Sunday, September 30, 2018

Reviews for the Week of October 1, 2018

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

CROSS HER HEART by Sarah Pinborough (2018 Harper Collins / 374 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Pinborough, author of 2017’s stellar BEHIND HER EYES, returns with another psychological thriller jam-packed with enough twists and turns for at least three novels.

Lisa is a single mother, doing her best to raise 16 year-old daughter Ava. She tries not to mention Ava’s father and is hiding a dark past as she attempts to get on with her life. But she’s starting to find things that make her believe someone is on to her, and the fear her new life will be unraveled leads to a growing anxiety.

Ava lives for her freedom and her friends, and like a normal teen is waiting for her mother to cut the cord. A star on the swim team, she even has a boyfriend (of sorts) her mom knows nothing about.

When Ava goes missing, Lisa discovers a promise made as a kid had long lasting consequences, and that her only help may be in the hands of her friend and co-worker Marilyn, who is dealing with (among other things) an abusive husband.

With a crime committed at a young age back to haunt her, Lisa faces an issue from her past that may claim not only her life, but her daughter’s as well.

CROSS HER HEART is a look at trust, friendship, and a family damaged by the mind of a dangerous psychotic. Readers may figure out some of the twists early on, but Pinborough employs twists on top of those to keep you guessing into the final pages. The short chapters (and high suspense level during the second half) makes this a compulsive page-turner that should satisfy long time fans and keep Pinborough’s growing legion thrilled.

-Nick Cato

THE SKIN THAT FITS by David Massengill (2018 Montag Press / 215 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Freaky murder cult with rituals steeped in sultry Southern magic? A surprise suicide, a guilt-ridden fiancee, and a last request fraught with family secrets, questions, and emotional baggage? A hot and hunky model who worries his best days might be passing, accepting a movie offer on a whim? Missing persons, paranoia, people with weird alligator tattoos? Steamy, moody, brooding, turbulent?

Yes please! At least, in this case, yes please right up until the ending; there’s all this beautiful buildup, tension, conflicts, you’re there craving the big dramatic final confrontations and resolutions … but then it just ends almost out of nowhere. Abrupt, convenient, and unsatisfying.

Up until then, though, it’s a great read, richly humid with atmosphere, tense, packed with paranoia. The characters are interesting and well-rounded, tackling some difficult social constructs. Subtle but distinct Lovecraftian undertones weave throughout.

Kim is the guilt-ridden fiancee, who’d been about to call things off with Eustace anyway and pursue a relationship with pretty Malia, until Eustace’s sudden death and request for her to take his ashes to divide among his relatives leads her on a troubling journey from Seattle to the South.

Todd, the model, is also taking care of his ailing mother, and when he’s approached about a movie, he accepts even though he’s not an actor. He needs the work. He can’t afford to be reticent or suspicious, even when the apparent movie people sure seem to be going about things a peculiar way.

What Kim and Todd don’t know, but are each about to find out in dangerous ways, is that the cult has plans for both of them. Plans involving old magic, possession, the revered crone called Maman, her predecessor Grandpappy, and her chosen successor.

So, yeah, quality writing, intriguing story … right up until that abrupt ending. I was hoping for a much bigger finish.

-Christine Morgan

OUR POOL PARTY BUS FOREVER DAYS by David James Keaton (to be released 10/24/18 by Comet Press / 300 pp / trade paperback)

The intro alone is worth the price of admission; it’s about car chases, listing and providing mini-essays on many of the best cinematic car chases in history … besides, c’mon, he had me at The Hidden. Anyone who can’t agree that opening chase scene isn’t awesome, I just don’t know what I can say.

Chases, driving, road stories, cars. It all works because those themes wend their way throughout most of the stories. Many are connected and interconnected in sometimes obvious, sometimes surprising ways. Some are direct, some follow a more scenic route, some turn out to be unexpected shortcuts. Or there’ll be that sense like when you wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn, only to suddenly find yourself back in familiar territory.

Several share recurring characters as well as a strongly (and vaguely unsettling) autobiographical-seeming component. ‘A true story’? ‘Based on’ actual events? Or ‘inspired by’? Yes, no, both, all, neither? Reading it felt a little like having a front-row seat inside the head of coherent madness; you can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t, yet somehow it ties together and makes sense.

The stuff with the ducks, and the fly … Zero the (maybe) cat … the body in the guitar case and the bridges full of locks … a purgatorial party-bus … the perils of picking up hitchhikers … stolen ears and forced perspective … turnpikes and tollbooths, morbid memorial crosses … some dusty-trail type road stories of the wild West … clown cars and carnival rides gone off the rails … the troubles that might ensue if license plates were phone numbers … there’s just so much here, so much, and all of it so weird yet weirdly compelling.

Compelling, not to mention skillfully handled. The second-person stream of consciousness dialogue exchange whatevers in “Bad Reaction Shots” made me have to sit back several times, shake my head, and just do some recovery reaction shots of my own.

I have no idea how much of “A Dull Boy” is factual; it’s about the guy who, as a child actor, played Danny in The Shining and the hassles his association with the movie have caused him throughout his life. It certainly feels like it could be, and even if it’s not, feels like it should be.

-Christine Morgan

WE DON'T TALK ABOUT HER by Andersen Prunty (2018 Amazon Digital / 49 pp / eBook & audiobook) 

Hot off the horror press, here is another weird and horrific gem from an author that continues to shock, torment, humiliate, and entertain us with each and every creatively unique and original release. Yes, that is correct. I am talking about author Andersen Prunty and his new absurdly dark and demented tale WE DON'T TALK ABOUT HER, which is now available as an eBook or Audiobook. Now, don’t let the length of this put you off in any way, shape, or form, because trust me, although short, it packs quite a morbid punch to the ole’ gut and still manages to tell a much larger story within a very modest number of pages. The author continues to use his uncanny ability to unfold a devious plot, and, before it’s too late… BAM! We are doom-sucked right into the main character’s dead mother’s pelvis before we can even count to a rotting wet number ten.

Clint is a sociopathic stalker on the fritz of Venom energy drinks, bad outfits, and PTSD triggered by his dead mother. In fact, his deceased mother is actually still rotting and decaying and lying quite very dead on a bed within the confines of his home. But, Clint doesn’t really notice that she’s dead (she still talks to him and tells him what to do) until one of the females he stalks, flips the cards on him, and begins to stalk him instead. Stella, she’s in to win it, or steal all his government money (it’s kind of her thing after-all). Stella makes herself right at home and makes him get rid of the rotting corpse, gives him a hunny-do list while she’s off at work every day, as she continues to jump from relationship to relationship until her bank account is just as happy as she is. But, has she met her match here in this godforsaken house of putrid stench? What is she going to do? She’s not quite sure how much more she can even handle. Hopefully she can figure it out before it’s too late. Hopefully Clint decides to commit suicide and she doesn’t have to worry about any of it anymore (besides wasn’t he supposed to dispose of ALL the body? He can’t even do that right).

Hopefully she can hang in there a little longer. Maybe. Maybe then everything will be okay. But, maybe it won’t. Either way… WE DON'T TALK ABOUT HER.

Check it out!

-Jon R. Meyers

IN THE LAMPLIGHT by L. Jagi Lamplighter (2016 eSpec Books / 250 pp / trade paperbak & eBook)

I thought at first this collection was going to be fantasy. Then I started reading it, and soon discovered it was that and more … darkly, beautifully more. The fantasy and historical stories are dark, the sci-fi ones are packed with gore and horror, psychological and social fears are deftly played with and preyed upon.

Several of the tales tie into the author’s Prospero’s Children universe, which extrapolates upon Shakespeare’s The Tempest and brings it up to modern day. Imagine Miranda, and her half-brothers and various other servants and associates of the household, putting their magic to good use as paranormal investigators and troubleshooters. A familiarity with her longer works isn’t required to read them, especially if you know your Bard, but may quickly become required after reading them because the characters, their world, and the supernatural menaces they face are well-imagined and very fun.

I particularly liked the way many of the stories speculated on uncanny causes, uncanny effects, and other ties between our common everyday ailments and the otherworldly. Less-obvious health hazards of dating a vampire, for instance, or the disturbing nature of changelings.

I also really liked the powerful maternal and feminine elements woven throughout; a mother’s primal instincts can manifest in many forms. It reminded me strongly of the undertones present in a lot of classic fairy tales.

Tragic ghosts, grim space-faring angels, dimensions inhabited by strange demi-gods, necromancy, designer babies, magic mirrors, a dystopian cyber-future, flying pirates, forbidden books, time paradoxes, dolls once belonging to murdered queens … the stories here span a wide range, but each of them is a fantastic, delicious, unsettling read.

-Christine Morgan

FAT CAMP by James Sabata (2018 / 261 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Cabins, crafts, singalongs. The woods. The lake. Nature walks. Swimming. Making s’mores and telling spooky stories by the fire. All good clean wholesome pastimes, all idyllic fun, right? Summer camp, ah the memories, ah the associations!

Except, does anybody really think that? Or do we, by now, jump straight to rules and regimens, enforced exercise, homesickness, misery, and being stalked by crazed serial killers? To make things worse, how about having it be a weight loss and fitness ‘camp’ with strict diet and exercise, drill sergeant counselors, body shaming and mockery … AND being stalked by crazed serial killers!

That’s how Philip McCracken is unhappily spending his summer. He’s hating it, he’s not good at it, he’s hardly losing any weight. He’s a regular target for bullying. To make things worse, the best friend who accompanied him is doing great, breaking the camp records.

He’s had enough. He knows he’ll never stand a chance with the cheerleader of his dreams. When his sister comes to visit over the weekend, he’s planning to bail and have her take him home. But, poor guy, the universe has other plans. Including his sister bringing a surprise guest: that pretty cheerleader.

Soon, campers and counselors start disappearing or meeting gruesome ends. Can Phil survive? Can he become the camp’s most unlikely hero, save his friends, even get the girl? Or is he just another fat loser about to die?

A painful riot from start to finish, full of humor and hack-slash-blood-guts horror … but also hitting many a sensitive nerve and awkward memory for anyone who’s ever felt like a misfit or an outcast.

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Reviews for the Week of September 17, 2018

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

FROZEN SHADOWS AND OTHER CHILLING STORIES by Gene O'Neill (2018 Crystal Lake Publishing / 412 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

O'Neill's 6th and latest collection features two novellas and eight short stories, covering a few genres but in the end they all safely fall under the umbrella of horror.

FROZEN SHADOWS is a great coming of age novella, dealing with three young people whose lives are affected when a strange man comes to their town. Among his powers is the ability to not cast a shadow, but as our trio learn, that may be the most normal thing about him, and he just might have something to do with a wave of illnesses that have stricken the town’s children. A solid chiller with a surprisingly positive ending.

I read THE ALGERNON EFFECT a few years ago as a limited edition chapbook, and was glad to see it included here. 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 melancholy manner, and the prose sings.

Lucas, a veteran wounded by an IED in Afghanistan, has an odd experience at his new job in a California hotel in TRANSFORMATIONS AT THE INN OF THE GOLDEN PHEASANT. After watching the comings and goings of two prostitutes, he befriends one at a diner and has an unusual time with the other in the same room they turn tricks in, and in the process Lucas finds his physical war scars healed and witnesses a most unusual transformation between the ladies. If they ever made a graphic novel of the old DC comic WEIRD WAR TALES this would surely make a great script for it.

In ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD, Jamie Connelly starts having wicked headaches that lead to visions. Not able to get the meds prescribed to him, his visions become exceedingly strange as does everything around him. A great bizarre tale with one hell of a finale.

BLACK TAR/RED ALIEN features two junkies who, after scoring a few fixes, break into a warehouse to steal the piping. But they encounter a spider-like alien who follows them home and forever alters their already downward spiraling lives. A dark but fun monster romp that may or may not be a monster romp at all.

The BROKEN LADY is Ellie, a 49 year old singer with a semi famous past who now works in seedy San Francisco bars. Alcohol has led to her current situation, that gets worse when she’s almost raped by a young cowboy. A frank look at addiction and the down side of the music industry, this one’s a memorable, gripping tragedy.

THE SHAKING MAN centers around a black man nick-named “Shake,” who began showing signs of Tourette’s right after an auto accident when he was a child. The crash took the lives of his mother and brother and forced him into the foster care system where he grew up street wise, dropped out of school, and eventually earned money as an enforcer for a loan shark, and then found himself in prison. In a twist of fate, Shake undergoes an experimental treatment to rid his Tourette’s, which leads to another great ending. One of the best tales here.

O’Neill dives into some sci-fi with 3-DOT PEOPLE, another weird one set in the seedy underworld of San Francisco. A man with amnesia experiences the city in a way that'll fry your brain, and most likely chill your spine.

In A FAINT SCENT OF MUSKY LIME (which I had read a couple years ago in DARK DISCOVERIES magazine), after his girl leaves him, a man finds himself living in a story written by one of his favorite authors. A bit familiar, but O'Neill brings his own flavor and as is the case with this collection, a dark and satisfying conclusion.  

The final piece is a novella titled AT THE LAZY K, and it's one of the finest ghost stories I've read in quite some time. A rehabilitation clinic (which was a former brothel located on the grounds of an old ranch), becomes the battle ground between the current owners and ghosts of the past. A curse brought on by the hanging of an innocent man a hundred years ago may bring films like BLACK SUNDAY to mind, but here the author employs a cast of incredibly troubled and deep characters to life and had me hanging on every single sentence. This is superb story telling only a master of the craft could pull off, and is a fine example of a classic horror trope given a fresh feel. Excellent.

FROZEN SCREAMS AND OTHER CHILLING TALES is a fantastic collection by a writer who is considered one of the best in the genre, and while I've read and enjoyed some of O'Neill's novels and stories over the years, this collection is proof of the praise given him. His ability to spin familiar themes and still keep the reader guessing until the last page is notable, as are the realistic people he creates to experience these horrors.

This is the perfect place for newbies to start and a must read for long time fans.

-Nick Cato

TIM E. LESS by Lucas Milliron (2018 CreateSpace / 226 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Having worked nearly 30 years now in the field of residential psych, I’m always a little squinty-suspicious about stories set in asylums … the behavior of patients, the way the place is run, the handling of medications, etc. … but in this case, I was able to overlook those aspects, because it quickly becomes apparent this is far from any ordinary asylum.

Title character Tim E. Less (the E. stands for Edwin) gets himself admitted with traumatic amnesia, a condition that keeps reoccurring because they tell him he’s been there a while, and everyone else seems to know more about him and his past than he does himself. All he really remembers is arguing with his wife about drinking and work vs. being around for their son. Now, the police are claiming his wife and son are missing, and Tim arrived at the asylum covered in blood.

He can’t imagine hurting them, but he can’t remember what really did happen. A risky form of therapy might help unlock those buried memories, though the truth might prove to be worse than the not-knowing. Then there’s the weird incidents going on at the asylum: a patient’s inexplicably violent death, a foul smell only certain people can detect, rooms suddenly collapsing in on themselves.

Plus, Tim himself is having unusual encounters, dreaming what might be memories or what might be madness … or what might be something else altogether. Drawn deeper as he tries to figure out what’s going on, he finds himself undertaking a bizarre, deadly quest through a nightmare place of demons and monsters that appears to overlap, or parallel, his real world.

The copy I received did include many sneaky past-the-spellcheck errors that hopefully got chased out before publication. But the vivid imagery and descriptive turns of phrase throughout are rich and fantastic, both horrific and hilarious – I went "eew" and "LOL" in fairly even measure. Even when it’s hard to sympathize with Tim or some of the other characters, they are easy to empathize with and relate to.

-Christine Morgan

ALL HAIL THE HOUSE GODS by Andrew J. Stone (2018 Strangehouse Books / 134 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In Stone's dystopian novella, humans exist for the soul purpose of providing children to sacrifice to living houses, who we've lost a major world war to. One such couple is Kurt and Katie, who become fed up with only being able to see their children when the powers that be say so. They each come up with a plan to overthrow the House Gods (Katie by starting a radical group, as Kurt attempts to do things rationally by befriending one of the House Gods he believes is not evil). While Katie sticks to her plan and becomes increasingly passionate, it's Kurt whose transformation makes this story shine: eventually at odds with his wife and his own plan, his plight leads him to what is arguably the most terrifying (and satisfying) finale of any book I've read this year.

I've attempted to read epic novels with similar themes only to be bored and let down. In novella form, Stone keeps his prose tight and manages to deliver an exciting socio-political message without bashing you over the head. And best of all, ALL HAIL THE HOUSE GODS forces you to think.

For those who may be tired of the bizarro thing, here's a smart, weird, end-times tale rich with allegory and a believable cast that will stay with you longer than your average genre tale.

-Nick Cato

FULL ECLIPSE (TOOTH & NAIL #1) by K. H. Koehler (2018 KH Koehler Books / 72 pp / eBook)

This one has all the makings of a Netflix show … a dark paranormal police procedural in an urban fantasy universe where the monsters are often inhuman and all too real … headlined by somewhat of an odd-couple mismatched buddy cop duo … going up against malevolent enemies and dealing with various issues of politics, bigotry, and personal conflict.

She is Ina Green, a gutsy black woman in a male-dominated field, with a lot of familial obligation weighing heavy on her shoulders and an arranged marriage breathing down her neck. He is Etienne Lamont, rugged charmer, tough guy, man of mystery and long history, with some rather unusual appetites and abilities.

They’re partners, operatives for the Praetorian Guard, a covert organization dedicated to taking on the weird supernatural cases. They’re also each far more than they appear, in this secret side of New York where vampires, fae, and shapeshifters are not unusual.

Lately, several young women seem to have fallen under the sway of a charismatic figure and disappeared, only to turn up dead. The investigation will lead Green and Lamont through an underworld of were-rats, cults, and necromancy, trying to find the so-called ‘Master’ before any more lives are lost.

Highly engaging and entertaining, very readable, loaded with bantering witty dialogue and action … familiar without being a trite rehash, throwing in several nifty twists … Tooth & Nail #1 looks like the start of what promises to be a fun, satisfying series.

-Christine Morgan

MOUSE AND OWL by Bracken MacLeod (2018 An Adversary Publishing / 40 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When her lover is wrongly executed in the public square, Nergui turns to a magic heirloom to get revenge on the fortified, corrupt city where she lives in poverty and despair. To say anymore would spoil this finely crafted tale.

MacLeod, better known for his horror and crime novels, shows off his diversity in this dark fantasy that while brief, had me completely engrossed. And by dark fantasy, I mean DARK, as this novelette is full of brutal violence and an ending that's reminiscent of Poe. Great stuff.

-Nick Cato

SEX, GORE, & MILLIPEDES by Ken MacGregor (2017 Dragon’s Roost Press / 218 pp / trade paperback)

If you’re going to pick up a book titled SEX, GORE, & MILLIPEDES, you’d darn well better be prepared for what you’re going to get. Basically, sex, gore, and millipedes. Not for the squeamish, not for the prudish, not for the easily shocked or offended. Definitely for the deranged, twisted, and perverse.

Me, I loved it. From the very first story, “F*** Bunny,” (which is about a gal and her oversized chocolate Easter treat; things quickly turn messy, sticky, and surprisingly grim), there was no turning back. Anybody reading that far has no excuse. You know what you’re getting yourself into.

Quite a few more lusty ladies and lecherous gents reach bad ends in pursuit of their thrills within these pages. Whether it’s finding a tree with a rather unique orifice, going on a dinner date with a particular gourmand, dabbling in amateur filmmaking, picking up a heart in a jar at a yard sale, or even having a more-than-scholarly interest in archaeology, most of the stories are unflinchingly strong on the nasty smutty-smut.

The ones that aren’t smut-heavy make up for it with extra-gross gore: up-close-and-personal body horror, psychotic nursery rhyme fallout, the hazards of dating a werewolf, a pet-owner’s nightmare, and a little classic E.C. Comics style murder/revenge.

And let us not, of course, forget the millipedes! In “Bed Bugs,” an expedition team is researching the curious habits of some jungle lemurs, who use secretions from injured millipedes as insect repellents and narcotics (weirdly, an article about this very subject crossed my Facebook earlier today!). Well, you just know someone on the team’s going to try it … and you just know the effects on humans will be very different than on the lemurs!

The last story in the book, “Starter Home,” goes full-bore on both sex and gore. When a couple thinks they got a really good deal on a fixer-upper foreclosure, only to find that a previous owner is not wild about the sale … and some really unpleasant ways of using power tools … even the most stoic fan of extreme horror will likely wince, cringe, and cross his/her legs.

Serious good stuff. Where, by ‘good,’ I mean utterly demented, disturbingly hot, and horrifically sick. MacGregor is going on the short list of authors whose anything-they-write will likely jump to the top of my reading queue.

-Christine Morgan

100 WORD HORRORS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF HORROR DRABBLES edited by Kevin J. Kennedy (2018 KJK Publishing / 128 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Did you see that? Yes, over there silly, lurking in the dark shadows and just atop the blackened hills. What was it? A two-legged goat creature from the fiery nether below? A piece of space junk from an unknown space colony solely inhabited by anal-probed artificial intelligence, master-mindedly created by a top-secret militia of scaly extraterrestrial lifeforms that feed on the darkest of souls? No way, a drabble, you say? Well, folks. Yes, that is correct. They’re just drabbles, a short form of fiction that is exactly one-hundred words long, an excellent challenge for an author to hone and craft and master the art of storytelling. Over a hundred of them to be exact, drabbled here in a collection of drabble horror for our very eyes here in this anthology of Horror Drabbles. Now, before we go any further: Yes, this has been done a million times in Flash Fiction anthologies and collections across the board, so nothing really and truly new to be found here, but what we do have is a nicely compiled list of stories that tackles the concept of the drabble rather well. Not all, but most stories packing a feisty horror punch to the drabble-gut, whilst fitting the overall horror theme of the anthology very drabbling well, if I do say so myself.

Some of my personal favorites were 'The Dead Thing' by Lisa Morton, 'Just a Game' by Christopher Motz, 'Baby Steps' by Michael A. Arnzen,' Heart Shaped Box' by Pippa Bailey, 'Street-Hearts' by Chris Kelso, 'The Man in the Black Sweater' by Richard Chizmar, and 'The End of the Pier' by Amy Cross.

With over a hundred drabbles to be found here and written by some of the best-selling indie horror authors, Bram Stoker award winners, and featuring the likes of Amy Cross, William F. Nolan, Gord Rollo, Mark Lukens, Rick Gualtieri, Jeff Strand, Kevin J. Kennedy, P. Mattern, Lee Mountford, Ike Hamill, Michael Bray, Andrew Lennon, Craig Saunders, Matt Hickman, Glenn Rolfe and many more, there is definitely a little bit of something for everyone to be found here. Check it out!

-Jon R. Meyers

SHEET MUSIC TO MY ACOUSTIC NIGHTMARE by Stephanie M. Wytovich (2017 Raw Dog Screaming Press / 166 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, I probably should not have settled in to read these all at once … this collection of free verse, vignettes, and flash fiction could just as easily have been titled “Poems To Cut Yourself To.” I don’t mean that in a bad way; they are exceptionally well-done, but daaang.

Not talking happy fun time here. Talking much more pain, emo/goth despair, bleakness, and tragedy. Content warnings for suicide, abuse, rape, death, abandonment, murder, drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation and more.

Dark stuff. Heavy stuff. Powerful stuff. Some with touches of the supernatural, others a brutal examination of the human condition. Recurring themes, such as driving, convey a sense of rootlessness and wandering woven throughout, a sense of not-belonging. So do themes of damaged love and loneliness, betrayal, and heartbreak.

There’s a lot of blood in these pieces. A lot of sex, but not the sexy kind of sex, if you get my drift; more like the hollow, desperate, joyless kind. There’s cruelty, both deliberate and casually indifferent. I think this book falls into the ‘beautiful suffering’ category. Far from cheerful and uplifting, but unforgettable.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, September 3, 2018

Reviews for the Week of September 3, 2018

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

Reviewers note: Okay, so, there was some tension regarding these first two books (to put it mildly). Whether you chose to view them through a competitive lens, a rebuttal one, or something more personal, the result was a pair of anthologies that I found worked surprisingly well together as companion volumes, complementing each other in a nice round-things-out kind of way. I read and reviewed them back to back, and really would urge people to give both a try rather than picking sides; that way, we all win!
-Christine Morgan


FLIGHT OR FRIGHT edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent (to be released 9/4/18 by Cemetery Dance / 332 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Here we have seventeen stories of aviation and aeronautical horror drawn from across a span of decades, genre giants and long-time classics as well as newer stuff by more recent superstars, each with a brief introduction by Stephen King.

To my shame, I’d never actually read Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” only knew it through Twilight Zone and cultural osmosis; turns out, the story itself is packed with legit anxiety-inducing tension and chills.

Speaking of chills, “Cargo” by E. Michael Lewis opens the book with a plane laden with coffins, transporting the tragic remains of an infamous cult massacre; if ever a flight were haunted, it must’ve been that one.

Dan Simmons pokes an icy finger right into acrophobia’s nerve endings with “Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds;” it’s not so much the fear of heights or the inevitable landing, but that terrifying span of just (shiver) falling and falling.

“Warbirds,” by the ever-awesome David J. Schow, particularly resonated with me because my grandfather was a navigator during WWII … this glimpse of what it could’ve been like made me miss him all over again.

In E.C. Tubb’s “Lucifer,” an item of incredible power turns out to be as much curse as blessing in the end, and you might even find yourself feeling sorry for a not-so-nice character.

With a lineup also including heavy hitters like John Varley, Cody Goodfellow, Joe Hill and King himself, it’s hard to go wrong!

-Christine Morgan


FRIGHT INTO FLIGHT edited by Amber Fallon (to be released 9/4/18 by Word Horde / 246 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sixteen stories of flight featured here, many of them revolving less around airplanes and commercial air traffic as the element and experience of flight itself in various forms from the magical to the metaphorical.

A few of my top picks:

“The Floating Girls: A Documentary” by Damien Angelica Walters (who is downright incapable of writing anything less than fantastic). This one could have come right out of a true mysteries / In Search Of type exposee, while also bringing a haunting and poignant personal touch.

Another favorite would have to be “Every Angel,” by Gemma Files, a gritty tale of obsession in which a crime boss wants to get some answers to eternal questions by whatever means necessary.

“And When She Was Bad,” by Nadia Bulkin is a darkly insightful take on the ‘final girl’ trope that may seem like an odd fit, but gets there in the end.

Izzy Lee’s “I Did It For The Art,” involving a fashion photographer with a thing for very young models, is a well-written but uncomfortable read; reminiscent of Lolita, it’s skillful but squicky, very likely to leave the brain wanting a scalding-hot scouring shower.

Nancy Kilpatrick’s “I Am No Longer” is also uncomfortable, a difficult harrowing story of helplessness even before the other horrors set in.

Funny, when you think about it, how strongly flying and the feminine are associated in myth and folklore. Witches, harpies, the typical angel, etc. Hmm.

-Christine Morgan

HALCYON by Rio Youers (2018 St. Martin's Press / 384 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Youers has been a must read author for me since his incredible 2012 novel WESTLAKE SOUL, and here he continues his streak of page-turning chillers that are incredibly hard to put down.

HALCYON is the name of an island run by a new age guru (of sorts). Valerie (a.k.a. "Mother Moon") and her crew, tired of where the world is apparently headed, envision a world free of crime and the usual negativity that hinders us from nirvana on earth.

Martin Lovegrove and his wife are learning to deal with their young daughter Edith, who, after having visions of a terrorist bombing, consult a psychic who helps Edith control her premonitions. But when a death rocks the Lovegrove family, Martin and his two daughters move to Halcyon in hopes of starting over, but of course it doesn't take long for Martin to realize the island isn't all what it seems.

I'm a sucker for stories about cults, and here Youers delivers a fresh one, complete with a likeable, mysterious (and supernatural) leader. But what made HALCYON work for me (besides the constant tension) is the relationship between sisters Edith and Shirley: it's not often a mainstream thriller offers such a bizarre union, and here Youers lets his imagination fly, bringing us into their otherworldly connection.

This novel may be promoted as a "thriller," but Youers' use of the paranormal, along with a small-press level of brutal violence, makes HALCYON a solid horror novel with a lot to say about our society and how families cope with tragedy. I loved it.

-Nick Cato

ISLAND OF BONES by Gaby Triana (2018 Alienhead Press / 211 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Must say, right up front, that I was *thiiiiis* close to ditching the book after the first chapter, where a character does something I find so cruel and unthinkable, I (as the kids say) can’t even. As intriguing as the setup, as promising the story, that bit almost did it for me. If things had continued with that character as the protagonist, I wouldn’t have been able to get over my rancor for her enough to view her as sympathetic at all. You just don’t DO that, Leanne! Made me mad in King’s Cell, made me mad here.

However, the first chapter’s the prologue, set in 1951, and then we skip ahead two generations to Leanne’s granddaughter Ellie, a young woman who’s kind of at loose ends, between jobs, post-breakup, trying to sort out what to do with her life. She decides that a trip to Florida, to scatter her grandmother’s ashes at the house the family had to leave so long ago, will be a good place to start.

So, with a see-what-happens lack of planning that’d make my own overly fussy side of the family nearly scream, she hops a flight, rents a car, and heads for the Keys. Without reserving a room or investigating prices, without checking the weather forecasts, without making sure she’s adequately stocked up on her medications. Just up and go.

The medications are because Ellie’s always had, well, issues. Seeing things, hearing things. She’s about to find out, back on ancestral turf, what those are really all about. She inherited something more from her grandma than just a modest cash bonus, and is swiftly drawn into the dangerous mysteries of the past.

She’s also pretty much stranded on the island, with a storm barreling in. The owner of the decrepit inn where she snagged a room is less than friendly, to say the least. Eerie occurrences quickly commence, complete with haunting apparitions and rumors of hidden treasure.

Very well written, highly engaging throughout (once I got past that initial oh-no-you-DIN’T!), enjoyable and fun, defying several genre expectations. And I see there’s a second in the series, not a direct sequel, but it’s got pirates and ghost hunters … no doubt I’ll be picking it up soon!

-Christine Morgan

WELCOME TO THE SHOW: 17 HORROR STORIES - ONE LEGENDARY VENUE edited by Matt Hayward and Doug Murano (2018 Crystal Lake Publishing / 304 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Alright, folks. Let’s pack up some fatty horror snacks and grab a soda or two for the open road as we take a trip out to a legendary music venue on the West Coast in sunny San Francisco, CA, The Shantyman. Aside from me not personally being a fan of the given name for the fictional venue, there really is a lot to offer once you arrive at the location, and it turns out to be a great setting for the overall theme of the anthology. It’s a perfectly versatile place for all of your horror needs with stories varying from psychological thrillers, dark fiction, black comedy, and even a little bit of that post-apocalyptic dread we all know and love. With stories by Brian Keene, John Skipp, Mary SanGiovanni, Robert Ford, Max Booth III, Glenn Rolfe, Matt Hayward, Bryan Smith, Matt Serafini, Kelli Owen, Jonathan Janz, Patrick Lacey, Adam Cesare, Alan M Clark, Somer Canon, Rachel Autumn Deering and Jeff Strand, tere is a little bit of something for everyone to be found here when the show begins.

My personal favorites were 'In the Winter of No Love' by John Skipp, a haunting tale of a beautiful hippie who hitches a ride to California to chase her dreams of freedom and life full of peace, love, and happiness, only to find out that the rest of the world had the same dream. After a rough falling out with her lover, she is sucked into the surrounding doom and gloom when she pays a respectful visit to her ex’s first gig at the legendary music venue. In 'Running Free' by Brian Keene, a big bad mafia man begins exercising regularly in hopes of dying of a heart attack to provide and qualify for his family to receive his life insurance money. 'Parody,' by Jeff Strand, is a riotous romp about a phony musician who gives Weird Al Yankovic fan faction a run for its bloody blood money, when the main character literally steals the stage and gives it his all one first and last time, all at the same time, while the crowd stares back in boredom and awe of what they just witnessed. 'Ascending' by Robert Ford is a very clever tale about an online relationship that picks up and ends at the exact same time and place as the other stories in this anthology. The main character packs up in the East Coast and heads out West to join the show.

Welcome to the show. Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Step right up. Check it out for yourself!

-Jon R. Meyers

PUPPETEER OF THE DEAD 2, CONAVEN ISLAND by Troy McCombs (2018 Abominabooks / 257 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Starting with the second book is always a gamble. In this case, I missed the initial outbreak and zombie apocalypse, but the recap by surviving characters made it easy enough to catch up to speed. Definitely one of those cases where the standard tropes can be helpful. We don’t need a whole lot of explanation and backstory when it comes to zombies these days.

And, by now, as we all should know, oftentimes the zombies themselves aren’t even the main problem … it’s those pesky fellow live-types in the aftermath. Conlaven Island is a compound established for just such global emergencies, where refugees from all over gather under military protection.

Maynard Dunn and his family (those that made it) are among the newest batch of arrivals, but they quickly realize the island is far from the sanctuary it seems. Control freaks on power trips run the show, murderous maniacs roam free, scientists conduct dubious experiments in secret bunkers, and some sinister force is behind the entire uprising.

I did find the writing here to be far heavier on the ‘tell’ than the ‘show’ side for my taste, the actions and reactions of several characters a little hard to believe, and, sorry, but, gotta say it, the level of casual sexism if not outright misogyny got under my skin. There’s, like, two named female characters in the entire book, both of whom serve mainly to be victimized, and it was really off-putting. Three if you count the dog, who has a heroic moment but who’s left as such a loose end, I couldn’t help wondering if the author simply forgot.

Anyway, it’s got military action, conspiracies, gunplay, and power-struggles (and, occasionally, zombies with hints of something more). I’ll probably give the others in the series a miss, though, mostly for the reasons mentioned above.

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Reviews for the Week of August 20, 2018

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

CORPSEPAINT by David Peak (2018 Word Horde / 240 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Horror and heavy metal tend to go together, to ‘pair well’ as the foodies and boozies say. Elements such as violence, darkness, nihilism, grotesque imagery, and the occult feature strongly in both. They’re a natural combo. And, in CORPSEPAINT, they’re elevated (as the foodies and boozies might also say). This is horror metal to the ultimate extreme, blackly ominous, evilly thrilling.

Max, whose stage name is Strigoi, was a big name back in the day, his personal reputation filled with notoriety. He was a bad boy even among bad boys, a renegade. The years and the lifestyle have taken their toll, though. Especially drugs. He’d like to make a comeback, but he’s burned a lot of bridges. This new album he’s planning to record in the Ukraine could well be his last chance, if he can pull himself together.

The album is to be recorded at a sort of metal-music retreat compound run by one of Max’s old friends, Seph, but it seems the old friend has some new rules. Including no drugs. It’s very remote, very rustic, not an easy place to reach or to leave. Seems to operate more like a cult than anything else. But Max, and his drummer Roland, do their best to settle in and be productive.

Until, of course, various true natures begin to show through. Max’s, for instance; if there’s a way to get drugs, he’s determined to find it. Seph is equally determined to adhere to the compound’s ways and purpose, which are a lot closer to cultlike than anyone guessed.

And the forces behind it all are a lot stronger. I mean, yeah, okay, people get worked up about black metal and devil-worship; this goes a ways beyond. We’re talking epic and mythic, older, primal, end-of-the-world level stuff.

Very well-written, packed with characters it’s hard to like as people but easy to understand and relate to even with their fatal flaws, CORPSEPAINT will … well, I won’t say make black metal fans happy; that feels like a contradiction somehow … but it’s throw-the-horns wild and should certainly satisfy.

-Christine Morgan

ERIE TALES VII: MYTHS AND MAYHEM edited by II: David C. Hayes (2014 Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers / 108 pp / trade paperback)

In my last review of an ERIE TALES anthology, I mentioned being glad to have the next few volumes on deck, and am glad to report that, so far, they don’t disappoint! The theme this time is ‘Myths & Mayhem,' which means some of my favorite things – folklore, fairy tales, etc. – get to feature strongly in these fresh new takes.

Shad Kelly starts us off with “Blood for Oil,” a deceptively clever title because it’s nothing to do with war or the Middle East at all … a mysterious lady joins a grieving man in the graveyard for a poignant, chillingly touching Dia de los Muertos, offering him a rare opportunity for a final goodbye.

Peggy Christie serves up a couple of quick spidery takes on a certain Little Miss Muffet, then changes her pace with a college student faced with a vengeful spirit. In “Time to Pay the Piper,” Tom Sawyer reveals a sinister motive in an updated version of the pied piper tale, while Ken MacGregor reinvents a dangerous bridge-crossing in “The Brothers Gruff.”

“Them Fairies” by Adam LaFrance provides a twisted dark-comedy good lesson in not to mess with anyone who has a fairy godmother, and M.E. von Bindig’s “Teahouse of Serpents” goes far more serious with a beautifully retold selection from Japanese folklore.

A wolf in the woods causes trouble along Montilee Stormer’s “De Paat’” to grandmother’s house. Michael Cieslak presents a grimmer-than-Grimm version of a snazzily-dressed feline in “Puss in Battle Creek.” Then, finishing things off is Nicole E. Castle’s “Three Fold,” when the steep price of magic promises greater rewards.

Each story also includes a neat illustration by Ron Maxwell; I particularly liked the fairy with the frying pan, and the broken gnome.

-Christine Morgan

JOURNEY TO THE EDGE OF THE FLAT EARTH by Jeff O’Brien (2018 Amazon Digital Services LLC / 130 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Alright, folks. Here’s the thing. Have you ever read one of those books you just really can’t put a finger on what’s actually going on? I have. But, trust me… that’s not even remotely going to be the case here (even though at times it probably should be) but, the author holds on and keeps us dialed in on this entertainment support hotline we didn’t even know we called up in the first place. O’Brien seems to have this uncanny ability to make the reader’s wildest unimaginable wet-bubble dreams come true at the turn of every riotous page, while managing to unfold this humorously chaotic story before our very eyes. This is hands down one of the funniest books I’ve read to date. "But, Daddy ... I don’t like comedy and only want to read super serious subject matter that makes me look smarter on my morning commute to work. Is this book going to be for me?" Sure, it is, it’s very well-written and there’s enough serious subject matter going on, too. After all, it’s a book about alternate realities and dimensions, with enough horror and music references jam-packed inside for days. 

Just look at the book description, “Every reality is real. Somewhere. Jeff O'Brien has been to at least two of them. I think the title tells you all you really need to know. Get woke.” 

Let me just end here by saying this… There’s a scene in this book (right after one of the funniest pizza place scenes I’ve read in a while, where the author meets up with this group of creatures and an alien to embark on this ridiculous journey), where the author continues to meet an alternate version of himself, and they’re both holding copies of the same Rolling Stone magazine. But, one of them features Billy Corgan on the cover all by himself, while the other alternate version of the author is holding the same exact magazine, but on the front cover his has a photograph of the entire band, The Smashing Pumpkins, and they have a rather lengthy conversation about it together, before chasing each other through different memories. If that isn’t enough to blow your freaking mind into an alternate sub-sonic oblivion, I don’t know what is. Just check out the book for yourself and see where The Journey to the Edge of the Flat Earth really takes you.

-Jon R. Meyers

THEM by James Watts (2018 Hellbound Books / 290 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The death of his mother brings Ray back to his childhood home, and plunges him into the middle a classic small-town gothic. He only wants to deal with his grief and loss, and settle her affairs, not get drawn into a bunch of long-held secrets, hidden family histories, and old feuds and rivalries.

He certainly doesn’t want to deal with the neighbor who is all too eager to buy the property, before Ray’s barely had a chance to think about his options. He isn’t sure he’s ready for the feelings of nostalgia and homecoming. There’s also the matter of his ex, still living in town. It’s a lot of drama to take on all at once.

But wait, there’s more … because there’s a sharp edge to these secrets, a sinister twist to the family histories, a deadly pact behind those old feuds and rivalries. There’s THEM. They are restless, they are hungry, they want out.

Some in town want to help and protect THEM, even to the point of murder. Others are equally dedicated to keeping THEM contained. Strange things are happening – animal attacks, dreams and visions, even visits from the dead. And Ray, like it or not, soon finds he has his own part to play.

Small-town gothic it may be, but amped up with considerable blood, guts, and gore. The descriptions are very vivid, particularly once the icky bits get going. Could have used a little more editorial and proofreading love, but the story’s mostly solid, the monsters are fun, and it’s an entertaining read overall.

-Christine Morgan

A IS FOR APOCALYPSE edited by Rhonda Parrish (2014 Poise and Pen Publishing / 310 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I love themed anthologies and nifty writer challenges, and this one had an extra level of difficulty built in. The overall theme is the apocalypse, end of the world one way or another, subject to interpretation, but then, to make it trickier, each author had a different letter of the alphabet.

Naturally, with such a structure, that means the book’s going to contain 26 stories by as many (or more!) authors, which makes for a generous appetizer platter. Not every story’s going to appeal to every reader, just as not every appetizer’s going to appeal to every diner, but the variety means everyone should have plenty of tasty options to nibble upon.

I won’t go through the whole TOC here, but will limit myself to choosing a few personal faves from the bunch. Such as, the entry 'for U,' by Damien Angelica Walters; I still have yet to read anything by her that wasn’t spectacular, and this one about a mom trying to shield her little girl from the truth of approaching doomsday hit me right in the feels where that scene in Titanic with the old couple always does.

By contrast, Gary B. Phillips made me laugh out loud several times with his entry for the letter K, about crowdsourcing Armageddon. Other standouts: KV Taylor’s anthropological journal for J, Suzanne van Rooyen’s tragically beautiful entry for the letter F, and Pete Aldin’s creepy and all-too-plausible scenario for the letter S, and that’s where I’ll make myself stop before I end up listing them all.

With a bonus story at the end, the anthology equivalent of staying through the credits at a Marvel movie and getting a full trailer for the sequel … B is for Broken, coming soon!

-Christine Morgan


Monday, July 30, 2018

Reviews for the Week of July 30, 2018

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

THE VERY INEFFECTIVE HAUNTED HOUSE AND OTHER STRANGE AND STUPID STORIES by Jeff Burk (2018 Clash Books / 140 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Hey, you! Yeah, you. No, not you. Behind you. No, not you. C’mon, why would I want to talk to you? Behind you. Yeah, you. Okay, I’ll stop as this could literally continue on and on forever, but, perhaps, you’re in the mood to lighten the mood lighting a little bit, turn things down a notch, you know? And what better way to do so than the latest from Jeff Burk and Clash Books? It’s a riotous romp through the haunted hands of time and space. A little bit bizarre. A little bit comedy. A little bit Horror. A little bit of poetry to be found in this new short story collection.

My favorite story was the main one, 'The Very Ineffective Haunted House.' The story was well-written in a way that was very easy for the reader to read, following along and written from the POV of an aging haunted house with a new family that has just moved inside of it. This is a clever hammer of a story that packs a mean little nail punch to the head (pun intended). All is well and good as long as the new family leaves the house alone in the attic where it can keep working on its drawing and coloring skills. Maybe, when it gets bored enough it will mess with them a little bit, but only if it can remember how. It’s not easy being a haunted house. Other personal favorites in this collection were 'The Dog Who Stared' and 'The Satanic Little Toaster.'

All in all, there’s a little bit of something strange and stupid for everybody in this extremely versatile and humorous collection worth checking out from Clash Books. Check it out for yourself!

-Jon R. Meyers

Jeff Burk may be mostly known as the head editor of Deadite Press, but the guy writes too, and not just about William Shatner! In fact, the Shat doesn’t appear in any of the dozen stories forming this nifty new collection. Plenty of other weirdness, however, does.

The title tale is oddly both demented and sweet, when the ghost of someone who wanted to be an artist (but wasn’t a very good one) finds himself haunting an unfamiliar house. Having little in the way of personal memories, drawing mainly upon what he recalls from the movies, he sets out with the best of spooky intentions once the nice young family moves in. Except, it turns out, he’s not very good at haunting either … embarrassing, especially when his house is right down the street from a certain God of Hungry Walls (in-joke, see Cook, Garrett). A smattering of illustrations accompany the whimsical recounting; I particularly like the pic of the cat.

Cats, btw, do tend to feature prominently in Burk’s work; he’s a crazy cat person in good standing. The second story, revealed in the notes to have been drawn from a dream, is an autobiographical peek into his everyday life … well, until “The Window That Shouldn’t Be There” makes an appearance. You’ll get to see his house and garden, meet the housemates, the girlfriend, the many cats.

You’ll also find a Clickers story from the J.F. Gonzalez tribute anthology, a sideways look at the possible effects of drug use, a decidedly left-handed nod to GG Allin, possessed household appliances, a weird tattoo infestation, a Lynchian easter-egg hipster hunt, some unusual tentacle porn (wait, there’s usual tentacle porn?), and more.

“The Dog Who Stared” is probably my personal fave of the batch, even if it’s about a dog instead of a cat. We’ve all known those pets who stare at things we can’t see; in this one, a cultish following forms around one, to the confusion of its owners.

Burk’s main strength here, aside from his innate sense of fun and playfulness, is in taking a wry but astute look at many aspects of modern society. From bronies and collectors/collectibles to click-bait articles and the punk scene, the absurdity is all around us.

Also, the essay “Mother[bleep]ing Dinosaurs: An Ode to Dinosaurs Attack!”? Totally true. I even have a whole set thanks to him.

-Christine Morgan

DERBY CITY DEAD by Darren Madigan (2014 CreateSpace / 328 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

One thing that often gets done to death in zombie books, so to speak, is having the characters be supposedly of our current modern world yet utterly clueless about what’s happening. In Derby City Dead, that’s not a problem … thanks to pop culture, nearly everyone’s familiar with the classics and the basics. The term “zombie apocalypse” is brought up early and readily accepted. People have seen Walking Dead and Zombieland. They know something of the rules, of how this works.

Except, that’s where the REAL problem arises, because the classics and the basics and the usual rules don’t apply. When you’ve been taught that “shoot ‘em in the head” is the only way, or that they’re mindless shamblers easily fooled, or that a bite is an automatic death-and-turning sentence, suddenly finding out the hard way it isn’t necessarily so can be a bigger stumbling block than the fact of zombies themselves.

As a result, when the (bleep) hits the fan, many of the survivors are both more, and less, prepared to deal with it. The primary goals are the same either way – survival, shelter, weapons, water, food, family.

This is when practicalities and preparedness come into play, the common sense issues of defensible buildings and supplies. Learning more about the nature of the zombies leads to makeshift plans of attack. And, of course, there’s dealing with the other groups of survivors who might not be so friendly.

The main hitch for me is that some of the characters, the ‘bad guys’ in particular, are presented as so glaringly unpleasant – racist, sexist, homophobe, religious wackadoo – as to come across almost as caricatures, making them too easy to despise.

Aside from that, though, it’s action-packed and clever, poking fun at the tropes and presenting some new twists.

-Christine Morgan

DEATH OBSESSED by Robert Essig (2018 Grand Mal Press / 294 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If you can't tell by the cover art, DEATH OBSESSED is aimed at fans of gruesome horror films of the VHS era, and while it took a bit to get going, Essig, for the most part, delivers the goods wrapped in a gore-soaked loved letter.

As a kid, Calvin was a major horror film freak. He managed to see everything he could, the sicker, the better. He was especially fond of the real-life (or supposed real-life) mondo films like Faces of Death and anything he could get his hands on. Today, he works a humble job as an electrician's apprentice and has a pregnant girlfriend who wants him to better himself. But he's still very much in his own world, more concerned about his dark hobby than the idea he's about to be a father. Essig makes it clear Calvin's entire being is sold out to horror, and after he gets his hands on a mysterious, unmarked VHS tape, his world takes a grisly and supernatural turn.

With a host of unsavory characters (goth chick Hazel gives Calvin a run for his money), some truly disturbing images (one sex scene will test even fans of the extreme stuff), and the true feel of a low budget Z-level horror film, DEATH OBSESSED, despite a few minor flaws, is a lot of gruesome fun, even with a cast who seem like the lowest form of scum on the planet. But, perhaps that was the author's intent: we may despise some of these people for the things they say and do, yet doesn't that mirror the films Calvin and others here are obsessed with?

DEATH OBSESSED is not for everyone, but it should be enjoyed by anyone who has a love for the darker side of cinema...and cult horror fiction.

-Nick Cato

MIDNIGHT'S ETERNAL PRISONER by Matthew Pungitore (2018 BookBaby / 50 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This slim novella reads rather like a gothic adult video game, in which our protagonist (Moneo) is trapped in a magical/haunted castle being slowly consumed by darkness as its master seeks to bring his dead lover back to life. A demon/goddess, also trapped, offers Moneo a deal – if he helps her, they can escape together.

He accepts, and the story follows this main quest with various objectives, side quests, and wisecracking NPC sidekicks along the way. Keys to collect, spells to cast and break, a succession of increasingly difficult boss battles, and unfolding backstory all come into play. Some passages even read like cut scenes.

The writing style is unusual, shifting tenses from present to past and back again, sometimes as often as every other sentence. I did stumble over that a few times, unable to determine how intentional it was, and with what purpose. A few too many non-said dialogue tags for my taste, too.

But the descriptions in particular are gorgeous, lavish visuals and lush scene-setting, broody atmosphere, fantastical creatures and monsters. I don’t play many video games myself, but I would watch the heck out of someone else playing it. I kept thinking about Ravenloft and classic D&D modules from years past; it just has that kind of FEEL.

-Christine Morgan

GLASS SLIPPER DREAMS, SHATTERED by Doungjai Gam (2018 Apokrupha / 79 pp / eBook)

Gam’s first collection may be short but there’s plenty going on here to show off the skills of this fresh newer voice.

The first batch of flash fiction comes fast and furious. There are a few pieces about scorned lovers and a couple of end times tales that manage to feel epic despite being only a few sentences long. Some stand outs are ‘I’ll Make You Famous,’ ‘Swallowed in Pieces, Consumed n Whole,’ ‘Torn,’ ‘The Key is the Key,’ ‘Light Box,’ ‘Candy Apple,’ and ‘Dead Weight.’

Among the slightly longer stories are ‘What Remains,’ a real Chiller about an adult still suffering with childhood fears, ‘Thy Ink is Thy Blood,’ finds a depressed author getting a most unusual psychological revenge on her boyfriend, and ‘That Girl With the Hair’ is a clever take on a famous mythology.

A quick and solid read, Gam gives her own flavor to some classic tropes and managed to spook me out a couple of times. Fans of flash fiction will surely eat this up.

-Nick Cato

THE ORGAN DONOR by Matthew Warner (2017 Bloodshot Books / 316 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

15th anniversary and I only now learned about this one? Medical/body horror combined with mythology? Sheesh, I must not have been paying attention! This is seriously good stuff!

We’ll start off by saying the organ donor of the title isn’t exactly, um, willing. Not someone carrying the little card in his wallet. More of an involuntary harvestee. And this isn’t the old urban legend of waking up in a motel bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing, or the desperate poor selling their own organs on the black market … it goes even darker.

Executed prisoners, for instance. Executed prisoners for whom the execution might even have been put on an accelerated schedule (or whose sentence hadn’t included it in the first place). But, when you’ve got a rich client with a tight timeline and loose morals, well, hey …

Paul and Tim Taylor don’t quite fit that bill, but their father once did a favor for a very influential Chinese ‘businessman’ who is eager to repay the debt. The brothers fly to China, where Tim is set to get a new kidney, and Paul, injured in a terrorist attack while there, suddenly needs some drastic medical care of his own.

Their benefactor is happy to let them think their donor was a voluntary match who just happened to die at the right time. They don’t know about prisons and executed criminals and teams of surgeons operating (literally!) outside the law. They certainly don’t know about Shen, the source of their new spare parts, who turns out to be far from any ordinary prisoner. And far from happy about being shot and cut up.

Shen wants back what is his, even if it means following the Taylors home to America and retrieving his missing pieces personally. Before he gets there, his connection to the brothers is having bizarre effects, but Paul has a hard time convincing anyone that something strange is going on … until the violent, inexplicable deaths begin … until it seems a figure out of Chinese mythology is on the hunt … until Paul himself might have to fight for more than his life.

-Christine Morgan