Monday, January 19, 2015

Reviews for the Week of January 19, 2015

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

SECRET THINGS by Stacey Longo (2013 Books and Boos Press / 170 pp / trade paperback)

This collection of 13 tales (8 presented here for the first time) deals with secrets that can sometimes have fatal consequences, and along with chills you'll find some finely-blended in humor.

The opening title tale is a short and sweet revenge yarn with a neat twist ending. 'Good Night, Francine,' shows what can happen to a snobby old woman, while 'Time to Let Go' is a solid, quiet ghost story about lost love.

'Cliffhanger' is not recommended for those afraid of heights (::raises hand::) and 'Josephine' features another elderly protagonist as she contemplates a former crush. I keep saying I'm sick of zombie stories, but 'Love Stinks' brings the laughs along with the grue. One of my faves of the collection.

SECRET THINGS is then interrupted by 'Interlude: a Tale That Failed,' a neat little rib-tickler that leads us into 'Trapped,' yet another one featuring an elderly woman who finds herself in a desperate situation during a major blizzard. 'Max Elliott, Exterminator' shows us what a zombie hunter does now that the apocalypse has ended, then we get into my favorite of the collection, 'People Person,' about a young woman who can't seem to fit in anywhere ... even on a sparsely populated, isolated island. It's like a mix of THE WICKER MAN and EATING RAOUL...

'Mother's Day' is another undead-fueled caper featuring a very stubborn antagonist, then 'Denny's Dilemma' is a heartbreaker about a relationship that could have been. Longo wraps things up with 'Woman Scorned,' where a cheating boyfriend is dealt with in a clever manner.

A couple of stories in SECRET THINGS might not be considered "horror," but the author keeps everything dark and mysterious. Even when something feels a bit familiar (such as in 'Mother's Day,') Longo manages to pull an ace at the last minute and give things her own angle. Good stuff.

-Nick Cato

CRADLE OF THE DEAD / DARK WAVES by Roger Jackson / Simon Kearns (2014 Blood Bound Books / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m old enough and hoarder enough to actually still own several of those ancient twofer paperbacks, the kind with two stories in and you’d turn the book over. Being asked if I was interested in reviewing a modern take on that, you can believe I wasted no time saying yes.

Now, you might wonder if this would get tricky, given ebooks and all. Would I have to upend my screen? Read upside down? As it happens, no. And, bonus, it removes any angst over which way to shelve it!

What it does mean is two quick, pulpy-fun reads in one! They share a similar overall theme of places with bad and/or haunted histories – an abandoned asylum in CRADLE OF THE DEAD, and a quaint old inn in DARK WAVES – and the ways the evils of the past can reach out for revenge.

I initially thought, based on title alone, that DARK WAVES would turn out to be one of those oceanic horror stories, with adrift lifeboats, sharks, starvation, etc. Instead, I got The Dawlish Inn, and since I’m a history geek with a particular fondness for the British Isles, hey, that was even better! I lingered, reading and re-reading the descriptions and details of the inn, far longer than any normal person probably would have done.

The inn, of course, is believed to be haunted. The protagonist is not exactly a ghost-hunter, but a scientific acoustic engineer – those waves? sound waves, durr – who’s been studying the physical effects certain vibrations can have. By disrupting those, he’s ended more than a few ‘hauntings.’ He expects that his new assignment to check out this inn will be no different.

(also, the chocolate? brilliant, love it; a legit psychopharmalogical explanation for post-Dementor treatment!)

CRADLE OF THE DEAD takes the abandoned-asylum setting but doesn’t toss in urban explorers or anybody digging into whatever atrocities went on there … it’s a handy, isolated place for a local crime boss to bring the people he needs to deal with. There’s even a potter’s field for body disposal.

Of course, when the crime boss decides one of his own men has to be eliminated, that poor guy already has a good idea of what’s waiting for him. But, little do any of them know that Alderville Asylum has been harboring its own other secrets, and the time has come for those secrets to be revealed. Soon, the chase is on, as would-be victims try to escape their captors, and the captors themselves are beset by worse threats.

Each book alone is a worthy, enjoyable read. Together as a package deal, you definitely won’t be going wrong.

-Christine Morgan

SPLATTERPUNK #6  (edited by Jack Bantry)

SPLATTERPUNK is a fairly new ‘zine published in the UK.  It’s not fancy – it’s just plain printer paper stapled together, like so many ‘zines back in the “old days” before the Internet. But make no mistake – this publication packs a nasty punch.

Issue #6 boasts stories by some great writers – James Newman, Bracken MacLeod, Ryan Harding, and Kit Power, to name a few. There are also columns and book reviews.

The stories are nasty, disgusting, and offensive. I loved them all. Ryan Harding’s “Threesome” had a few gruesome twists, and had a wonderful nod to the delightfully horrific 80s movie Re-Animator. Bracken MacLeod’s “The Texas Chainsaw Breakfast Club OR I Don’t Like Mondays” is an obvious tribute to The Breakfast Club, and it works perfectly. James Newman’s “Big Girls Help Their Mommy” is disturbing, but as a mom myself, sad as well. Great story.

“Fuck Shock” by Brendan Vidito and “Lifeline” by Kit Power are both stories that will make the reader’s skin crawl – and both have consequences in regards to sex, either having it or thinking about it. But which character gets it worse?

The columns are fun to read. From Kit Power writing about extreme horror as a squeamish fan, James Newman giving a list of non-horror movies with unsettling moments, to John Boden’s journey as a horror fan from childhood to now, all are interesting and well-written.

The editor, Jack Bantry, gives a list of his favorite splatterpunk novels throughout the years, which should inspire readers to check them out.

I hope this ‘zine grows – it deserves a wide audience. It’s encouraging that there are already six issues, and I don’t see any signs of it folding. The small press is tough, so check this ‘zine out. Buy it, and tell your friends!

This issue was dedicated to the memory of J.F. Gonzalez, a wonderful horror writer who recently left us way too soon.

More info here: Splatterpunk

-Sheri White

THE BONEYARD by Keith Minnion (2014 Bad Moon Books / 354 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In Minnion's novel THE BONE WORMS, Detective Fran Lomax is investigating a series of unusual and gruesome murders in the Philadelphia area. Mutilated bodies are being discovered with their bones missing, and the corpses are left with precision-quality scars that suggest a master serial killer is at work. But the more Lomax digs in, the stranger the case becomes.

On the other side of town, two senior citizens (who have been friends since they were children) share an apartment, one protecting the other from a bizarre situation they shared back in the early 1920's. Like the victims Lomax is dealing with, each of these men are physically scarred, and each one knows who (or what) is responsible for the recent rash of murders.

Minnion's blend of supernatural horror and police procedural is packed with suspense, gut-wrenching violence, and good, old-school horror that will keep fans glued to the pages. As a bonus, the short story on which the novel was based, UP IN THE BONEYARD, is included. With cover and interior artwork by Steven Gilberts, THE BONEYARD is a slick package that's highly recommended.

-Nick Cato

FLOPPY SHOES APOCALYPSE edited by Alex S. Johnson and John Ledger (2014 JEA Wetworks / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

“A Clown Horror Anthology” is what it says, and yes indeed that’s what you get. Clowns. Yeesh. I mean really, think about it, loads of people are scared of spiders or snakes, too … but you don’t generally have them at your birthday party, featured prominently in toys and nursery d├ęcor, or cavorting down Main Street in a parade.

There’s a strong tendency to blame Stephen King for it. Exhibit A: Pennywise; case closed. Except, no, we’re shooting the messenger there. King didn’t create or cause the phobia; with Pennywise, he tapped into what was already there. Same with that awful cymbal monkey. I was scared of those long before I read his story.

But, I digress. I am not writing an intro for this book. Nor do I need to, because it’s already got one, a bang-up good one by Magan “Lovey” Rodriguez. Who is – prepare yourselves – one of them. An actual clown. The introduction delivers such an entertaining slice of history with psychological and literary overviews that I for one would read an entire book on the subject. I learned some stuff! I was intrigued enough to want to go learn more stuff! In the intro to a clown horror anthology! Maybe it’s just me, but I found that pretty cool.

And then there are the stories, seventeen of them, beginning with a bouncy little poem. Mary Genevieve Fortier’s “Every Nine and Twenty” has such a catchy rhyme and rhythm that you could easily imagine it being chanted at skip-rope, if you like your skip-rope rhymes featuring blood, blades, eyeballs and entrails.

Many of the stories share some common elements – beyond, y’know, that of clowns, which is a given. There are greasepaint serial killers, characters with memories of horrible things done to them as kids by clowns, evil traveling carnivals, circuses of the damned, and so on.

But there are also were-clowns … clown cults … clown contagions … some truly disturbing cotton candy scenes (and balloon animals, oh, the balloon animals!) … kinky clown sex … hellish/clownish future dystopias …

One of my personal standout pieces is Aaron Besson’s “Fool Moon,” a terrific and original noir piece in which a couple of Mimetown detectives are on the trail of a murderer. It’s got the whole cop-drama aspect, a weird sort of Roger Rabbit vibe in places, and tons of cleverness with the pantomime and attention to detail.

Some of the splashiest, gooshiest scenes appear in “Under the Clown Moon,” by Jim Goforth; I had a bit of trouble suspending my disbelief over the actual moon part – TA to an astronomy professor in college, I had earth-moon-sun diagrams embedded in my brain – but the chaotic goresplat made for tons of fun.

So. If you are already disturbed by clowns, this book offers plenty to make you shiver and flinch … if you are not already disturbed by clowns, quite possibly you will be by the time you’re done. You’ll smell the popcorn and hear the calliope music, so step right up, ladies and gents, step right up! Ringside seats for the first of what will be a whole three-ring circus!

-Christine Morgan


Monday, January 5, 2015

Reviews for the Week of January 5, 2015

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

THE MARIONNETTISTE OF VERSAILLES AND OTHER ODDITIES by Adam Millard (2014 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 218 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook

I confess, I picked up this collection on a whim without realizing it was by the same author responsible for the holly-jolly-bomination of THE HUMAN SANTAPEDE … my delight and surge of anticipatory confidence upon making that connection was substantial.

And it was not in vain. While the stories herein do not go for the same all-out outrageousness, they are all gorgeously written and contain several gem-like moments of description and artful turns of phrase. If a few of them do turn out the way you might expect, they do so with smooth style. The ones that don’t, the ones that throw in some twists, are creepy-good fun.

With 25 such well-done stories to choose from, I found it harder than usual to single out only a few favorites. “Lythalia Calling” is definitely high among them, though. It’s a beautiful piece about a man who sees a strange girl dancing in his garden midnight after midnight, and what happens when he finally decides to approach.

“Hair” is one with the above-mentioned twist ending; it’ll keep you guessing and second-guessing, even though you’re sure you know, right up to the finish. So is “What’s She Got That I Haven’t?” in which a two-timer thinks he can get away with hosting both ladies at the same party.

“Bug Boy” is compellingly nasty, sickening but somehow hard to look away from. And “Sparrows” would have been right at home in my Teeming Terrors anthology; I loved the vivid, visual, visceral scenes of fluttering, pecking carnage.

“7:17 From Suicide Station” is, itself, a lot like the train in the story … a building tension like gathering steam and speed on its inexorable one-way course. By contrast, “Nyogtha of the Northern Line” is another kind of train story altogether, part Barker and part Lovecraft but ultimately something else altogether.

In “Food of Love,” the relationship between a devoted husband and his bedridden wife conveys the oddest, most unsettling overlap of sentimentality and revulsion. Try and say, “Awww!” and “Eeww!” at the same time. Not easy. But this one invokes it.

The stories here range from history and mystery to sci-fi and otherworldly, a nice mix of something for everyone … provided ‘everyone’ is maybe a little morbid or bent … then again, well, aren’t we?

-Christine Morgan

PLAGUE OF DARKNESS by Daniel G. Keohane (2014 Other Road Press / 252 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Gem Davidson's new neighbors live in a house that was once a church called Saint Gerard's. It had been closed down by an Episcopal bishop eight months earlier, its altar removed in a "deconsecration" service. While not religious, Gem wonders how a church could be taken away so easily, and wonders what the inside now looks like.

But when Gem and a few others (including Saint Gerard's former pastor) visit the new home of Bill and Seyha Watts, they find themselves surrounded by an invading darkness so deep they're unable to leave ... until they begin to confront ghosts from each of their pasts. But even when they begin to reveal their secrets, the darkness grows, causing them to question whether or not they may already be in hell...

Keohane's latest religious-themed thriller will make those afraid of the dark squirm in their seats, as he makes darkness (both literal and figurative) as creepy as Lucy Taylor made the abscence of sound in her classic short story 'The Silence Between the Screams.'

PLAGUE OF DARKNESS is easily Keohane's best novel to date. It's a solid, intelligent horror novel that will have you thinking long after you finish it.

-Nick Cato

THE FINAL WINTER by Iain Rob Wright (2014 SalGad Publishing Group / 252 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

There are so many, many ways our world can end … and Wright seems to be having a lot of fun working his way through the list. And since I can’t get enough of that kind of thing, I’m happy to keep right on reading along.

The culprit this time is the cold, a global deep-freeze in which it just suddenly starts snowing. Everywhere. Never mind climate or season or any of it; just cue the inexplicable blizzards! It’s The Day After Tomorrow but bigger, taking over both hemispheres. Though, in this story, the larger scope of the rest of the world is pretty well left to fend for itself off-screen.

The focus stays up-close and personal on a struggling English neighborhood. With the roads closed, the power out, and the phones not working, those stranded at their shops seek refuge at the local pub along with the bartender and her regulars, and the odd jovial stranger passing through.

It is not the most convivial gathering right from the start. Even if these were all folks who enjoyed each other’s company under normal circumstances, well, these are anything but normal. Tensions pile higher as the snowdrifts do. Personalities clash. Secrets and resentments fester. Backstories unfold in skillfully-handled twists and layers. They’re running low on fuel for the fireplace, not to mention food. The beer is going frozen solid.

As if all that’s not recipe enough for trouble on its own, the weirdness leaps to new levels. Some survivors come in with tales of seeing bizarre, deadly figures in the storm. Eerie flames appear to dance atop the snow. Hallucinations, they’d like to think; delusions brought on by the stress and the extreme cold.

Until a mangled, bloody body comes crashing through the window with an ominous message carved into its flesh, and the people trapped in the pub realize they are rapidly running out of time. Survival might not be an option, let alone salvation.

A chilling read in more than one way, perhaps best enjoyed while bundled up in comfy jammies by a cozy fire, with a nice big mug of something warm.

-Christine Morgan

SLUSH by Glenn Rolfe (2014 Alien Agenda Publishing / 115 pp / eBook)

This is a collection of twelve short horror stories by a relative newcomer in the genre. From gross to somewhat poignant, there is something for everyone who is a fan of horror fiction. And while many of the stories are predictable, they are written well enough for even a jaded reader to enjoy.

The first story, ‘Skull of Snakes,’ is a cursed-object tale, but the characters make the reader care about what happens to them. It’s the summer of 1989 in a small town, and a group of friends are hanging out at the train tracks when one of them finds a coin. Soon after, tragedy befalls them, and they try to find out the coin’s history and what is happening to them. 

‘The Curse’ reminded me a bit of the film THE CRAFT, with teen girls who are wronged and plan revenge. It’s a little far-fetched, but still a fun read.

‘Something Lost’ is a sweet, tear jerker tribute to the author’s father, lost at too young an age. Sad, but also moving and sweet.

Anybody who has had severe acne will feel both sympathy and horror for the title character in ‘Henry.’ While seeing a dermatologist would have been Henry’s best bet, he takes care of the problem in his own twisted way.

The rest of the stories are enjoyable, some disturbing and twisted, but nothing wrong with that! If you’re looking for a new author in horror, Glenn Rolfe is a good one to check out.

-Sheri White

SWEET STORY by Carlton Mellick III (2014 Eraserhead Press / 120 pp / trade paperback)

The author’s introduction warns that, despite the innocuous title and charming cover, this is not a children’s book. Do believe him, and how! SWEET STORY takes a simple wish, generous in spirit, and extrapolates it into a cataclysmic nightmare extinction event.

Things start off idyllic enough, at least for little Sally. She’s a happy girl, maybe a bit spoiled by her whimsical daddy, maybe a bit neglected by her aloof mother and ignored by her totally-goth-and-stuff teen sister … but she’s got dollies with the secret abilities to move and talk .. and she loves nothing more than to chase after rainbows.

One of these days, she’s sure, she’ll find the end of a rainbow, which is where magic happens and wishes are granted. When that day comes, she’s even willing to follow it into the blurry, sad part of town, and to put up with the obnoxious lazy fat boy from next door tagging along (though she’s very much not thrilled with the wish that HE makes).

The poverty and despair she found in the blurry part of town makes Sally all the more determined to do something nice. So, when her chance comes, she wishes for something she thinks will delight everyone – that it will rain candy! What could possibly be bad about that?

At first, she’s not sure it worked. Days go by without any rain at all. But then, strange clouds appear in the sky, and the next thing she knows, candy comes raining down. People are loving it! Dancing and cheering, scrambling to scoop it up from the streets like kids at the world’s biggest pinata party –

Except, well, it does rain kind of hard. You think hailstones are bad? And there are limits to the amount of candy anybody can eat before feeling sick; even four-year-olds given free rein on a Halloween trick-or-treat bucket are going to have their fill sooner or later. Not to mention the widespread panic, ecological effects, and societal collapse that soon follow.

This one goes to some dark, very dark places. However insidiously sinister and creepy you may have considered Willie Wonka (original book and Gene Wilder film versions), it’s not got much on this beautiful black-humor twist on ruining innocence and destroying dreams.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 15, 2014

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

JAZZ AGE CTHULHU by Jennifer Brozek, A.D. Cahill,  and Orrin Grey (2015 Innsmouth Free Press / 109 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The intro to this snazzy little number mentions the odd comparative rarity of the novella these days, which is a shame because some things should never go out of style. Books like this give good reasons why, three good reasons from three fine writers.

“Dreams of a Thousand Young” by Jennifer Brozek kicks it off strong, as a very proper British heiress living abroad in Assam wakes to find a strange man in her room. Dead. Bloody. And herself naked, with suspicious bruises but no memory of the preceding events. What follows is a delicate balancing act of trying to preserve her reputation while uncovering the truth. As the mystery unravels, she finds herself drawn into a conspiracy of cults, sex, murder and dark magic.

Next up is Orrin Grey’s “The Lesser Keys,” shifting the scene to a hoppin’ and happenin’ roadhouse outside of Kansas City. A Chicago club owner has sent an envoy to try and recruit the band, but the envoy suspects it’s going to be a lot more challenging than just making the better monetary offer. Meanwhile, a young lady searching for her missing brother finds the trail leads to the same roadhouse, and that whatever weirdness is going on there is about to hit its peak.

“Pomptina Sum” by A.D. Cahill wraps things up with a trip to Italy, as a grifter assumes a new identity to try his luck finding patrons among the wealthy of a quaint little island. He soon discovers that he not only has competition, but that the island and its inhabitants are not at all what they seem. Forget maintaining his cover; he’ll be lucky to escape with his life … not to mention his sanity and soul.

All three are gripping, well-done reads. Besides, I enjoy themed anthologies, I enjoy Lovecraftian tales, and I enjoy the era in question … that’s three MORE reasons. If that’s not enough, well then, I don’t know what else to tell ya.

-Christine Morgan

GHOST CHANT by Gina Ranalli (2014 Grindhouse Press / 90  pp / trade paperback)

Despite having a new boyfriend, Cherie Drew is still mourning the death of her husband. She's also having issues with a little girl named Maggie who lives across the street. It seems Maggie likes to play in her yard and doesn't respond when Cherie tries to talk to her. One night while alone in the house, Cherie even finds Maggie hanging out in her basement, and events begin to snowball that Cherie could've never forseen.

A spooky study of a woman dealing with grief and inner demons, of dark family secrets and paranoia, GHOST CHANT is a quick, intense, and satisfying journey into human darkness that I consumed in one sitting.

-Nick Cato

CRIPPLE WOLF by Jeff Burk (2011 Eraserhead Press / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A bit late to the party on this one, as I piceked it up at the most recent BizarroCon in my ongoing effort to complete my library. An impossible goal, perhaps, but a worthy one I’m enjoying for its own sake. Jeff Burk’s energy and enthusiasm comes across in everything he does, so his writing is no different.

This collection of tales is just fun throughout, swirling weirdness and horror and humor into unexpected (and sometimes inappropriate, even better!) combinations.

For instance, cherished holiday cartoon/carol memories will be forever tarnished by “Frosty and the Full Monty,” in which a certain happy jolly soul ends up down on his luck and having to resort to desperate measures. Pure as the driven snow? Not so much, anymore.

Or witness the title story, which seems simultaneously shocking in its political incorrect offensiveness, but also … well … a good point really, something to think about … what WOULD happen if a paraplegic contracted lycanthropy? On a transoceanic red-eye flight during the full moon? With a planeful of fetishists, kinksters and punks?

I particularly got a kick out of “Cook For Your Life,” a dystopian futuristic take on cooking competition shows. It’s Iron Chef meets Battle Royale, with some clowns and robots and gorillas thrown in. Chefs aren’t just in it for prize money and bragging rights; grim fates await those who get eliminated each round! And as entertaining as the story itself is, you will NOT want to miss the commercial breaks!

The others in this book include the disturbing “House of Cats” (of all the things to choose as construction materials!), the funny-as-hell but also strangely touching “Punk Rock Nursing Home” (it could happen!), “Just Another Day in the Park” for a bit of surreal philosophizing, and “Adrift With Space Badgers” for (what else?) maddened and destructive badgers in space!

-Christine Morgan


Monday, December 8, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 8, 2014

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

SINNERS CIRCLE by Karina Sims (2014 Dark Hall Press  / 147 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

With the holidays just around the corner you might want to stop reading this now and look elsewhere. If you’re searching for happy puppy dog kisses and stuffed animals you might want to go that-a-way as well. But, if you’re sticking around for the blood and guts party and just happen to be in the market for a gruesome, witty debut horror novel with enough rough sex for days, then you just may happen to be in the right place.

SINNERS CIRCLE by Karina Sims is a great and innovative read. It's packed with the right amount of raw materials, brutality, pornography, and dry humor for all of your extreme horror and dark fiction needs. Sims somehow manages to create a book that borders and blurs the lines of psychological and personal horror to the point where it’s easy to forget you’re reading a debut novel in the first place. This one will pull you in and make sure you stick around for a while. At one point I felt like I was holding a literary equivalent to the film Hostel, but with slightly more emotion and a lot more girl on girl action than found in the opening scenes of the flick.  

Sadistic serial killers, porn shops, drug use, violence, this book has it all. This is a great and brutal addition to the world of Horror and Dark Fiction from a new voice. I think it’d be safe to say to watch out for this one folks! Especially during the dark hours at night.

-Jon R. Meyers

IN THE END, ONLY DARKNESS by Monica O’Rourke (2014 Deadite Press / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know, I am always astounded at athletes who will take some brutal hit, some agony-of-defeat type of spill, but pop back up and go on with it, never mind the jagged jutting bone ends and trailing strings of gristle hanging out of their wounds. I cannot believe any sane person would willingly subject themselves to such punishment … the drive to compete, to win, to stay in the game, can only go SO far, folks, really, c’mon.

Then I get a new Monica O’Rourke book and I find myself doing the psychic equivalent of the same damn thing.

Again. Over and over. I never learn. I even, in some sick masochistic way, enjoy the torture. It’s torn ligaments, and dislocated joints of the mind. Plus, I think I pulled whatever muscles control flinching and cringing.

She is vicious. Wrath James White’s intro to this collection warns you. He is a hundred percent correct on all points, from her razor-like precision of prose to the wicked little smiling gleam in her eyes. This is some next-level (bleep) right here.

Do NOT be fooled because it starts off with a couple of poems! Do NOT be one of those people who dismisses poems as frou-frou. They are powerful, effective, and somehow all the creepier because of the spareness of form.

But, if it’s denser, detailed narrative you crave, you’ll find plenty of that too (and might regret it!) Several of these stories will have you crossing your legs or pressing your knees together, no matter what your personal anatomy. “Jasmine and Garlic,” “Asha” and “Attainable Beauty” for the ladies, “Oral Mohel,” “Someone’s Sister” and “An Experiment in Human Nature” for the gents … equal opportunity screaming horror for the fun-bits.

There’s zombies, and babies, and zombie babies … child abuse and cannibalism … freaky fetishes, haunted revenge, hells on earth … just all kinds of evil goodness guaranteed to reduce the strongest spirit to a whimpering wreck.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall resume my usual post-Monica posture of rocking back and forth in the corner ...

-Christine Morgan


OASIS OF THE DAMNED by Greg F. Gifune (to be released 12/9/14 by DarkFuse / 76 pp / eBook)

Former soldiers Owens and Richter find themselves in the Sahara desert. Both became lost during post-military jobs, and are now unable to find a way out of their isolated location.The only thing keeping them alive in the blistering heat is an abandoned outlook post that sits over a spring. The post also has edible military rations and a seemingly endless supply of functional (but old) weapons.

And that's a good thing, because when the sun goes down, shape-shifting creatures rise from the sand, looking to devour our protagonists the same way they did Owens' crew. And the more they learn about them, the more Owens and Richter struggle...

Despite taking place in the desert, OASIS OF THE DAMNED is a claustrophobic nightmare that's as psychologically grueling as it is physically. Gifune blends modern horror with a Twilight Zone feel and delivers an irresistible novella you'll rip through in one heart-pounding sitting. Intense stuff without being overly graphic.

-Nick Cato


TWISTED by Michaelbrent Collings (to be released 12/9/14 by Amazon Digital / 319 pp / eBook)

Those Victorians … so different from us … in their day, ruffled chair skirts were invented to keep those shocking bare furniture legs from display, and the term “stuffing” was considered too vulgar for polite dinner conversation (the things one randomly picks up during holiday season cooking shows). And yet, they were into that whole death photography thing, which strikes most of us these days as morbid to say the least.

Morbid to say the least, and even downright ghoulish when it involves children. Heck, some studio baby portraits are disturbing enough anyway, let alone with dead kids! I mean, okay, on the one hand I can understand it, the use of closure, the wanting something to remember them by, but …

Yeeeesh. And this book starts off with excerpts from a fictional case study of a photographer who was not content merely to pose his unfortunately young models, but ensure their steady supply. Against that historical specter, we have an ordinary modern family, Blake and Alyssa Douglas, their son Mal, and newborn Ruthie.

An ordinary family with ordinary worries – money, job security, a life-threatening neonatal crisis, the looming violent legacy of abuse – that then has to deal with even more extraordinary ones. Like the sudden, inexplicable crawling infestation from under Mal’s bed. It sends them fleeing to temporary lodgings while their home is fumigated, only to quickly discover that the new place is … not quite right.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous house, available for rent at a bargain price, fully furnished with lovely antiques. If the grandfather clock’s ticking reverberates throughout … if the music box has a tendency to start playing for no reason … if objects disappear or reappear, or the occasional strange footstep is heard …

Well, it is only for a few days, right? And it’s not like they can afford a hotel. It’s not like they have many other options. Sure, it’s stressful; the whole situation is stressful, taking its toll on each of them. Some irritability, some personality changes, trouble sleeping, nightmares, these things happen. Nothing to get too worked up over.

Uh-huh. So they keep telling themselves, after Alyssa finds the photo album of the dead, after a courier delivers a package and then totally freaks out at something he sees. Nothing to get worked up over. So they keep telling themselves, until it’s too late.

Part ghost story and part history, part parental terrors made real and part paranormal activity, the resulting combination is all goosebump-raising nerve-squirming chills. Another solid winner from an author who’s yet to miss the mark.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 1, 2014

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

TRIBESMEN by Adam Cesare (2014 Deadite Press / 114 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Oh, the 70’s … their legacy may never leave us … some things will be forever remembered … like disco … and the dawning heyday of trashy, tacky, boobs-and-blood shocksploitation horror movies! The stuff that paved the way for our current crop of cinematic tours-de-force such as the Hostel franchise, and made someone think that a reboot of “I Spit On Your Grave” was a good idea!

And especially those foreign films, the ones that could get away with depths of gore and depravity that might give even the seediest American studios pause. That’s where the premise of this book comes in.

Director Tito Bronze needs to work fast, with a shoestring cast and crew (not to mention budget) if he’s going to get his new ripoff of the latest Italian cannibal-slaughter epic into the theaters. To do so, he’s flying his team to a remote tropical island for location footage and unpaid extras.

Little does he, or do any of them, suspect what’s waiting for them on that island. Even the reader, who might be anticipating violent attacks by the natives, is in for a surprise. The terrible things that happened here started way before their plane drops them off, and all they find at first is an empty village and a mass open grave.

Ordinary, sensible people would leave at that point. But, the plane won’t be back for a few days … and there’s still a movie to be made. They might as well improvise and make the best of their time, right?

Right. Until the curse that’s already taken its toll here goes to work on them. Until they get even more realistic cannibal-slaughter than the best special effects can provide. Until they have all they can do just to survive, even as their director is determined to keep the cameras rolling.

The result is a fast, fun read, as garish and brutal as its inspirational source material. It’s rife with racism and sexism and political incorrectness, too.

So, now, when does this book written about movie-making get made into a movie?

-Christine Morgan


DARK SCREAMS, VOLUME ONE edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar (to be released 12/8/14 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 88 pp / eBook and audiobook)

Cemetery Dance has published many excellent novels, collections, and anthologies since they began publishing in 1992. This anthology of short stories by some of CD’s best authors is no exception.

Included is horror legend Stephen King’s story “Weeds,” which was turned into a segment in the 1982 movie “Creepshow” (retitled “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”). The original story is much darker and creepier than the movie segment, which was more dark comedy than horror. It’s early King at his best.

“The Price You Pay” by Kelley Armstrong begins with a girls’ night out, but descends into murder, stalking, and lots of twists and turns. It’s more a mystery than straight-out horror, and reminded me of the old Coen Brothers movie, “Blood Simple.” It’s a fun read with a satisfying ending.

Bill Pronzini’s “Magic Eyes” takes place in an insane asylum, with a patient writing in his journal about why he was accused of murdering his wife, but tries to explain that isn’t what really happened. He seems crazy throughout, but maybe there’s a chance he’s telling the truth. It’s up to the reader to interpret the end. It’s a familiar plot, but Bill Pronzini is a great author, and does a great job with it.

“Murder in Chains” by Simon Clark puts a man in a bizarre and terrifying situation – he is chained to a huge man by their necks in an underground viaduct. The man doesn’t know how he got there, but knows he needs to fight for his life, which means killing the “goliath.” While he ponders his predicament, he realizes there are other people in the viaduct, also shackled with no memory of how they got there. This is a bloody, action-packed story that kept me riveted.

Ramsey Campbell’s “The Watched” is about a young boy tasked with keeping tabs on his neighbors’ comings and goings by a threatening cop whose daughter was killed by the drug dealers living there. Stressed by this, the boy is eventually told by a teacher that the cop drank and drove, and is no longer living. Yet he is still being watched, and knows he still needs to watch the neighbors’ house and let the lurker know when there is a drug deal happening. This was a creepy little story with a great ending.

DARK SCREAMS, VOLUME is a fantastic anthology, and I’m looking forward to reading more of them in the future.

-Sheri White

HAUNTED FUCKING by Philip LoPresti (2013-14 Dynatox Ministries / 37 pp / trade paperback)

I haven't read or reviewed a book of poetry for this zine in quite some time, but LoPresti's nose-dive into the abyss of despair peaked my interest, and the thirty "spasms" on display here are as dark as they are bizarre.

By the time I was halfway through this collection of sex and violence-filled verse, I felt like I had entered a satanic beatnik's club, and by the time I finished, I became convinced of two things: 1) Philip LoPresti is one sick bastard, and 2) He is a sick bastard who is able to keep this non-poetry fan glued to the pages, which is good because I immediately followed this with ...

I AM SUICICE by Philip LoPresti (2014 Dynatox Ministries / 63 pp / chapbook)

Where to begin with LoPresti's second offering of blasphemous expressions? This volume reads as if it were written by an excommunicated altar boy on a verbal-killing spree. Just check out the first lines of the opening selection:

"Unfrocked priests form circles
around the newly dead.
Their fingers incite a riot
inside the dessicated parts;"

And this is only the tip of the iceberg in what turns out to be a hellish assault of anti-religion, anti-society, and anti-life musings that at times had me cringing and praying for the author's soul ... although that's kind of pointless as he obviously lost it a long time ago.

This is extreme stuff, folks, and not to be read at your local coffee house's open mic poetry night ... unless you want them hauling you away in a straight jacket. You've been warned.

-Nick Cato


TIME OF DEATH: ASYLUM by Shana Festa (to be released 12/9/14 by Permuted Press / 267 pp / eBook)

The second in this sassypants series (think Janet Evanovich writing episodes of The Walking Dead) continues following the struggles of nursing student Emma, her husband Jake, and their little dog Daphne to survive the zombie apocalypse.

It is, and I warned the author I’d have to say so, just about the poopiest book I’ve ever read. All those times we’ve complained that fictional characters never seem to have to take potty breaks? Made up for here and then some. Many crucial scenes revolve around having to take the doggie for a tinkle or a poo, and quite a few of the rest revolve around humans needing to do the same. Getting caught with your pants down by zombies has gotta be about the worst. Also, dogfarts as a deadly weapon, and whether the etiquette of scooping applies even in end-of-the-world situations.

In addition to all that, these are simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest people you’ll ever find. For every wild deus-ex-machina coincidence or rescue, there’s at least one corresponding what-are-the-odds disaster.

The last book saw them seeking and losing various refuges, finally ending up on a houseboat … but even that proves not to be safe or ideal. It proves not to be safe or ideal BEFORE it gets rammed by a zombie yacht, forcing Emma and Company to go back to land. Some harrowing escapades later, they learn of a secure community called Asylum and make for it.

Naturally, it’s one of those too-good-to-be-true scenarios. A stoic loner warns them against it, but won’t say why, but leads them there anyway. Their misgivings are reinforced at the first impressions. They should know better … they DO know better … but they still do it.

At some point in there, I found I’d lost a lot of sympathy for Emma. What had been a brash, kind of fun attitude turns bratty and obnoxious. She claims to be caring, loyal, friendly, dedicated … but comes off as an arrogant, selfish snot. As rotten as the Asylum people and their system are, I really found myself wishing she’d get bitten or thrown out already.

The story cliffhangs before then, just as Emma discovers some of the unsurprising dark secrets. So, I’ll have to wait for the next one, and I hope she goes back to being a more relatable and entertaining protagonist by then. I greatly enjoy the zingy, refreshing writing … but I’d prefer a main character I didn’t want to slap.

-Christine Morgan

GODDAMN ELECTRIC NIGHT byWilliam Pauley III (2014 Copeland Valley Press / 98 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Goddamn Electric Nights by William Pauley III is a short story collection compiled of six absolutely out of this world tales. The book is exquisitely written, well executed, and simply a must for any fan of Horror, Science Fiction, Bizarro, or Weird Fiction alike. The author’s imagination and ability to realistically write this kind of romp is a feat and nothing short of admirable in itself. After all, this does seem to be what Copeland Valley Press is all about, while continuously publishing great fiction outside the box from day one, by writers who have proven to be extremely talented and fueled by some sort of genuine and overall original creativity. William Pauley III’s voice is one in a million and this book falls nothing short of the strength found in any of his work prior.

With stories such as Slime Night, Insection 8, The Spiders of Honeyville, Hypnagogia, $5 Electric Suzie, and Spin Doctors Mixtape, the author gives us enough weird to be well on our way into the mouth of madness. Including but not limited to kind acts of snorting red fire ants, cockroaches and razors, hatched egg sacks, an alley cat on skid row, and just a little bit too much radiation in the walls. So, go ahead and sit back, drink a couple beers, plug in the shop vac, and aim it up towards the goddamn sky as you enjoy a book unlike any you’ve read before.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE HUMAN SANTAPEDE by Adam Millard (2014 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 115 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Yes, it is what you’re thinking. Yes, someone really went and did it. Yes, your childhood will be ruined (again, if it has already). Those Rankin-Bass wooden puppet holiday specials … um yeah … especially the one with the hot redhead schoolteacher …

This is not, however, a jolly Santa. This is a Santa that his own elves refer to – sometimes not even in private – as ‘The Fat Bastard.’ Not undeservedly, either. He’s a selfish, foul-mouthed, slovenly, slave-driving, credit-hogging jerk more interested in brandy and mince pies than his sexy, eager wife.

An elf’s life isn’t so jolly either. Centuries of forced labor, no wages, no vacations, mandatory eggnog, no credit, nonstop carols … the constant threat of being replaced by cheaper foreign elves and sent to work in the human realm as a fantasy movie extra … the only perk is in the buxom form of Mrs. Claus, whose considerable needs may go neglected by her hubby, but who’s got a special fondness for elves.

Things are also behind schedule this year, thanks to a freak blizzard, which means extra shifts around the clock. Something goes wrong EVERY year, it seems like. Is it any wonder that dissatisfaction is brewing at the North Pole?

When the first few elves go missing, followed by that most famous reindeer, elf-foreman Finklefoot finds himself given the additional duties of tracking them down. It soon becomes clear that they’re not just lost or hiding out to shirk work. Someone’s abducted them, someone with a particular grudge and a particular plan.

Finklefoot is forced to confront Santa’s former companions, those darker-side-of-Christmas characters in charge of coal and naughty children, but by the time he figures out who’s behind the disappearances, it’s too late. The horror that is the Human Santapede is about to be unleashed. If, that is, its creator can get people to shut up about the misnomer, or brackets … nobody has any respect, any appreciation for brilliance …

This book is every bit the totally irreverent, offensive, obscene masterpiece of holiday hilarity you might expect … with political incorrectness and several vicious cultural jabs thrown in. I read it in a single sitting, laughed out loud several times, and the rest of the family absolutely REFUSED to let me share any excerpts.

-Christine Morgan

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Reviews for the Week of November 24, 2014

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

AT HELL'S GATES (VOL. 1) edited by Monique Happy and James Crawford (2014 CreateSpace / 324 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The first in a projected series of anthologies to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund (, a worthy cause in support of members of the armed services and their families. For this volume, seventeen authors teamed up to contribute short stories set in or tied to their other works.

I love stuff like that! When it’s connecting to a book or series I’ve already read, it’s like a bonus feature … and if it’s a fictional universe with which I’m unfamiliar, it’s a great way to sample tantalizing introductions. The only downside, if it can be considered a downside, is that I then end up with a list of new stuff to add to my TBR (oh drat!).

In this one, the majority are zombie apocalypse stories, several different and fun takes on them. Just when I was starting to wonder if it was all zombies, some demons, ghosts, vampires, and more everyday evils began making their appearances.

My absolute stand-out favorite of the bunch has to be Stephen Kozeniewski’s “Exploding S*** Zombies.” Set in the same world of his fun Ghoul Archipelago (see my previous review), it is every bit the outrageous gory hilarity you might expect from the title. But, really, if zombies just eat and eat and eat, eventually something’s gotta give …

Some others that I particularly enjoyed include:

Jacqueline Druga’s “The Husband,” which might just resonate a little too strongly for those frustrated members of inequal partnerships, who’ve just finally had enough. I’m reminded of some quote or other about long-time marrieds who, asked if they’d ever thought of divorce, replied with, “Divorce? Never. Murder? Every day.”

Frank Tayell’s “Undead Britian” turned out to be a much more haunting and intimate tale of family survival than I first expected, as a woman on a mission a year after the outbreak flashes back to memories of how she got where she is, and why she has to do what she has to do.

“Ollie Ollie Oxen Free” by Shana Festa shows another facet of the story in her first Time of Death book, Induction (another I’ve previously reviewed). That one opens with a couple of nursing students at the hospital where things go wrong, then follows the adventures of one of them; this story answers the questions of what ever happened to the other.

Paul Mannering’s “Princess and the Flea” is perhaps the most purely sinister and unsettling of the bunch, in a far-future setting some 200 years after the zombies took over, as the survivors have turned to some desperate methods of farming and tending their herds.

“Hour of the Beast,” by J.M. Martin, is a nicely done dark fantasy tale, a non-Earth setting but with classic and timeless elements of love and betrayal, immersed in a sort of moody gothic old-fashioned feel.

I will definitely be watching for future installments in this anthology series, and keeping an eye out for more from these folks!

-Christine Morgan

NO ONE IS SLEEPING IN THIS WORLD by Christopher Slatsky (2014 Dunhams Manor Press / 21 pp / chapbook)

Julia & her boyfriend are filming a documentary on the architecture of the Alexei Building, which is located on the seedy side of town. And before they even enter, it's apparent they're in for much more than they bargained for.

Slatsky's Lovecraftian yarn reads like a compact version of Simon Clark's 2005 novel THE TOWER, and while it's nothing groundbreaking, it's a quick, satisfying, well written read.

-Nick Cato

WORM JOB by M.T. Granberry (2014 Eraserhead Press / 96 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’d been planning to pick this book up at Bizarro Con from the moment I saw it, and did so as soon as I had the chance. This was before I heard the author’s excellent performance – not a reading, but an evangelical sensation! – and even before I’d tried out half a glass of the special-brew cider in its honor (half a glass only because I am a total lightweight and wimp).

Well, and after those added experiences, I was all the more eager to plunge into this tale of squirming canyonesque cleavage! How could you not? Look at that cover; is that the tackiest or what? This is some pure, unabashed, crazy sleazy fun right here!

And let me tell you, folks, it more than exceeded my expectations! Those cups did not stop at merely runnething over … those cups weren’t even cups for long, but became soup tureens, then punchbowls that runneth over … from gazongas to megazongas of doom.

Filled with live worms. Forget those stupid must-increase-my-bust exercise girls did in middle school when I was young. Forget implants of saline or silicon. Worms are the way to go, injectable colonies of them that feed on fat as they make mountains out of molehills. (side note: fat-eating worms? as with Wrath James White’s Voracious, I gotta admit there’d be a degree of temptation ...)

Shari, flat-shamed for as long as she can remember, is only too eager to undergo the treatment. Soon, she has all she ever wanted, and more. What she earns as a stripper now can easily cover the custom-made clothes and other required adjustments to her life. She even meets a new guy, for whose sake she’ll tinker with her worm-control medication to make all his dreams come true.

Bad idea. Worse idea because, unbeknownst to Shari, one of the worms in her heaving, swelling engorged endowments is not like the others. One worm is different. Angry. Hungry. And growing.

Before long, Shari is lopsided to say the least. Her wormy bosom is on a rampage, and when she seeks help at the fancy clinic where it all started, she and her vengeful passenger discover that they do all kinds of other procedures there at AUGMENTA BIOLOGICALS.

A definite hoot about infinite hooters, this may not be one to leave sitting out if you’re expecting normal respectable company over. It’s also quite the cautionary tale … few of us may ever be satisfied with our looks, but, sometimes you really can go too far. And the point when you need a cart to trundle your own chest along, that’s probably a little too far.

-Christine Morgan