine Morgan

 
 
MAGAZINES:
 
 
MIDNIGHT ECHO ISSUE 8 The magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association (edited by Mark Farrugia, Amanda J. Spedding, and Marty Young)

From the Australian HWA, MIDNIGHT ECHO is a magazine dedicated to bring the reader the best tin horror fiction, poetry, and artwork, as well as interviews and articles. Issue 8 includes interviews with artist Glenn Chadbourne, Australian writer Marty Young, and the iconic Jack Ketchum. There are also interesting articles on viral and bacterial disease in fiction, mysterious lights seen in the Australian interior for hundreds of years, as well as a poetry column that seeks to educate readers about poetry’s history and necessity to human expression, and a column about horror comics.

Some of the fiction include "A Visit with Friends" by Joe R. Landsdale, a quiet but intense story about a man so disgusted by his friends’ sexual abuse of zombies, he leaves them open to danger; "Hello Kitty" by Jason Mahrung, a disturbing story about a man who rapes Japanese girls, although one manages to get some revenge; "Jar Baby" by Michelle Jager about a girl who gets an abortion but asks to take the parts home in jar, which is another deeply disturbing story about a young woman who seems to lose her mind; "Squirrely Shirley" by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee, a funny but cautionary tale about the dangers of relationships; and "Pigroot Flat" by Jason Fischer, a twisted story about strange zombie behavior and an abused woman left on her own.

I enjoyed all of the stories, poems, and articles. The magazine is professionally done with a very good layout. The artwork, too, is gorgeous. I highly recommend checking out this great quarterly magazine.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


MIDNIGHT ECHO ISSUE 10 (Edited by Craig Bezant)

Magazine? Issue? Don’t be misled by those terms. Don’t go thinking you’ll run into some fluff and filler you can just flip past, skip and skim. You could try, I suppose, but you’ll be sorry. Not to mention doing yourself, as well as the writers, a great disservice.

The theme of the issue is ghost stories, and it’s a promise fully delivered. The quality of the writing throughout is top-notch. Thirteen chilling tales, plus articles and interviews, and not a flat note from cover to cover.

The winners of the AHWA’s Short Story and Flash Fiction Competition are in here. There’s a fascinating column on Australia’s haunted history, and another on the abandoned Aradale Asylum, now home to ghost tours … and now on my must-see list if I’m ever able to visit. Or, how about a friendly chat with the creator of iconic character Jason Voorhees (and, more importantly, his devoted mother?)

With a theme of ghost stories, it might seem like they’d have to get samey after a while, but no. How each one managed to find a fresh nerve to brush with an icy finger … you’ve got to be impressed … I certainly was. Halfway through, I already knew I’d be having a rough time selecting any representative top faves, and I was right.

Though I do have to give a shout-out of envy and admiration and wish-I’d-thought-of-that for "Stillegeist." So headsmackingly perfect and obvious in retrospect, I can’t believe I’d never run across the term before. But why not? If a poltergeist is a noisy ghost, stands to reason there’d be the other side of the coin … some poor spirit who just wants to keep things quiet and be left alone. Brilliant.

Many of the stories involve children and/or child-ghosts, which are at least ten times creepier than the adult kind. The hauntings are hauntings in the ‘haunting’ sense of being more tragically frightening, poignant, unsettling and sad than malevolent … mostly … some of the spectres here are indeed malevolent, and downright disturbing.

Lost love, grieving parents, betrayal, murder, madness, revenge … a few more physically substantial monsters thrown in … horror with classic Gothic tones, and with satisfying EC Comics tones … from the subtle to the startling, with a dash of exotic dark fantasy thrown in …

Now, I know it’s not a competition, no need to get all regionalistic; we don’t have like the Horror Writers Olympics or anything. But if we did, and this is the kind of team the AHWA can field, the rest of the world better step up their game and quick.

Midnight Echo 10 reads, and feels, much more like an anthology, maybe a Year’s Best drawn from a whole wide array of magazines. All I know is it convinced me to rush right on over and subscribe, so, expect more reviews in the future!

-Christine Morgan




THE HORROR FICTION REVEW:
 
 
Now in our 11th Year!



Monday, January 6, 2014

January, 2014 Reviews

JANUARY  2014 REVIEWS
(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story. Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out. Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.)

(NOTE: Authors and/or publishers looking for submission info, please see the very bottom of this blog page. Thank you).
 
 
 
 
 
DARK FUSIONS: WHERE MONSTERS LURK! Edited by Lois H. Gresh (2013 PS Publishing / 270 pp / hc)

This is the first time I've reviewed an anthology that features one of my stories, so I'll politely SKIP that one and get to the other 17 pieces that make up this collection edited by the great Lois H. Gresh. Obviously the theme here is monsters, but the scope of what makes a monster here is quite wide.

Among some of my faves are opening tale THE REST IS NOISE by Nicholas Kaufmann, in which a couple of gents learn the true, dark meaning behind music; Norman Prentiss' BENEATH THEIR SHOULDERS, where we're introduced to a very strange race of people; Cody Goodfellhows bizarro-horror hybrid THE FLEA CIRCUS is one of the wilder carny tales I've read in a while, complete with what is arguably the finest prose in the collection (which includes some well-timed humor).

My favorite of the collection comes from Ann K. Schwader: WHEN THE STARS RUN AWAY is a bleak, terrifying apocalyptic vision featuring a smart young girl and her father as they face the ultimate end; Lisa Morton's eerie GOLDEN STATE will give you a whole new look at the "gold rush," and Yvonne Navarro's FACELESS gets my vote for scariest story of the lot, as a woman has to deal with a feature-less man no matter where she is. If this one doesn't get your goosebumps going you must already be dead.

Christopher Fulbright's heartbreaking DEATH EATER deals with a father confronting a Lovecraftian beast in order to save his daughter from cancer, then Mark McLaughlin brings some sinister chuckles with AUNT PALOMA, a funny fairy-tale-like monster romp.

I didn't find a slow tale in DARK FUSIONS, which features everything from Miskantonic terrors to undead detectives, from epic monster fantasies to unusual situations in the workplace and among the clergy. These tales are varied so there's something for everyone, which could be hit or miss with some readers, but one thing holds true: these tales (even those with a dose of humor) encompass a very dark side of speculative fiction. Lois Gresh has harvested a fine crop here...

Smell Rating: 5
-Nick Cato

 
SANTA CLAUS SAVES THE WORLD by Robert Devereaux (2013 Deadite Press / 176 pp / tp & eBook)

Next up, on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas … you will most decidedly not be seeing this holiday special! Not even on HBO. Maybe not even on any of those eXXXtra channels … because this is a Santa that would make the raunchiest ones in those cute little cartoons they have in Playboy blush redder than his own suit.

Readers of the previous two in the series might wonder if there’s any possible way to pack yet more sexy goodies into Santa’s sleigh. Oh ye of little faith. It’s nookies and milk galore for St. Nick. Not only that, but, the addition of many lovely ladies to the toyshop means he isn’t the only jolly old elf at the North Pole this year!

See, poor Santa, after working so hard to conquer the homophobes, discovers to his dismay that humanity is weaker, more backslidey, and self-poisoning than he’d realized. It’s some fundamental flaw in the very psyche that will require a more extensive fix, one that Santa can’t manage on his own.

Not, of course, that Santa’s eager to try. Never a fan of adults in the first place, he’s less so now after having witnessed more of their innermost hatreds and failings. Assigned the task, he’s quick to foist it off on some of his helpers while hoping not to have to get involved. Besides, it’d mean spending a lot of time in proximity to Aphrodite … yes, that Aphrodite, goddess of love, sex and beauty.


Well, you must admit, it’d prove a challenge for Santa to remain focused. Not only being around Aphrodite, but also surrounded by the glorious golden nymphs of Hephaestus … and of course the Tooth Fairy has not forgotten their previous affairs … and some entities are in favor of sabotaging the efforts …

Regardless, something’s got to be done, because society is well on its way to destroying itself. The resulting plan is, well, fairly ambitious and epic, and entirely plays to Santa’s particular skill set, shall we say. There’s also some new, disturbing additions to the Tooth Fairy’s forces … and some revisits with the Easter Bunny.
 
All in all, it’s another wild holiday romp that maybe does get uncomfortable at times with the message and overtone … I’m all in favor of consenting adults (real or mythic) doing whatever they like in whatever numbers and combinations they like … I’m less in favor of the implied suggestion that there must be something terribly, pitifully defective and wrong with people who aren’t having loads of poly sex all the time.

-Christine Morgan

 
 
 
SERIAL by Tim Marquitz (2013 Samhain Publishing / 69 pp / tp)

A serial killer dubbed the Desert Ripper has terrorized El Paso, Texas for ten years, but has so far remained on the loose. Detective Isaac Grant has been pulled off the Ripper case for a new one. Corpses are turning up mutilated and it’s not the Ripper. Thus begins a pissing contest between two serial killers for the right to torment the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. The battle moves through the press, with letters and messages from one killer to the other and escalates quickly.

Once again Tim Marquitz shows his mastery of the serial killer story. Always inventive, this latest novella is not to be missed. The characters are well-developed, and even the Ripper is likeable—to a point. The horror is palpable throughout the book and never over-done. What I truly loved about SERIAL is the ending that I never saw coming. I was flabbergasted and quite giddy when I read the last page. I strongly encourage you to pick up SERIAL.

-Colleen Wanglund




 


RONNIE AND RITA by Deborah Sheldon (2013 Cohesion Press / 101 pp / eBook)

Not since Robert McCammon’s MINE has a book of this kind hit it this hard. Okay, yeah, King’s was pretty good, but I think RONNIE AND RITA pretty well leaves BLAZE in the dust.
 
This nerve-twisting suspense thriller goes right for the ultimate parental horror –kidnapping of a baby – as well as some of the most insidious fears of just how much a guy can trust the lady in his life.

In this case, the guy is Ronnie, kind of a loner and a loser, well-meaning enough but with no friends, no family, not much of a life. Ronnie works as a groundskeeper at an upscale retirement facility. One day, his path crosses that of Rita, a housecleaner. To his dubious surprise, she’s interested in him. Or she’s playing with him. No, she might be really interested.

Before he can decide for sure, they’re in bed together and that would seem to settle it. Suddenly, Ronnie’s got a girlfriend. He’s in love, complete with sex life and plans for a future together. He and Rita imagine how it’ll be, including coming up with detailed fantasies about raising their daughter, Lulu.

Things are finally good. Perfect, even. Ronnie can overlook some of Rita’s quirks, like her mysterious lack of a past, or the way her employers know her by a different name. He’s happy. He’s content. He’s optimistic about being a dad.

Except for one slight problem … Rita can’t have children. But why let that interfere with their dream? After all, Ronnie’s neighbors are expecting. They just need to wait until the baby’s born, and, if it’s a girl, they can finally have their little Lulu.

Ronnie’s reluctant, but how can he say no to Rita? What if she left him? What if he lost her? He’s really got no choice but to keep playing along, making their what-if plans, stocking up on baby supplies. Then the time comes, the baby is born, and Rita is determined to make their getaway with Lulu.

It doesn’t go very well. Ronnie finds himself on the run with Rita and the baby and hardly anything else but the clothes on their backs. He quickly discovers that keeping Lulu is more important to Rita than anything else … after what she had to do to kidnap the baby … and how expendable Ronnie himself might be in the greater scheme of things.

A tense and tight novella, with Australian lingo that was unfamiliar enough to me as an America reader to notice, but natural and contextual enough that it hardly tripped me up at all, RONNIE AND RITA’s a harrowing and creepy good read.

-Christine Morgan


 


BABY TEETH: BITE-SIZED TALES OF TERROR rdited by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray (2013 Paper Road Press / eBook)

Inspired by an internet post about the creepy things that some children can say, BABY TEETH developed into a flash fiction anthology for a charitable cause. Twenty-seven writers from New Zealand combine for thirty-seven creepy stories.

Among my favorites are "Backyard Gardening" by Jake Bible about a boy wanting to create a Stephen King-like pet cemetery to bring his dad back from the dead; "Practice Makes Perfect" by Sally McLennan about a boy who practices killing, based on the advice of his grandfather; "Caterpillars" by Debbie Cowens about a young girl obsessed with caterpillars and butterfly wings; "Peter and the Wolf" by Lee Murray about a boy afraid of a wolf hiding under his bed; "Lockdown" by Piper Mejia about a lockdown at an all-girl’s high school that may or may not be a test; and "Teach Your Children Well" by Lee Murray about a murderous little boy using history being taught to his sister.

Other very good stories include "Dad’s Wisdom" by Eileen Miller about a boy taking advice from his dad on what to feed a dragon under his bed; "Blonde Obsession" by Jean Gilbert about a boy’s obsession with the yellow lab puppies; "Because I Could…" by Celine Murray about a disturbed budding serial killer; and "Winter Feast" by Elizabeth Gatens about a family living through winter, plague, and starvation.

As with all anthologies, not every story is a hit, but for the most part, the stories are well-written and suitably ghoulish. BABY TEETH is a collection worth getting….and the proceeds go to a good cause.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


SOMEONE WICKED edited by J.M. Reinbold & Weldon Burge (2013 Smart Rhino Publications / 406 pp / tp)

Okay, bias admission time again, this is another anthology I’m privileged to have a story in … one of my gorier Viking tales, in which warlord "Sven Bloodhair" really wants to earn a fearsome reputation and gets a lesson in being careful what you wish for. I really had fun, and I love that story!


Sven, definitely someone wicked, is among good company in this book. It’s chock full of wicked someones, twenty-one tales of them. They span history and genre, realism and magic, villains of quiet subtlety and full-on raging maniacs. I was also pleased to see that the list of authors is almost evenly matched between ladies and gents.

My personal favorites include:

"Impresario" by Maria Masington … it’s always a gratifying thing to see mental illnesses and personality disorders done so hideously, insidiously right!

Shannon Connor Winward’s "The Devil Inside" touches upon the new mother’s fears of what-ifs, failure, post-partum problems and bonding … … while J.M. Reinbold’s "Missing" takes a parent’s worst nightmare somewhere even worse.

"Despair" by Shaun Meeks brings some very clever, agonizing and unexpected twists to the story of a man grieving for his lost family … and "Mirror Mirror" by Chantal Noordeloos brings an elegant style to brooding gothic ancestral secrets.

Doug Blakeslee’s "The Flowering Princess of Dreams" and "Sisters: A Fairy Tale" by Liz DeJesus both take familiar folklore and turn them upside-down and inside-out in decidedly un-Disney ways.

For dark humor, Carson Buckingham’s "The Plotnik Curse" is just all kinds of fun when a rare find brings new business to a fancy jewelery shop, and a restaurant owner runs up against unwelcome competition in Ernestus Jiminy Chald’s "The Tail of Fate."

Epic fantasy and dark fairy tales, love-gone-wrong, madness, obsession, cold-hearted revenge, singular incidents and making a grim habit of murder … with so much to choose from, there’s an evil little something to suit every taste.

-Christine Morgan

 
PREVIEW:
 
 


THE GOSPEL OF Z by Stephen Graham Jones (to be released 1-7-14 by Samhain Publishing / 267 pp / tp)

It’s been ten years since the zombie plague first struck. Civilization has continued to inch along with the military and the Church leading those people left alive. Jory works in a factory that produces handlers—frightening beings that are supposed to help save the world by tracking and killing new zombies. Jory is upset that his girl left him and went up the Hill—to the church where no one ever returns from. After a mishap at work with a handler, Jory is put on one of the lowest jobs possible—a torch, who goes out hunting for new zombies. If the handler finds one, then the torch is supposed to incinerate the body, destroying the virus.
 
In a chance meeting with one of the top priests in the Church, Jory is told he is special. He is now determined to save his girl from the church, but both the church and the military have other ideas for Jory and his future. Along the way, Jory discovers the truth about the past and the virus itself.

I’ve read many zombie stories the last few years…MANY….and I can honestly say that THE GOSPEL OF Z is one of the best. Jory is a compelling character that I could relate to immediately. He’s struggling to survive while dealing with a past that would break most people if they thought about it long enough. Somehow Jory finds the strength to get beyond his suicidal tendencies. The other characters are just as well-rounded, mostly disillusioned people listening to their late-night radio broadcasts to keep just a little spark of hope alive. The story is a visceral one, keeping me reading well into the night—I did not want to put this book down. Jones lays it all out in a way that is intriguing and entertaining, and it’s anything but predictable. Jones’ style is emotional and anything but conventional. He weaves a bleak world but leaves the reader with a touch of faith that life will continue in the face of adversity. I can’t recommend this book enough.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


THE DUNWICH ROMANCE by Edward Lee (2013 Deadite Press / 184 pp / tp)

Oh, to know what H.P. Lovecraft would think if he could read Lee’s stuff … the mind fairly boggles. Scandalized might be putting it mildly. Shocked? Outraged? Offended? Aghast? Probably … because Lee’s Lovecraftian works take all the cosmic, erudite, otherworldly horrors of the Mythos and squelch ‘em up good with oodles of graphic, gooshy smut.

In this one, Lee revisits and puts an altogether new twist on "The Dunwich Horror" with the other, unseen side of the story. Readers will remember the Whateley family, with the big house and albino Lavinia and the promise that some day one of her children would be heard calling his unearthly father’s name.

They’ll remember Wilbur Whateley. Tall, odd-looking, inhuman Wilbur, with his visits to the library at Miskatonic and his unfortunate fate.

But Wilbur Whateley wasn’t only a scholar, no, not in this version. In this version, he’s got his needs and urges, like any other man. Sort of. Okay, maybe he’s not exactly like any other man. Not with the, uh, physical differences he inherited. He’s well aware that women would run screaming at the sight of what hides under his clothes. He still has the needs and urges, though.

Sary Sladder is no stranger to the needs and urges of men. That’s how she makes her living. When they bother to pay her, or don’t beat her up and take back their money after, or dish out some other sort of abuse. She’s no stranger to that, either. A curvaceous young woman of the "butterface" variety, she’s on the receiving end of yet more abuse when Wilbur Whateley decides to intervene.

It’s a new experience for Sary. The first of many. Being defended, being treated kindly, being stood up for, being a guest. Being not expected to repay favors with her body. Being talked to like an actual person.

Oh, sure, Wilbur may not be much to look at, but then, Sary’s aware that neither is she. He’s nice, she thinks. Shy. Polite. He’s also sweet on her. She’s never felt cared about before. Curiosity and affection soon overpower any sort of repulsion. She wants to get to know him better.

And yowza but when she does --! Talk about new experiences! Wilbur’s differences do things for Sary that she’d never even imagined possible. She’s glad to stay with Wilbur as long as he’ll allow it, and he for his part is in no hurry to see her leave.

The other residents of Dunwich – including Sary’s father, and former customers – are another matter. Plus, there’s the business of Wilbur’s old books … and whatever’s in that house on the hill …

Yeah, you’ll never see Lovecraft the same way after reading Lee. And I, for one, can’t get enough! Brilliantly done, squamoushly delicious!

-Christine Morgan


 


THE GATE THEORY by Kaaron Warren (2013 Cohesion Press / 96 pp / eBook)

With an introduction by author Amanda J. Spedding, Kaaron Warren’s THE GATE THEORY is a collection of five short stories that delve into the horror that resides within all of us and the pain we try to hide.

Included among the five are "That Girl", a compelling story about a girl living in a mental hospital in Fiji who kept insisting she was the girl who was brutally raped and then dumped at the hospital. The cab drivers of the area know all about the girl’s story. When the girl at the hospital dies, her ghost leaves seeming to seek some measure of revenge.

"The History Thief" is a subtly creepy story about a man who dies but isn’t buried because no one missed him. His spirit travels about, entering people and experiencing aspects of their lives and feelings. He seeks out a young woman whom he had met whose husband was killed in order to comfort her, but it doesn’t work out well for him.

My favorite, "The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall" is about a woman who works in the illegal dog trade. She captures rare dogs and delivers them to the highest bidder. This particular story was glaring in the people’s cruelty toward animals and really affected me.

"Purity" twists the phrase ‘laughter is the best medicine’ into something truly dark and macabre, while "Dead Sea Fruit" deals with a boogyman that causes anorexia in young women. All of the stories are beautifully written and subtle in the real horror they depict. Kaaron Warren’s style is dynamic and thought-provoking—it is the epitome of quiet horror. If you like your horror with an understated quality, then THE GATE THEORY is for you.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD by Ryan Harding, J. F. Gonzalez, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Edward Lee, Shane McKenzie, Brian Smith, Nate Southard, Wrath James White (2013 Deadite Press / 196 pp / tp & eBook)

What happens when you get nine of the awesomest authors in the hardcore horror scene and turn them loose on a collaborative effort for a good cause?

More than you bargained for, probably, if SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD is any indication.

The good cause in question is to benefit Tom Piccirili, all proceeds from the book going toward helping with medical bills. Not only the authors, but the artists and publishers and everybody involved have generously donated of their valuable time and talent.

If that’s not reason enough to buy it, well, there’s also the story to consider. The title is the address of a house with a history, which has perverse and pervasive effects on whoever lives there. Or just visits. Or simply drops by or drives past.

It starts off at full-throttle depravity and never looks back. Clearly, the spirit of one-upsmanship, out-doing each other, and writing the next guy into a tight spot only egged on these gents in their gleeful chapter-go-round.

Let’s just say that if hobo puke fetish porn isn’t your thing, do be warned. And if hobo puke fetish porn is your thing, well, you’ve picked up the right book. If you’re looking for stuff more extreme, you’ve still got the right book.

On no less than four occasions while reading this, I found myself thinking something along the lines of, "oh, no, they wouldn’t really go there, would they? they’re not taking it that far, are they?" Every single time, yup, they did. They did and then some.

By the time you get to about the last third of the book, you might figure you’re ready for anything. Guess what. There’s surprises in store. Sheer WTF surprises that go beyond meta. Phrases like "fourth wall" and "self-insertion" … yeah, this doesn’t just break the fourth wall, but drills a glory hole through it. As for the self-insertion, YOU HAVE NO IDEA.

SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD is basically the best in the biz doing what they do best and having a rip-snorting good time with it. Another reviewer may have said it was too disgusting to read. I found it too disgusting NOT to. I enjoyed every sick, revolting minute of this book. Laugh-out-loud, groan-out-loud, puke-out-loud good times.

-Christine Morgan
 
 
PREVIEW:
 
 


THE TREE MAN by David Bernstein (to be released 1-7-14 by Samhain Publishing / 84 pp / eBook)

Thirteen-year-old Evan sees something one night that scares him senseless. A man is dragging a woman through a field toward a massive oak tree, to which the woman is then fed. Evan decides to tell his best friend about what he saw and enlist his help in destroying what he perceives as evil. Evan doesn’t understand what the man, Serus, has been doing, and that will have some very grave consequences.

I read THE TREE MAN in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s well-written and keeps a good pace. The characters are succinctly and skillfully developed and Evan in particular is very relatable. It’s a frightening story that I highly recommend.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


ATTACK OF THE B-MOVIE MONSTERS! Edited by Harrison Graves (2013 Grinning Skull Press / 342 pp / tp & eBook)

No matter what decade we were born, no matter how old we are, in our hearts of hearts we are ALL children of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Our inner kids are the spawn of the silver screen. Drive-ins and Saturday matinees. We love us some schlock. Especially some classic creature-features. Give us giant monsters, give us guys in rubber suits and stop-motion Harryhausen magic and tarantulas juxtaposed against Vasquez Rocks. Give us Godzilla and Rodan, giant bugs, tentacles pulling down the Golden Gate Bridge –

Look at the cover of this book. Tentacles. Look at the title of this book. Monsters. This is the book for those inner kids. This is the book of cheeseball special effects. Nature strikes back against pollution, or nuclear testing. Scientists meddle. Things rise from the deep seas or descend from the skies.

You know how this works. You know it’s true. We can never get enough. Even when it’s bad. Sometimes – looking at you, SyFy – especially when it’s bad. So bad it’s good. Ed Wood badgood.

And in this book, they’ve gotcha covered. Here, for your shameless enjoyment, are twenty-one tales of exactly what you’re expecting … in ways that will still surprise and delight you. These giant monsters range from the ridiculous to the sublime and back to the ridiculous again.

Most of them are done with the total feel of the era, as well. Complete with the plots, the sexism and stereotypes, the cliché dialogue, the works. Done on purpose, with tongue very firmly in cheek, with SCIENCE!!!

If you’ve ever thought, "How come there’s never been a story with a giant (blank) attacking a town?" then I have some good news for you. Here’s those stories. Here are some of the things you NEVER figured would be grown to enormous size, chomping people right and left, flattening buildings, and generally running amok.

I don’t want to say too much about the specifics because the best part of reading this was having so many reveal moments of oh-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me hilarity. Some, okay, the titles let you know what you’re in for – "Day of the Prairie Dogs" by John Grey, for instance, or Nicole Massengill’s "I Was a Fifty Foot Househusband."

Others keep you hanging a while longer with more teasery titles like "Night of the Nanobeasts" by D. Alexander Ward … or stupefy you to blinking double-takes, like Jay Wilburn’s "Giant Mutant Tiger Slugs Vs. Salty Angel Gimp Warriors in Leather." I mean, come on, who’s not going to have to read something called that?

There may be some bias in my admission that two of my top faves of the book are stories I was privileged to beta-read ahead of time. Those are "Gams" by Tracy DeVore (a poignant tale of an old man and his faithful decidedly-not-a-horse) and Doug Blakeslee’s wonderfully absurd wait-what? story of "GRONK!"

I’m also partial to Kerry G.S. Lipp’s big-budget summer blockbuster "BFF," which goes for the ARMAGEDDON approach and nails it, especially with what I think may be one of the best lines of prose ever written. And, in the battle for sheer WTF-iest category, Brent Abell’s "Stone Cold Horror From the Stars" edges out Lachlan Davis’ "The Taterific Tale of Coral Beach" by virtue of a toothy grin.

One final recommendation, though, would be to pace yourself. Don’t read them all at once; if there’s such a thing as giant monster overload, I was feeling it by the time I got to the end.

-Christine Morgan


 


THE HUNGRY 2: THE WRATH OF GOD by Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon (2012 Genius Book Publishing / 244 pp / tp)

THE HUNGRY 2 continues the story of Sheriff Penny Miller and her handful of survivors after the zombies came to Flat Rock, Nevada. After spending some time in a Las Vegas penthouse, Penny, biker Scratch, ex-husband Terrill Lee, and military doctor Sheppard are being sent back to Crystal Palace—the base they managed to barely escape from and place of origin for the zombie virus. They are sent with a Special Ops team to rescue data and a possible antidote. Things go horribly wrong and they just manage to get out of the building, but the powers that be have decided to nuke the secret base, covering their own asses and killing anyone within the vicinity. The rag tag group hitches a ride in a Winnebago with Father Abraham, the leader of a group of religious zealots, who has plans of his own for Penny and her group.

I love the continuing story of Penny Miller, feisty redhead who fought off the zombies in a wedding dress in the first book, THE HUNGRY. Penny is as energetic as ever and recovering from exposure to the zombie virus and then the supposed antidote the group is looking for. Booth and Shannon write a rocking zombie tale with many twists and turns, but the story never lags or gets routine. The story flows nicely and packs quite a bit of action and gore. The characters are great and Father Abraham is particularly sick. This is a zombie series that you must read if you have any love for the shambling eating machines.

-Colleen Wanglund


 


THE SLAB CITY EVENT by Nate Southard (2013 Sinister Grin Press / 177 pp / limited edition hc)

It’s classic cars, hot rods and hot babes, rockabilly, and wild times out in the desert, at The Slab City Event! Loud music and louder engines, big hair and bigger egos … it’s just one nonstop party!

For Tyson, headed that way with his biker buddy Mack, it might also be his chance to reconnect with his dream girl, Stella. She’s one of the Boom Boom Sassies, a bodacious dance-troup of vinyl-clad cheerleaders who tour with the Revolvers, appearing at the Event. He’s eager to get there, and not thrilled with any delays along the way.

When Mack insists on stopping in the little town of Niland for breakfast, Tyson’s annoyance is about at the limit. But they both soon come to realize things aren’t quite right in Niland … it’s quiet, seeming as empty and abandoned as a ghost town.

Seeming, that is, until they find an injured man crawling in the street. Injured, and obviously sick, what with his eyes being all yellow and bloodshot. Their first instinct is to try and help. They might have done better to go with another instinct, such as getting the hell out of there in a hurry.

Too late. The rest of the Niland population choose that moment to appear, a throng of them emerging from hiding in a way that suggests some kind of crazy trap. Like the first man, their eyes are bloodshot and weird, they’re spattered with gore … and then they attack in a maniacal, clawing, biting mob.

It’s sudden cannibalistic feeding frenzy time. Forget bonds of biker-buddy loyalty; in a heartbeat it’s every man for himself. Tyson scrambles for his bike and roars away at top speed, hardly looking back. He heads for Slab City at top speed, hoping to warn people and find Stella.

The warning people part doesn’t go so well; it’s early after a raucous night, and nobody’s inclined to take Tyson very seriously. The finding Stella part doesn’t go so well either, because before he has a chance to start looking, the crazies burst onto the scene.

If there’s an explanation given for what caused the outbreak, I missed it, but that’s totally fair because none of the characters have a clue either. All that matters is it’s on, it has hit the fan in a big way. It’s a dust-cloud of blood and tooth-snapping chaos.

The rest of the story jumps around from one person to another, showing snippets of the unfolding carnage through their various viewpoints. It’s a blast. For some, there’s nobility and sacrifice. For others, it’s cutthroat survival of the fittest, civilization and decency right out the window.

Great fun, a rollicking ride with a rocking soundtrack, a grisly action mash from start to finish! Bonus points if you’re a car buff … or then again maybe not, since some of those lovingly-maintained cherry babies might get a little dinged up.

-Christine Morgan

 
 
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