Monday, July 28, 2014

Reviews for Week of July 28th, 2014

SUBMISSIONS NOTE: Please see bottom of our main page. Thank you.


BURNT TONGUES edited by Chuck Palahnuik, Richard Thomas and Dennis Widmeyer (to be released August 12, 2014 by Medallion Press / 400 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A collection of transgressive fiction, selected by one of the names who basically defines the genre? If you think, “Well, THAT’S gotta be a disturbing bunch of stories,” then, guess what? You’re right!

If you might further think there’ll be stuff in here that will wreck your mind, twist your gut, and crush your spirit … hey, good news, you’re right again!

For me, the main one that did it, the story so grueling and agonizing and affecting that I will NEVER read it again – that I can hardly bear even contemplating as I write this review – was early in the book. I could barely bring myself to finish it yet couldn’t tear myself away, and worried that if the rest were all like that, I wouldn’t be able to read much more.

Chris Lewis Carter, you go sit over there, with Jack Ketchum. “Charlie” made me cry in much the same way that “Returns” and “Red” did. If anybody needs me, I’ll be huddling in a blankie fort with my kitties.

Fortunately for my soul and sanity, the others – while of similar top-notch quality – managed to be not AS personally tormenting, so I was able to carry on reading. And wow, what a ride! 
From a triple-teen suicide plot (Neil Krolicki’s “Live This Down”) to a high-risk undercover exposé (“Zombie Whorehouse” by Daniel W. Broallt), there’s basically nothing sacred left un-messed-with between these covers.

Among my … you know, I’m hesitant to say ‘favorites’ … among the ones that stood out for me the most would also have to be:

“Mating Calls” by Tony Leibhard, in which a simple attempted good deed turns into endless hassle.

Tyler Jones’ “F for Fake” takes the concepts of plagiarism and identity theft and turns them on their head.

“Bike,” by Brian Howie, short and sweet and so normal-seeming, right up until the moment it all goes so, so wrong.

Keith Buie’s “The Routine,” speaking to the world-weary retail workers and customer service clerks within us all.

And of course “Heavy Petting” by Brian Piechos, deftly tricking the unsuspecting reader into thinking over and over that it won’t really go there, will it? … then it does … and further yet …

So yeah, suffice to say, Burnt Tongues might just mess you up. And if it doesn't, there’s probably something wrong already.

-Christine Morgan

DEAD TRASH by Ed Kurtz (2013 Evil Jester Press / 192 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The tagline promises “A Zombie Exploitation Quadruple Feature,” and does not let the reader down. If you’re looking for the tackiest raunch of 70’s schlock lovingly distilled in a nutshell, this is the book for you. Shameless stereotypes abound in all their strutting, swaggering glory.

It starts in a womens’ prison. Not just that, it starts with a shower scene that turns catfight in a womens’ prison. Irma is one tough redhead doing time for murder. Her best friend is an Afro-sporting Amazon who goes by Arkansas. They’re on bad terms with boss butch Pam and Pam’s right-hand woman Big Lou. The altercation gets Irma hauled in front of the warden, then sentenced to solitary.

Which turns out not to be such a bad thing when the outbreak happens, and the prison gets overrun by ravenous hordes of cannibalistic corpses who just don’t want to stay dead. In the chaos, Arkansas frees Irma and the two make a break for it.

At first, their only concern is survival. Then a shocking message informs Irma that the man she was jailed for killing isn’t dead after all – or wasn’t – and the end of the world turns into a personal crusade to finish the job for real.

From prison movie to biker gangs, from biker gangs to inner city brothers, and from inner city brothers to gonzo kung fu carnage … all set against the backdrop of a gore-tastic zombie apocalypse … guns, gold chains, bell bottoms and bare breasts, short-shorts, motorcycles and muscle cars …

It’s brash. It’s trash. It’s all the jive and then some. You can damn near see the grainy film quality and hear the musical score. Preferably, on a drive-in movie screen with one of those ancient metal speakers hooked on your car window.

Nothing about this book disappoints. Unless you’re some kind of highbrow classy literary type, in which case you might be in for some pearl-clutching shocks to the sensibilities.

-Christine Morgan

And now, please welcome the newest member of our staff, JON R. MEYERS:

THE SUMMER OF WINTERS by Mark Allan Gunnells (2013 Evil Jester Press / 164 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Just in case you missed this in the past. Here we have a unique little gem of a horror novella written by the great and fantastic Mark Allan Gunnells.

The book description reads, “Some kids have it all—wealthy, loving parents, lots of friends, self-confidence. But not Mike Guthrie, a friendless, awkward boy who has recently been abandoned by his father. The only thing Mike’s not short of is creativity, spending most of his time in the backyard making up games. The summer of 1983 begins on a promising note when new neighbors move in. In walks Paige, a sassy girl who takes an immediate shine to Mike. They become fast friends, and everything seems to be looking up for Mike. She shares his love for games and begins teaching him important lessons about friendship. A whole new world of hope, until… Mike and Paige discover a dead girl in the cemetery. And nothing will ever be the same again.”

First we have this amazing storyteller on our hands and he’s honest, too. The prose is sincere, delicate, and so moving that the reader is literally sucked into the story and characters as if they were there on those old stomping grounds in Gaffney. But, don’t let all that sensitive stuff fool you. Underneath the emotion lies a series of horrid events. We’re reading alongside an author whose voice is so strong you can tell that even though this is fiction, some of the events triggered an emotional spark within while writing and they shine through his words personally with this haunting and memorable tale. I watch a lot of movies and this book was like one of those scenes where you have that classic car driving down the road, perhaps, through a wooded area, maybe swerving through some erratic lane changes or two, as overly dramatic season changes come and go quickly. The clouds are rolling in and out and the characters voices are in the background whispering depth into the storyline. This book is like one of those moments, but, with this progressive plot based around a flashback of horrible events that digs deep into the past and gets down inside your bones. Then to come home and find out you have to carry it around with you for the rest of your life. That kind of baggage is heavy. Especially when the blood drips out of it and the remaining secrets are neatly buried six feet underground.   

This was one of the first titles to date that I’ve read by the author. It definitely won’t be the last.

-Jon R. Meyers


a preview of 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Reviews for Week of July 21, 2014

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

DREAMS OF THANATOS by William Cook (2014  King Billy Publications / 211 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection of fifteen tales displays a wide range of weirdness, from the everyday to the unearthly.

A few common themes weave their way through, primarily the all-too-real horrors that come with abuse, neglect, drugs, madness and human cruelty. Those ones are often difficult to read; a lot of bad parents and partners doing very, very bad things.

Others take a side trip into the ghostly and beyond, with hauntings and possessions and the even more inexplicable.

My favorites of the bunch include:

“The Reader,” in which a new dad’s new obsession combines with his wife’s postpartum depression to have insidious, awful results for the whole family.

“’Til Death Do Us Part” is the ultimate love story and then some, when a husband is determined to keep his marriage together by whatever means necessary.

“Dead And Buried” and “Blinded By The Light” start off with some striking similarities and then diverge off in vastly different directions. To be honest the opening lines of “Blinded” hit one of my personal squick buttons so hard I almost skipped it, but I soldiered on through the whole gruesome finale. “Buried” takes some surprising twists on its way to some satisfying revenge.

“Aspects of Infinity” is … hard to describe … a surreal journey, beautiful and dark, creepy and profound … after multiple readings I’m still not a hundred percent sure what it meant but bits of it keep not wanting to leave my mind.

-Christine Morgan

DEAD IN THE USA by David Price (2013 Third Cove Press / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

After going out clubbing with her roommates, Kim gives her number to one of the dancers at a male strip club where they end the evening. He calls shortly after she gets home, and she invites him over. But unfortunately, the stripper turns out to be The Scalper, a serial killer who has been murdering young women and taking their scalps as a souvenir.

But Kim finds herself "alive" in the afterlife, looking at her dead body and watching the killer escape on a motorcycle as her roomates discover her body.

Before long, two cops are on the case, and Kim manages to communicate with one of the officers as well as one of the members of a reality TV show crew who have been assinged to accompany the cops.

Despite the novella's title, this is a ghost story that reminded me somewhat of the short-lived comic book series iZOMBIE (which featured a ghost character); Kim is on a Grim Reaper-approved vengeance streak, and does all she can to communicate with the living. I found some scenes quite funny (the killer is a Bruce Springsteen fan, and the title itself is a spoof on one of his hits), and while everything happens quite quickly (including our "human" characters accepting --perhaps a bit too easily -- the fact they are being contacted by a spirit), DEAD IN THE USA is a fun little tale that should appeal to fans of quirky ghost stories and Boston locations.

-Nick Cato

THE CONCRETE GROVE by Gary McMahon (2014 Solaris / 432 pp / trade paperback, mass market paperback, & eBook)

“Estate” is one of those words that can have very different meanings depending on location and perspective. To your typical American, it’s something associated with wealth and luxury, mansions, acreage, described with terms like ‘palatial.’ In England, as it took me until only a decade or so ago to understand, it’s something more like what I’d think of as housing projects, shabbiness, low incomes, and despair.

Let me tell you, it certainly shed that line in “Come Dancing” by the Kinks in a new light. As an 80’s teenager, I thought when he sang about how his sister was married and lived on an estate, she’d done really well for herself. Fantasy bubble burst, there.

Anyway! THE CONCRETE GROVE, serving as both title and setting for this book, is the English kind of estate, and a particularly grim, wretched one at that. Drugs, crime, poverty, squalor, and dilapidation predominate. It isn’t a place anybody wants to end up.

For widowed Lana, the situation quickly becomes all but unbearable. She’s deep in debt to the local loan shark, who is more than happy enough to send his goons around to send messages and make sinister threats. Even as sleazy loan sharks go, this one is abnormally twisted and cruel.

Lana’s teenage daughter Hailey seeks refuge and privacy at the abandoned old building known as the Needle, but what she finds is a remnant of a strange power far older, a power dating back to when the estate was a real grove. A power that latches onto her in ways she can’t begin to describe.

Meanwhile, from a nicer part of town, a man named Tom seeks his own forms of escape … escape from a marriage that has turned into an endless, dreary routine of caregiving and resentment. A chance good-Samaritan encounter with Hailey brings him into her and Lana’s lives, right as things take another turn for the weird.

The writing’s strong, the characters vivid – in some cases, almost too vivid, such nasty and horrible people! – and the scenes revealing more and more of the truth behind the Grove are spectacularly gorgeous and well-done. As the author has continued the series with at least two more books, I expect to be adding them to my reading list very soon!

-Christine Morgan

Monday, July 14, 2014

Reviews for Week of July 14, 2014

(NOTE: For submission info, please see BOTTOM of main page. Thank you).

MARTUK THE HOLY: PROSEUCHE by Johnathan Winn (2014 ADC / 249 pp / eBook)

Movie announcer voice guy says: In a world of sprawling, lavish, Biblical epics … a world of dark faith, sinister demons, blood, and belief … 

Only this is not today’s kind of Biblical epic, with badass Noah vs. CGI floodwaters, or whipping crucifixion torture porn. This is not your tepid dumbed-down Da-Vinci-Codified history/conspiracy mush. 

This is deep, dense, intelligent, complex. This could only be more elaborate if it were an illuminated medieval manuscript with all the gilding and calligraphy. This is really, really cool. 

This is also the second in the series, which I somehow failed to realize until after the fact, and it didn’t matter because it’s well-written enough that I read right along without feeling like I was missing chunks of the background. 

But, of course, it makes sense. An immortal’s life story isn’t going to be told in just one book. Not when it spans pretty much everything from early Rome to modern day, but focusing primarily (not to mention intimately and personally) on the turbulent times around the dawn of Christianity. 

The author’s skill shows in one of the better-handled frame narratives I’ve seen, skipping back and forth between past, present, paster-past, and way-past-past without leaving the reader lost. That’s a hard technique to master, and an easy one to bungle badly, and one that works very well in this kind of sweeping historical story-within-story multilayer drama. 

I stand impressed (well okay, I sit on my couch with a cat impressed as I type this, but, you get the drift). And this being the second book in no way detracts from a desire to read the first one; instead of feeling like you’ve already got the spoilers, it’s an encouragement to want to flesh out the details. 

Besides, on a purely horror-fan level, the evil scenes in particular are amazing. Lush descriptions, beautiful detail. Not only was I reminded of illuminated manuscripts, I was reminded of oil paintings, those old and classic manuscripts that, even in their depiction of terrible things, are as breathtaking as they are creepy.

-Christine Morgan

WITCH! Edited by Jordan Krall (2014 Dynatox Ministries / 232 pp / trade paperback)

For those thinking of picking this up (which at this point will only be on the secondary market), be assured these aren't your standard witch stories. In fact, most are off the wall, bizarro, and quite violent, which will either lure you in or scare you away. I had a blast with most of it, and among my faves were Vincenzo Bilof's 'Pazuzu Combo Meal,' about a witch gone nuts inside a McDonalds Restaurant, Jess Gulbranson's 'Witchfucker Genreal,' about a slick monster hunter, and 'Metal Witch' by Jon R. Myers, a hysterical bizarro/scifi romp.

Among all the weirdness there are some traditional-style witch tales, and 'Her Presence' by Joseph Bouthiette Jr. is actually one of the finer pieces here. Throw in some poetry and even a very short tale by a 4 year-old writer (!), and this benefit anthology will make your next Halloween a bit stranger than usual.

-Nick Cato

THE TICK PEOPLE by Carlton Mellick III (2014 Eraserhead Press / 126 pp / trade paperback)

The author’s note at the beginning warns that it had been a while since he did a weird sex book, so maybe it was due … and this one certainly fits the bill. Not just weird sex, but really gross nasty squelchy sex. Special kudos to cover artist Ed Mironiuk. For what must have been a dubious “you want WHAT?” assignment, the results are staggeringly awesome in a sanity-destroying way. 

Which is about the same as can be said for the book itself. The setting has an almost Seussian quality; a complete civilized society built on a giant sad dog. They have to keep the dog sad so that no happy frolicking destroys their cities. Fernando Mendez is one of the Stressmen, the people in charge of maintaining misery. It’s not a fun job. His is not a good life. 

He’s also single, to the annoyance of his sister. In their day and age, finding your true mate is not just some ego-fancy. Certain body parts have, in fact, evolved to the degree that, unless you’re with your matching partner, sex is difficult at best and reproduction impossible. With your match, however, it’s damn near a biological imperative. 

Luckily for society, they’re able to register and find each other. Unluckily for Fernando, when he gives in to his sister’s pressure, he learns that his already-wretched life has just gotten worse. 

See, his people aren’t the only species to make their homes on the back of the big sad dog. The big sad dog has ticks, which have themselves evolved, living as second-class citizens. And guess who – or what – Fernando’s match turns out to be? 

I’ve never been a fan of the whole destined-one thing, or any kind of overriding urge that forever bonds or forces two people together regardless of their own will and choice. Looking at you, ElfQuest, Pern, Sholan Alliance, etc. Even in stories I might otherwise enjoy, that’s always bothered me. So, it’s nice to see an author take it on in a way so abhorrent, repellent, and all-around disgusting. 

Nobody’s ever been paired with a Tick-Person before. The scandal is too juicy not to make the news. Fernando, when he makes the mistake of seeking out his match to tell her it’ll never happen, discovers that as revolting as she is, as much as he hates her, his body has other ideas. 

What follows is … well … see what I said above about sanity-destroying, nasty, gross, and squelchy. I got through it with several instances of involuntary shudders and sickly cackling noises, then promptly added it to the small list of books that it’s probably much safer to warn certain of my friends against rather than recommend to them. 

Certain other of my friends, however, are depraved enough to get a huge kick out of this one. So, if that’s you, go to it and enjoy!

-Christine Morgan

SAVAGING THE DARK by Christopher Conlon (2014 Evil Jester Press / 207 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Mona Straw is living the perfect American life. She has a faithful husband, a cute young daughter, and is a beloved school teacher. But when one of her students--an eleven year old boy named Connor Blue--catches her eye, she begins to drift into territory even she can't explain. Young Connor, like herself, is a huge fan of old films and books about film, and before long they become involved. Connor even claims to be in love with her, and she with him.

I usually avoid stories dealing with child abuse or adults preying on children, and I almost stopped reading this one a few times (it does get a bit graphic). But Conlon handles his characters and situations in a way that we just can't stop reading. It's interesting to see the tidal wave of emotions Mona goes through on this unusual journey. Her paranoia that Connor will tell someone about them grows at a relentless pace, bringing to mind some classic Hitchcock (which is fitting as our couple are fans of the late director).

SAVAGING THE DARK isn't a pleasant read nor is it for everyone. There's a lot of horror fiction that claims to be dark and disturbing, but this actually is. Conlon crafts a human monster in Mona Straw, yet even I hate to admit that we also see her human side and at times I actually felt for her. The book is told from her point of view, but in the clever epilogue that's told from Connor's, the tale comes together in a most surprising way.

This is a challenging, horrifying portrait of a seemingly ordinary woman that won't be leaving my mind any time soon.

-Nick Cato

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reviews for Week of July 7th, 2014 (a.k.a. WE'RE BACK!)

After a 4 month hiatus, THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW is back, and we're no longer monthly. Expect reviews at least weekly and possibly more. We've also dropped the "Smell Rating" feature as the majority of our review material comes via eBook. It was fun while it lasted, but, y'know, technology and all (I'm sure it will be snuck in due to habit at times so don't lose all hope).


Onto our latest reviews. Enjoy ...

FALLOW GROUND by Michael James Farland (2014 Blood Bound Books / 340 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know those posts you see going around the internet where someone’s baked a Reese’s peanut butter cup inside a brownie, or encased an Oreo in chocolate chip cookie dough, or added the words “deep-fried” and/or “bacon-wrapped” to something already delicious? 

That’s what this book is like. It’s a ghost story wrapped in a zombie story … it’s reanimator mad science stuffed with paranormal revenge … it’s good plot and fun characters wrapped in excellent writing, battered and on a stick. Bring your appetite, and a napkin, because the last few bites might get a little gooey. 

It starts with an old barn, finally being torn down before it falls down, and the discovery of a secret crime scene 20+ years old. Margaret Campbell, the widow currently living on the farm with her two kids, doesn’t know the history of the previous family. But the local sheriff, who worked the case back then, does. He always felt there’d been something unresolved about the fate of the Taylor twins, and now it’s finally coming to light. 

What even the sheriff doesn’t know, however, is the REAL story behind those twins … little Samuel and Caroline … where they came from, why they disappeared the way they did, and who was responsible. He doesn’t know about the deal Mr. Taylor made, the mysterious strangers, the big crate. He has no idea that, when Mrs. Campbell calls in to report harassment from some guy claiming to be a ghost hunter, things are about to get seriously, dangerously, fatally weird. 

The flashbacks and time-jumps between past and present are deftly handled. The twists are refreshing, clever and unexpected. Engaging from the first page, engrossing throughout, a skillful and believable blending of some diverse elements … really good stuff … and, Margaret is great!

-Christine Morgan

GREEN TSUNAMI by Laura Cooney and L.L. Soares (2014 Smart Rhino Publications / 160 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Cooney and Soares strike with this strange, incredibly bleak apocalyptic novella. After a mysterious tsunami destroys most of the world, scarce survivors contact each other over the Internet. This tale is told in corresponding emails between a husband and wife. Aaron was at home and Joy was at work when the world changed, and it keeps changing with each passing day. Adding to the growing darkness, Aaron discovers their young son is changing into a caterpillar-like creature that feeds off other children holed up in their school.

In GREEN TSUNAMI, not only are people changing in all kinds of ways due to whatever it is that has hit the planet, but inanimate objects as well. No one is safe, no one can be trusted, and the bizarro/SciFi imagination of the authors is on full freak-out display here.

Fans of apocalyptic stories will enjoy this fresh, truly unusual take on the End Times.

-Nick Cato

PLEBS by Jim Goforth (2014 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 600 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Any book purportedly influenced by the writings of Richard Laymon is a book I want to read. The man was a master of the nasty and inspired many of my current faves. So, seeing that tagline on Plebs, I grabbed it right up. 

I may, however, have to call mild shenanigans … just shy of 600 pages, and the word “rump” only  appears TWICE? And one of those is in reference to a GUY’S rump? Pff and you call this Laymonesque? (I kid, I kid; and rest assured – so to speak – that other terms for and admiration of the feminine posterior are quite well-represented!)

Laymonesque, however, in terms of sex, gore, nudity, violence, bloodspatter and subhuman atrocities? Okay, well then, this book has gotcha covered, in plenty of vivid up-close-and-personal detail!

It begins as a typical lad’s night out. The trio of Corey, Lee and Tim end up out by a lake, thinking to finish the evening in style with some weed and a little more booze and maybe a ride in a ‘borrowed’ rowboat. The only thing missing is hot chicks. 

Until a bunch of them appear. What follows is a perfect example of how male and female mindsets can differ. These women show up, dressed in black and leather, toting WEAPONS, and the guys experience only minor apprehension easily shrugged off because, well, HOT CHICKS. Try reversing the sexes in the same situation, or even a similar situation without the weapons and the alone-at-the-dark-lake, and the reactions would be rather different, to say the least. 

Things just get weirder and weirder from there. Amazonian village, feud with clan of neighboring freaks, murder, mayhem, mutilation, betrayal … and that’s just within the first third or so of the book. Right when a reprieve seems possible, there’s this creeper van and a dismembered corpse and vigilantes … then an arming montage right out of an action movie … culminating in total all-out video game body-count carnage. 

My only problem with this book is the title. Or, not so much the title itself, but the fact that the title is Plebs, and the Plebs themselves – being the clan of neighboring freaks with whom the hot chicks have their feud – don’t really seem to feature all that much in the story. They’re there, but sort of as a background obstacle/hazard in addition to the main conflicts. 

Aside from that minor quibble, however, I found it a very enjoyable read, fun and engaging, with some delightfully over-the-top moments. I’d be glad to see a sequel, or prequel, that concentrated more on the Plebs themselves, their origin, their culture, and their eventual fate.

-Christine Morgan

GRUNT LIFE: A TASK FORCE OMBRA NOVEL by Weston Ochse (2014 Solaris / 298 pp / mass market paperback and eBook)

I've been on a military SciFi kick the past few years, and Weston Ochse's GRUNT LIFE satisfied that hunger quite well.

This time a secret organization collects suicidal war veterans and turns them into soldiers for a coming alien invasion they somehow know about. The author's military background (as in his SEAL TEAM 666 series) once again shines here as we get to know several kick ass soldiers who begin to understand they may be the world's only hope for survival.

But the "Cray" are what make this one so addictive. They're an alien race sent here to inflict even more damage after most of the world's cities are destroyed. Horror fans will be thrilled with the amount of creature action going on here, and the action in general is nearly non-stop.

If you like alien invasion tales, you'll probably enjoy this, and there's a promise of more to come. Despite similarities to other tales in the subgenre, Ochse keeps things fresh, especially during the first phase of the soldiers' training.

-Nick Cato

Until Next Week ...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

MARCH, 2014 Reviews


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

~Colleen Wanglund


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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato


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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


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

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

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

~Colleen Wanglund


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

SPLATTERPUNK (Issue 1 / April 2012)

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

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

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

You can pick up your copy at

~Colleen Wanglund


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


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

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

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

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

Other particular personal top picks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


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

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

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

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

Vampires in West Hollywood.

What more, honestly, do I need to say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan