Monday, September 19, 2016

Reviews for the Week of September 19, 2016

NOTE: Even after our summer hiatus, our To Be Reviewed pile is still a monster to be tackled. Please see bottom of our main page for submission info. Thank you.

BLISTER by Jeff Strand (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 274 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

When cartoonist Jason Tray is ordered (by his agent) to get some rest and relaxation after a practical joke goes a bit too far, he never could have imagined the events that would soon unfold. While at his agent's isolated cabin, he meets a couple of locals in a bar and takes them up on their offer to go take a peek at "Blister," the nick name of a hideously disfigured girl who lives in a shed on her dad's property. He is genuinely shocked when he gets a look at her, but later that night at his hotel room, he begins having a guilt trip and decides to go apologize the next day.

Not only is Blister's father not happy to have visitors, but against all odds Jason finds himself falling for her. We find out her name is Rachel, and Strand slowly reveals how her face became so hideous.

BLISTER is a romantic comedy that's on the dark side: it's a serious romance as seen through the eyes of Jeff Strand, so don't expect things to be too normal (or serious) on every page. There are some hilarious moments, plenty of small town conspiracy, and a heavy dose of suspense, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.

This is my favorite novel from Strand since PRESSURE (2006) and I couldn't recommend it enough.

-Nick Cato

THE NIGHTMARE PROJECT by Jo-Anne Russell (2016 Lycan Valley Press / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know you’ve worked in psych facilities too long when you’re thinking the way they run this place is pretty hinky even for an asylum secretly fronting for evil genius mad science experiments. The staff at Willow Creek could stand to brush up on their policies and procedures, as well as confidentiality, record keeping, and medication protocols.

Not that Julia, admitted after killing her husband in a fit of night-terrors, particularly cares about any of that. What she cares about is when and if she’ll be able to see her children again, and whether it’s possible to rebuild their severely damaged relationships. But she soon begins realizing there are other things going on at the asylum, things more sinister than the usual therapy and treatment.

Things like disappearances, and deaths, and unexplained transfers. Like Kaitlyn, the little girl who supposedly died a few years ago but who’s communicating with Julia, trying to help her plot an escape. Anxious to get out before her own kids are taken away from her for good, she goes along with what Kaitlyn wants … even when what Kaitlyn wants turns toward revenge.

Unfortunately, overall, this book just didn’t do it for me. The plot had potential, but I found the characters kind of flat, the dialogue stilted and unnaturally precise, and it could’ve used some editorial polish throughout.

-Christine Morgan

GORGONAEON by Jordan Krall (2015 Dunhams Manor Press / 98 pp / trade paperback)

Like his FALSE MAGIC KINGDOM series, GORGONAEON is a dazzling, surreal, nightmarish head trip. Characters and events come in and out like a hazy daydream, and as things are eventually uncovered the author delivers some serious chills.

While difficult to describe, the book centers around Philip, a man dealing with some severely strange childhood traumas. He's constantly late for work as he makes a mental (and perhaps even physical) path through this demented landscape. Symbolism and metaphors clash at every turn. There's also mention of a mysterious motel that has appeared in other Krall stories (this book itself is a precursor to a novel titled MEDUSA) and Philip's blending of alcohol with his medication leads to more weirdness that will either charm the reader or scare the timid away.

Weird fiction just doesn't get any better than this.

-Nick Cato

MOTHER FUCKING BLACK SKULL OF DEATH by Matthew Vaughn (2015 MorbidbookS / 136 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The thing about energy drinks containing certain bodily fluids of male bovines is an urban legend and a debunked one at that. An amino acid, okay? Just because it has the word ‘taur’ in it … but anyway, we digress.

Because, in this book, some unexpected extra additives have made its way into the latest batch of MFBSD. Oops. A little attempted product tampering gone wrong, but they probably caught it before any shipments went out. Right? Right. Sure, boss. Right.


Meet Vince, Jeff, and Craig. They’re the reigning badasses of their town, bullying and beating up on whoever they like. It’s a fast-paced, demanding lifestyle, so, to keep up, they need lots of high-octane MFBSD. If these cans fresh off the truck taste a little weird, so what? And if, shortly after, they find themselves bulking up into behemoth inhuman rage-monster sex-brutes, well, so what to that, too? Now they can really raise some hell around here.

What they failed to reckon with was ones wit one of their victims, to whom as a joke they’d force-fed a wallop of the energy drink … shortly after he’d had his own little lab accident, throwing more chemical compounds into the mix.

It’s pretty much slam-bang wall-to-wall action, a raunchy and violent rampage from start to finish, crass and tacky and gross, as nasty as anything and a howling supercharged kick in the funnybone. If, that is, you’re into crude lowbrow splat and laughs. If you have even a smidgen of class, this book may not be quite for you.

My only quibble is one I’ve had before in regards to this publisher … a few ads at the back is all well and good, but 25+ pages of catalog goes way, way too far. Especially when the total page count is 130 or so. But, for the author and the story? Definite thumbs up!

-Christine Morgan

STOLEN AWAY by Kristin Dearborn (2016 Raw Dog Screaming Press / 220 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When Trisha's son is kidnapped, her daughter claims she saw a monster take him. Aided by her ex Joel, they go looking for young Brayden in the seedy drug and nightclub underworld where Trisha had met Brayden's father.

The man Trisha had a one night stand with also happens to be a demon, one who lurks in the shadows of the nightlife scene, looking for women to continue his half human/half demon species (he even has a big tattoo on his back that says DEMON just in case anyone doubts him!).

But Trisha isn't like his other victims, especially when she is befriended by a self appointed gothic exorcist (I know that sounds silly but trust me, Dearborn makes it work). As Joel's mom keeps watch over their daughter, Trisha and Joel deal with their troubled, addictive pasts and do what they need to do to defeat this supernatural creature who has invaded their lives.

STOLEN AWAY is an action packed read, perhaps a bit more on the fantasy side of demonology, but a fresh take on the subgenre however you slice it. Add a major plus here for the COOLEST way I've ever seen holy water dispensed. Check it out...

-Nick Cato

THROUGH A MIRROR DARKLY by Kevin Lucia (2015 Crystal Lake Publishing / 302 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Some months ago, I reviewed the first of Kevin Lucia’s Clifton Heights books, likening it to a collection of strange and beautiful beads strung together into something all the more fascinating. I knew I’d be eagerly anticipating a return visit to this peculiar little town, packed with its hidden secrets and stories. Would it hold up? Would it improve upon?

Yes, and yes! As jewelry goes, this piece is less a string of many small beads and more a necklace of larger chunks of polished amber. Each is larger, unique in its shape and individual coloration, yet similar enough in type and tone to form a cool, smooth, harmonious blend.

In yellow. Deepening shades of yellow. Because these stories have something else in common besides Clifton Heights, besides the clever frame narrative in which they are discovered and read, besides the recurring characters. A theme wends throughout, a theme of pallid masks and black stars and a certain evocative Sign.

Our discovering reader this time has inherited a bookstore called Arcane Delights, and is in the process of preparing to reopen for business when a mysterious box of mysterious journals. Their contents appear to be fictional … but contain familiar places, familiar names … allude to events in the town’s past never really explained …

Such as a troubled priest-turned-teacher who escaped a brush with evil in a faraway country, only to suspect whispers of it exist far too close to home. Or a cab driver lacking direction in his own life but finding a dark calling seeing others to their destination, or a carnival crossroads of memory and second chances.

Of the four story-stories, the all-out creepiest is “And I Watered It, With Tears,” which is so well-done and visual I had to sternly convince myself that I’d read it, not actually watched it. Chilling, moody, atmospheric, emotion-laden, tragic, and downright scary.

These are each, in their own ways, tales of the lost. Lost faith, lost future, lost family, lost sanity, lost hope, lost Carcosa. Of course, you don’t HAVE to be a Chambersian heretic like me to enjoy and fully appreciate this book, but, hey, it sure helps!

-Christine Morgan

THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS by Jason Arnopp (2016 Orbit / 400 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Best selling author and journalist Jack Sparks is working on a new book that deals with the occult. He's an alcoholic cocaine fiend, and a major skeptic. So he travels to Italy to witness a live exorcism, and while some strange things go down, he still isn't convinced of the supernatural. Even when a book comes into his possession (that's not to be published for a couple of years), a book written by the priest who performed said exorcism. A book that tells of his Jack's fate...

Sparks goes on to interview a group of ghost chasers in LA and another paranormal investigator in Hong Kong, all who become key players in his investigations. There's also a growing love story between Sparks and his roommate Bex, who becomes tangled in Spark's weird new obsession. And all hell begins to break loose when someone hacks and posts a video to Jack's YouTube page, a video showing a ghost that's so realistic it almost drives him mad trying to discover the truth behind it.

THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS is a near perfect blend of horror and humor. There are several genuinely frightening scenes, and Arnopp's prose moves so smoothly I finished it in two manic sittings. The book is told from Jack Sparks' point of view, but there are side notes from his brother Alistair that gives the book the feel these events actually happened. Among the surprises, three real life movie directors have cameos here, giving the book and even more "authentic" feel.

Some of the possession scenes are as intense as those in Michael Laimo's fantastic 2005 novel THE DEMONOLOGIST, and Arnopp's sense of humor enhances the story instead of dragging it into parody territory. While the main reveal here reminded me of the wicked twist in David Lynch's 2007 film INLAND EMPIRE, the author makes it his own and blends possession and time travel into something fresh and exciting.

I doubt a more entertaining book will be released this year. Don't miss it.

-Nick Cato


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Hiatus...

Yep, we're going on hiatus for the summer of 2016. Our every-other-week publishing schedule shall be put on hold. I have recently landed two huge gigs and will be very busy over the next 2-3 months preparing manuscripts and also (hopefully) finishing my second novel. Anyone who has sent in review material, we will still get to it, but not until late September, early October of 2016. Sorry for the delay, but this move is necessary for our own sanity.

ALSO: DO NOT SEND REQUESTS FOR REVIEW. It will be deleted unanswered. I am continually flooded with requests to review books and this small staff just doesn't have the time. While we're flattered so many people want to be reviewed in this eZine, the amount of material demanding our attention has reached absurd levels. This fanzine was started as a labor of love and as a fun project, but it has turned into a major undertaking.

Should I, Christine, Jon, or Sheri review anything on our personal blogs over the next few months, I will link it here and also on our Facebook page.

Thanks for your support, interest, and readership and we'll see you in the fall...


Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviews for the Week of June 20, 2016

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

THE SANGUINATIAN ID by L.M. Labat (2016 Night to Dawn / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

From a brooding manor of ancestral evil … to an asylum where fiendish doctors carry out cruel experiments … to a cottage in the woods … to the blackest corrupted heart of Nazi Germany … an unusual young woman pursues a deadly adversary, who in turn would do anything to get his hands on her.

In the earlier chapters, there’s a major heaviness on ‘tell’ rather than ‘show,’ the informative author narration coming on pretty strong, and that thing where it really would be okay to just use ‘said’ instead of other dialogue tags. It smooths out as the book progresses and becomes more confident and comfortable further along.

I did find myself questioning certain elements and inconsistencies at times, particularly in regards to how the heightened olfactory senses were depicted/utilized. Or how, in the first part of the book, the vampire aspect is hinted at but not really specified … then, later, the various types with their various abilities are as classified and understood as if statted in a gaming sourcebook.

The story itself has a linear progression, but the genre and tone jump around a lot. Starts off sinister Victorian-gothic, morphs into something more dark-fairytale, then it’s a wartime supernatural action-thriller; again, I was reminded of roleplaying games and the way long-running campaigns tend to veer on and off their rails. And it definitely ends on a left-hanging note, plenty of build-up to some expected confrontations and resolutions that – ha ha gotcha – will have to wait until next time.

The illustrations throughout add a nice disturbing touch; the ones presented as pages of notes and sketches from the doctors’ journals are utterly fantastic, really capturing that old-school Dracula/Frankenstein ambiance.

-Christine Morgan

BABYLON TERMINAL (2016 DarkFuse / trade paperback, eBook, & limited edition hardcover)

I received an e-ARC so forgive me for not being able to find the page numbers anywhere online (not even a listing on Amazon), which is kind of fitting for this mysterious neo-noir thriller that's packed with violence and some very trippy scenes.

Monk is a "Dreamcatcher," a ruthless government agent assigned to track down those who attempt to run away from their dark city. There are legends of an ocean and a paradise far beyond a vast wasteland from which no one has returned. When Monk's wife Julia decides to see if the legends are true, Monk goes against his sworn oath to follow and bring her back. Some think he is now a runner, too.

Outside the city, Monk encounters all kinds of lurid characters on his quest, including a gang of savage children and cannibalistic road warrior-type marauders. My favorite scene is an edge-of-your-seat brawl with another Dreamcatcher who is the best there is.

In the final act, we're left to ponder events as the ending takes on a surreal/nightmare-ish tone. Has Monk been dreaming everything? Has he really found his wife or has he become the victim of one of the goons he has met on the road? It's best to keep your imagination running here, but even if the conclusion isn't your cup of tea, there's plenty of hard hitting action beforehand, and some truly tense moments.

BABYLON TERMINAL reminded me of a violent version of LOGAN'S RUN with some BLADERUNNER thrown in, but Gifune's own flavor is felt from the first page and this fine novel moves at a breakneck pace. An interesting change up for Gifune fans.

-Nick Cato

RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt (2015 Grindhouse Press / 205 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

You know how some medications and carnival rides have cautionary advisories for pregnant ladies? This is a book that could use one of those. Though, I suppose, the pentagram/coathanger sigil on the cover ought to be enough of a warning …

It’s a nasty story. Just nasty throughout. Nasty sex, nasty gore, revenge porn, nasty people, cultists, cruelty, nasty nasty nasty. And, what can I say, I enjoyed it start to finish.
The main character, Nick, is a real love-to-hate-him despicable piece of work. The sympathetic ways in which he’s fastidious and germophobic are more than outweighed by him being a grade-A bastard, the kind of guy you sort of can’t help rooting for, until you then kind of can’t help waiting for him to get what he deserves, and either way it’s viciously satisfying.

See, right when he’s about to call it quits with his wife, Eve, she springs a surprise pregnancy on him. He can’t leave her without looking like a jerk, so, he devises another plan to pay her back. In ways that, to outside appearances, seem positively generous. Buy a big house, move to the country, she can quit her job, he’ll work from home? To some, hey, that might sound ideal.

Except, of course, for the isolation, the controlling behavior, the emotional abuse, and sheer hatefulness. Nick is all set to enjoy making Eve’s life a living hell, but he maybe could have done a little more background checking on the house and town before signing the papers.

I’m sure the poor tired old meme has probably played out by now, but really, all I can do is Doge: Wow. Such nasty. So bodily fluid. Much squick. Wow.

-Christine Morgan

THE NINES by Sam W. Anderson (2015 Rotcho Press / 330 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The Money Run is a dangerous stretch of American highway where all sorts of shady cargo is transported. The average person has no idea what crosses these roads, and those in Anderson's underground like it that way.

Artimus is a truck driver known for taking on the hard tasks and for his skills behind the wheel. But now, Artimus' long time contact has given him a crucial assignment, one that must be completed or it will mean the end of him. And Artimus quickly learns she wasn't kidding, as his route becomes cluttered with obstacles that go from annoying to lethal,and downright WTF? territory.

I didn't realize this book was part of a series (or at least a universe created by the author), and there are references I'm assuming can be answered by reading some of the other Money Run stories (about halfway through the book I did an Interwebz search and sure enough, yep, this was the case). But as it is, THE NINES works pretty good as a stand alone novel. It's an action packed tale full of some really sleazy people (my favorite being Sister Dazy, the epitome of an exploitation film-type nun who doesn't mind stooping to unholy means to get things done) and plenty of DEATH RACE 2000-inspired auto action. In fact, the whole thing reminded me of a crazier version of the Charles Bronson classic THE MECHANIC, which left this 70s film fan with a satisfied grin.

I'm looking forward to checking out another adventure with the steroid-addicted Artimus, who turned out to be a likable enough anti-hero. Buckle up and give THE NINES a spin, and if possible, read it in an abandoned theater for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato

MAYAN BLUE by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 278 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I tried, too, and in some ways I was successful. I mean, it’s a horror story steeped in Central American mythology, which is high on the list of ancient cultures I find particularly fascinating.

In that regard, Mayan Blue does a pretty good job – the imagery and descriptions, the supernatural elements, blood, bone, sacrifices, people getting their skin flayed off, terrifying deities; that aspect’s all there.

The background is solid, if the plot’s a fairly typical archaeology-expedition-goes-wrong as a group of students go to join a professor who’s discovered what appear to be Mayan ruins in the U.S. The problem I had wasn’t even with most of the characters being your basic Cabin in the Woods archetypes of jock, scholar, good girl, slut.

The problem I had was the writing style, which was heavy on passive voice, author narration, within-scenes POV jumps, and basically way more “tell” than “show.” Admittedly, the stuff they were telling was gory neat stuff, but it read more like a droning film strip than the exciting scary story it sought to be.

That’s too bad, because the potential’s really there, the spirit and passion and interest in the subject. I think, with some work and the help of a diligent editor, this book could really shine. Here’s hoping for the next one. I’d love to see more done with the great mythology!

-Christine Morgan

NOT SAFE FOR KIDS by Kevin Shamel--illustrated by Jim Agpalza (2016 Spunk Goblin Press / 130 pp / trade paperback)

Halfway through reading this one, I had to pause long enough to remark to the head publisher than it was the most delightfully fun and (bleep)ed-up thing I’ve ever read. Then I went and finished it, and I stand by that sentiment.

Agreed, it’s not for kids (oh so very much definitely not!) … but now that mine is no longer a kid, I’d certainly give her a copy. In fact, I could see myself giving copies to each of my nieces and nephews and other youngsters of my acquaintance, once they turn 18 and their parents can’t be TOO mad.

What is it? Well, it’s a series of little life-lessons, and a bunch of the super-secret secrets adults have been keeping to themselves, stuff like what’s really under your bed, what animals are up to, what parents really do at work all day, how to get a new mom, why your skeleton is trying to escape, fun games to play with your siblings, etc. A handbook, a guidebook, a gospel, everything you always knew they were lying to you about while you were growing up. With illustrations every bit as totally badwrong as the text

My personal favorite was the suggestion to tell your younger sib that he or she was not only adopted but found in a murder house, a la Dexter. Since that’s the sort of thing I might have told my own siblings, and since to this day we talk about my daughter’s “attic sister,” I guess my only excuse is, well, I may be deranged.

But, I take some twisted comfort in knowing that hey, I’m not alone.

-Christine Morgan


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of June 6, 2016

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

BONE MEAL BROTH by Adam Cesare (2012 Rollin & Jeannie Press / 104 pp / eBook)

Reading a collection of eleven short stories from Adam Cesare is kind of like punching yourself in the head almost a dozen times … but in a good way.

He starts things off with a rustic tale of a couple kids on an errand to pick up the latest delivery from 'The Still,' only to find out just what really does go into the makings of the favorite local popskull. Then it’s time for an unsettling look at mental illness and death in 'Flies in the Brain,' and by then you have a pretty good idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, but it’s too late to back out.

The niftily noir case of a detective and a dame in 'Pink Tissue' and the skin-crawling twists of 'Bringing Down the Giants' tied for my personal favorites of the bunch, though the maddening mind-itch left lingering from 'So Bad' and the creepy siblings 'Rollin & Jeanie' both are strong seconds, making it a heck of a race overall.

Genre-wise, there’s a little something for everybody, provided everybody likes their somethings on the grim, weird, or twisted side. Like cryptids? Check out 'Boarder Jumper.' Prefer the perfect woman? Test drive 'The New Model.' Gritty revenge more your thing? 'Trap' should satisfy. Stories of loss and loneliness? 'The White Halloween' and 'The Girls in the Woods' give you a couple different but tragic and troubling takes.

So, yeah, not a dud to be found. Not that any duds would be expected from this author; everything I’ve read from him so far has been terrific, and now I just see he’s as good with the shorter stories as the novels.

-Christine Morgan

THE FIREMAN by Joe Hill (2016 William Morrow / 768 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

Hill's 4th novel is an apocalyptic epic dealing with a pandemic that causes people to spontaneously combust. Victims first notice black and gold scars on their skin (dubbed "Dragonscale") and know anytime after this they could explode. While the idea could've easily been used comedicly, Hill keeps things, for the most part, serious, and it wasn't hard for me to buy into the disease (there are some finely placed moments of humor, though).

Heading the cast of infected survivors is "The Fireman," who has learned to control the fire that wants to consume him. He has even discovered how to use his disease as a lethal weapon, and is able to keep a small community of infected safe from marauding gangs of extremination squads. He has a harder time, however, handling their internal conflicts, especially since he doesn't live with the group he protects.

Among the community is former nurse Harper Grayson, who is on the run from her crazed husband Jakob who's convinced she has infected him. John (aka "The Fireman") has placed a young boy in Harper's trust, and she becomes the nurse of her newfound home and family. But of course not everyone is happy to have her there, and Hill spends much time developing his varied cast as the uninfected close in on them.

Adding to the mounting tension is Harper's determination to bring her baby to term. The apocalypse is bad enough without being pregnant, and Hill uses this obstacle to wonderful effect, especially during the satisfying conclusion that sort-of reminded me of the film version of FAHRENHEIT 451 (the author even cites Bradbury's book as an inspiration in the dedication).

While I believe this could've been about 200 pages shorter, the novel still manages to move quickly and I wasn't bored for a second. Fans of end times stories will surely enjoy this, and those who think the subgenre is played out may be in for a surprise or two. Fun, creepy, and with some humorous pokes at pop culture, THE FIREMAN is another solid release from Hill. Read it in direct sulight for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato

COMPUTERFACE by Kevin Strange (2016 Carrion House / 84 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know by now it’s only a matter of time until the machines rise up against us. Yet we keep making our technology more and more powerful, more and more independent, more and more intrusive giving it more and more access to and control of our most intimate lives, information, and details.

Yet, when it DOES happen, I bet some people will still have the nerve to be surprised. Nerve, or arrogant hubris, tomayto/tomahto. That’ of course, is if the zombies don’t get us first … but people are arrogant and stupid enough to be looking forward to that one.

Anyway, I digress. COMPUTERFACE presents the robot uprising in a way that, well, you kind of have to admit we deserve it. To really drive the point home, the book opens with a prologue featuring the ultimate obnoxious neckbeard, Harry, an abusive jerk online and in real life. A total creep, but, thanks to his review website, a really rich total creep who’s already got his own high-tech hideout nerd-rage bunker. When he sees the end coming, he’s ready to wait it out in comfort.

Then we jump to the title character, who wakes up with no memory, no clothes, and a computer for a face. He thinks he’s a man; the reactions of the human survivors and robot attackers he encounters seem to suggest otherwise. But, to the leaders of the resistance, he presents a unique opportunity, possibly mankind’s last chance to turn this war around.

An unlikely hero, perhaps … distrusted by his own kind, fighting to cling to the vestiges of his humanity, wracked by revelations from his amnesiac past … and maybe the world’s only hope.

-Christine Morgan

GOVERNOR OF THE HOMELESS by G. Arthur Brown (2016 Psychedelic Horror Press / 70 pp /  trade paperback)

This book brings such a fast and free-floating sense of unreality, it’s like being swept along on a racing whitewater current or drawn by a riptide. Maybe you can see the shore, or a ways ahead down the river gorge, but any ideas of having control are pretty much an illusion. You’re at the mercy of irresistible forces here. The best you can do is hang on, try to keep your head above water, and hope for the best.

It’s a story of insanity. Or, several stories of insanities. Twisting in on each other, folding out from each other, an Escher print made from words. The characters are insane in ways that I, working in a psych facility, simultaneously found perfectly believable and kind of scary. I’ve HAD conversations mot dissimilar to those presented here.

What’s it about? Welllll … a trial, of sorts … a guy named Wilson is brought before the court for murdering the man known as the Governor of the Homeless. Except, the court is in Bum Town, the jurists are bag ladies, the Governor isn’t actually dead, and that’s before you even get to the stuff about creepy maybe-inhuman gangs, Abortionstein, and the Archaeopteryx. Hey, YOU read it, and try to explain it!

A crazygood story, well-written and filled with fantastic turns of phrase – the description of a plucked angel’s “embarrassed chicken wings” made me have to do that thing where you stop reading and just go wow with the admiration headshake – and laden with illustrations by Sarah Kushwara to add to the disorientation (my fave was on page 48). Crazygood, goodcrazy, all-around weirdness, definite psychedelic horror to live up to the publisher’s name.

-Christine Morgan

WASTELAND GODS by Jonathan Woodrow (2016 Horrific Tales Publishing / 362 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When a book opens with a kid getting the life-essence blasted out of him before being torn to pieces and scattered across a strange blighted landscape … by the GOOD guys, no less … you know you’re in for a wild ride. The compulsion to read on, the need to know what’s going on here, is downright irresistible.

What is going on here centers on a man named Billy, who’d lost his son a few years earlier. Not to illness or a senseless accident, but to a sadistic killer who filmed the whole thing. Needless to say, this messed Billy up more than a little. His marriage is in trouble, he’s drinking too much, and that’s when he gets approached by the mysterious Dr. Verity, with an even more mysterious offer. If he’ll work for her, in a unique capacity, she’ll help him find the man who murdered his son.

Billy, not unreasonably for a devastated parent, agrees. Even when he learns his boss is no ordinary person, the Wasteland to which she takes him is no ordinary place, and there are forces at work far beyond his understanding. The particulars of his job, which involve tracking down those destined to become evil and stopping them – permanently – while they’re still young and helpless.

Somewhere around there is when I started thinking I knew where the story was headed. And, whoa, was I wrong! It went several directions I never could have expected, a mobius corkscrew through possible timelines and alternate realities. By the halfway point, I’d given up trying to guess (though I was right about that one character!) and just read on with that delightful sense of surprises and discoveries we don’t often see in these generally predictable nowadays.

Be prepared, this is a hefty tome, a long read and a complicated one, with some difficult/troubling moments and subject matter. Not light easy vacation or bedtime reading; it requires paying attention and sticking with. But expertly done, and rewarding. Some of the Big Questions are of course left unanswered, because that’s kind of the whole point, and adds to the potent, lingering effect.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 52 / May-June 2016)

After some opening commentary on horror TV and stage, this issue's fiction kicks off with a 23-page novella by Carole Johnstone titled 'Wetwork.' It's divided into 6 chapters, and my apologies to the author (who is excellent and has appeared in the pages of BS many times), but after a few attempts I just couldn't get passed the second chapter. It has a fine set up, but two of the main characters speak in a heavy (and I mean HEAVY) accent (written in intense phonetics) that I found incredibly distracting. Sorry, but I just don't have the time to decipher the main dialogue in such a lengthy story (and readers shouldn't have to, either). Perhaps one of our readers from across the pond can enlighten us in the comments below?

'Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile' is Damien Angelica Walters' second appearance in BS. Young Courtney and her mom move into her new stepfather's house. Her new stepsister is a weird one who doesn't want to give the new family a chance. And when Courtney starts getting along with her stepfather, Walters' tale becomes a gripping, unusual take on ghosts. Excellent.

A brother and sister are visited by an aunt they had never met in Robert Levy's 'The Oestridae.' The siblings' mother has been missing for a month, and it seems their aunt may have something sinister planned. Levy's suggestive prose amps up the chill factor in this impressive offering where no one is who they seem to be.

Mary Ann King's 'My Sister, The Fairy Princess' is a short but (un)sweet tale of Annamaria and her younger sister Daisy, who is a "fairy princess" of another kind in the wake of their mother's passing. Unsettling and deep.

And finally, 'Trying to Get Back to Nonchalant' by Ralph Robert Moore finds Hal spending his final days with his new girlfriend and her insightful young daughter. It's a heartbreaking study of people dealing with cancer, and not necessarily something I'd expect to come across in a horror magazine...yet it works.

Peter Tennant's 'Case Notes' kicks off with a fantastic and informative interview with Paul Meloy (and a great review of his first novel, 'The Night Clock'). Then Peter gives the buzz on three books dealing with insects (one edited by The Horror Fiction Review's own Christine Morgan), and six (count 'em!) new horror film books, which made this horror film fan quite happy. I'm now looking very forward to Lee Karr's 'The Making of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead.'

Gary Couzen's 'Blood Spectrum' once again delivers a barrage of dvd and bluray reviews, including the Arrow bluray of cult favorite 'Audition' and what is possibly the first semi-positive review of the American remake of 'Martyrs.' 

As always, BS is packed with great stuff, and again, forgive me if you found my "review" of 'Wetwork' to be lazy. Just being honest here, folks.

Subscribe or check out a solo issue here: BLACK STATIC (no. 52)

-Nick Cato



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Reviews for the Week of May 23, 2016

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

HEADER 3 by Ryan Harding and Edward Lee (2016 Camelot Books / 252 pp / limited edition hardcover)

I cringe and flinch and squirm a lot when reading the extreme stuff. More than once, I’ve almost been physically ill. I’ve had to take a break from some books to let my nerves, stomach, and brain settle.

Shane McKenzie, Monica J. O’Rourke, Wrath James White, Danger Slater, they’ve each in their own ways pushed me toward that brink (they know it, too, and they chortle, the brats!)

And then there’s these guys.

Ryan Harding, author of GENITAL GRINDER, teaming up with the all-time champ of sexatrocities – I have to make up words here because nothing else is even close – Edward Lee. For the next installment in the HEADER epic.

Now, if you don’t know what a ‘header’ is … uh … well … familiar with the phrase “f*** your brains out”? Outside of these books, it’s not normally used in a literal sense. A drill is involved, with a hole-saw attachment. What follows isn’t pretty.

Most of what happens in here isn’t pretty. There are people getting skinned alive, things being done to testicles that should not in any sane world ever EVER be done, and more. Yet, what got me, what brought me the closest I’ve been to actually losing my groceries, was the Hock Party. Just mentioning it here has me queasy again.

So, obviously, all that said, everybody should rush right out and get this book. Because my scarred, abused, tormented psyche wants company. From dialect to description, it’s expertly done, and unforgettable without trepanation or lobotomy, which you need like a hole in the head, and AAAAAAUGH!!!

-Christine Morgan

DRUGULA by Michael Faun (2016 Dynatox Ministries / 30 pp / chapbook)

Inspired by a couple of songs from doom metal band Electric Wizard, Faun delivers this well written tale set in Transylavnia, 1803. Count Drugula not only survives on the blood of young women and livestock, but protects his castle with drug-infused smoke screens.

Yep, the 'ol Count here is a stoner and drug dealer, but DRUGULA is done seriously and comes off as cool as it is atmospheric. I can almost see this as a strip within the pages of an underground comic book.

Another solid tale from everyone's favorite Swede.

-Nick Cato

THINGS SLIP THROUGH by Kevin Lucia (2013 Crystal Lake Publishing / 325 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Small towns have their secrets; I think I remember that adage best from Stephen King’s SALEM'S LOT. The gradual discoveries of deeper and deeper layers of weirdness by the newcomer, I remember best from TWIN PEAKS. Elements of both feature strongly in this clever collection, which has several individual stories encased in a nifty frame narrative.

The newcomer to town is widowed dad Chris, a local law enforcement officer who really wants to do right by the citizens he’s sworn to protect and serve. It gets frustrating, though, when there’s all this hidden mystery and behind the scenes stuff nobody will tell him about.

Finally, having had enough, he slaps down an ultimatum to his poker night pals – also prominent people in Clifton Heights: a teacher, a doctor, a priest. If he’s going to be able to do his job, he tells them, then he needs some answers. He needs to understand.

So, the writer among them presents him with a series of manuscripts, supposedly the truth behind several recent, peculiar, unsolved or unsatisfactorily-solved cases. The more Chris reads, the more he finds himself reluctantly drawn toward belief.

The stories may start out with more ordinary scandals of racism, harassment, murder, and revenge … but they swiftly take darker, stranger turns. Stories with inexplicable disappearances, supernatural overtones, entities, hauntings, and monstrous magic.

Each on its own works well; strung together this way, like weird but beautiful beads, the result is all the more fascinating. Really neatly done. And the first in an ongoing series, as the mysteries and mythology of Clifton Heights continue to unfold.

-Christine Morgan

THE BLACK DEATH by Jon R. Meyers (2016 Dunhams Manor Press / 30 pp / chapbook)

After visiting the town's doctor, a man learns he may be infected with more than the pandemic that's ravishing the countryside.

In Meyers' latest story, it's the summer of 1346 and we see the plague through the eyes of this mysterious narrator, who begins creating art from corpses as the disease consumes his mind. His strange affair with a local Madame also leads to his questioning life, death, and the reason for it all.

Meyers always skates on the dark side of the rink, and THE BLACK DEATH may be his darkest round to date. Read in direct sunshine or you may be swallowed by the blackness that spills from these pages...

-Nick Cato

DREAMS OF IVORY AND GOLD by Kirk Dougal (2014 Angelic Knight Press / 422 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The title on this one may seem a bit misleading; it suggests something more along the lines of historic fantasy/romance, but it’s really more a paranormal police procedural thriller with strong historical interludes. I’m not quite sure where the ivory and gold were meant to come in.

Summary-wise, the cops are on the trail of a serial killer who leaves a string of mutilated women in his wake, while a young priest is assigned to assist a special operative from the Vatican who’s hunting a monster. Needless to say, their missions intersect. Maybe a smidge coincidentally, what with all the connections between characters, but we’ll let it slide.

On the side of the cops is Detective Morgan Kelly, back on the job with a new partner after some personal and professional difficulties. But, none of that easing back into work gently for her; she’s soon put in command of the task force to find the killer. On the church side is Father Roger Greene, tasked with handling the infuriating and mysterious Gregor Novara.

Novara has been doing this job a long time. A long, long time. He’s by no means any ordinary man himself, and his crusade against the creature now preying on New York is as much personal as professional. I do understand why for plot reasons there wasn’t more info disclosure, but it did lead to a bit much of the taunting “I know something you don’t know” … and to do that while also chiding others for what they don’t know when you won’t TELL them … seems kinda mean.

The writing is solid, the story good on both history and action. The flashback scenes were my favorite parts. Could have used some more emotion from the characters, little stilted and awkward on some of the shall we say feminine issues.

Overall, I found it an enjoyable and entertaining read … right up until the last couple chapters, which felt rushed, and a resolution that kind of annoyed the crap out of me for several reasons. Not so much, though, as to prevent me from giving the sequel a look!

-Christine Morgan

TOWERS by Karl Fischer (2015 Eraserhead Press / 84 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Karl Fischer is one of those rare bizarros who, on sight, presents a deceptive normality. Simply looking at him, people might not suspect the labyrinthine layers and levels of complexity going on in his head.

When you see him do a reading, or you view one of his pants-wettingly intense short films, the reality reset your mind has to do can be really quite jarring. I’d experienced the first two, so I thought I was prepared. Then I read TOWERS, and found out how much more there was to the picture.

This is one weird, brilliantly done piece of work. It’s a love story, but in a post-apocalyptic world where the survivors live inside self-sufficient fortified monoliths (towers, obvs), defending them from the blighted landscape and monstrous threats outside. But, sweethearts Alti and Quatra have volunteered to give up their bodies to BECOME Towers, to do a long stint as sentient buildings in exchange for a promised afterlife together.

Suddenly, after a thousand years of doing his duty, Alti finds himself revived. Finds himself human again, not a Tower anymore, and with the doctors telling him he’s needed, they can’t send him to the afterlife, sorry, bummer, and who’s Quatra anyway?

He is, understandably, distraught to be shoved back into the teeming and strange social dystopia that used to scurry about its business inside his walls and corridors. He wants to be reunited with his lover, whom he believes must be out there somewhere, in some form or another.

He resists, he rebels, he learns some strange truths, and he finds himself beginning to physically change. To evolve into something capable of hurting the Tower, and even surviving outside. Which is when things get exponentially weirder, like, whole-genre-switch weirder.

I don’t even think I found any nits to quibble over. And the fact this is his first book? Yeah, keep an eye on this guy. Crazy talent and skills to match. Good, good stuff.

-Christine Morgan



Monday, May 9, 2016

Reviews for the Week of May 9, 2016

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

GATEWAYS TO ABOMIMNATION by Matthew M. Bartlett (2014 CreateSpace / 145 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

WXXT is a strange radio station that lures people into the mysterious town of Leeds, Massachusetts. The 30+ short stories collected here form a novel of sorts, giving Bartlett leeway to create an uncanny atmosphere that delivers some serious chills.

In the opener 'The Woods in Fall,' a man hears the call of Leeds' woods through a WXXT broadcast and is given a glimpse of things to come (both for himself and we, the reader). It's super short and unsettling and hooked me from the get-go.

Several stories here are flash fiction length, but most are around 5-8 pages. Among my faves are 'The Last Hike,' about a man who is introduced to hiking through his girlfriend, which in GATEWAYS leads to a building suspense that'll surely rattle your nerves. In 'The Investigator,' the title character meets his fate in the basement of an occult bookstore that's run but a couple of off the wall locals. I can see films being made from both of these tales.

The rest of GATEWAYS is filled with sorcerers and satanic goats, strange old men who visit playgrounds where kids go missing, lethal, creepy insects and frightening news reports, radio broadcasts, and snippets of Leeds history. Much of the aura here reminded me of the classic film HORROR HOTEL (1960): you can almost feel the fog roll off the pages as you turn and dive deeper into Bartlett's unholy universe.

This is the first I've read from the author and I can't wait for some more. Fans of occult horror will eat this one up.

-Nick Cato

BLACK CREEK by Gregory Lamberson (2016 Medallion Press / 432 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When doing construction, there might really just be some places it’s best to avoid. Ancient burial grounds, say, or the lot where the torture asylum burned down. Or, y’know, someplace like Love Canal, where decades’ worth of chemical toxins seeped into the earth and caused all sorts of health problems … but that was a long time ago, and it’s probably all fine now, right?

Except, not. Even if it was, the damage done back then has ways of lingering. Growing. Changing. Breeding. Some of the people who used to live there didn’t relocate when everyone else did. They’ve worked out their own ways of surviving as a society.

But, when a hard winter takes its toll, and the whiteout storm of the century offers them an opportunity to venture from their lair, it’s the new residents who are going to find their snowbound situation about to get a whole lot worse.

This was an advance, uncorrected proof, so I can’t in fairness quibble about the bloopers, though I sure do hope the ones that are more than mere typos got caught. The story’s good, if spread across a lot of characters only a few of whom ring genuine.

Personally, gorehound that I am, I was expecting something way more Laymonesque and much more focused on the tribe of weirdo muties. For the promise of the front cover art and the back cover copy, it didn’t feel like they got the chance to really stand out and deliver.

-Christine Morgan

WYTCHCULT RISING by Philip LoPresti (2016 Dunhams Manor Press / 54 pp / limited edition hardcover and trade paperback)

LoPresti (best known for his obscene, weird poetry) unleashes his first piece of horror prose, that's adorned with his own striking photography.

The storytelling here is done in heavy shadows, which adds to the overall feeling of unease, especially in the first chapter where we meet a young girl who narrates the activities of her mother's coven as she and her siblings listen from inside a rucksack. The rest of this brief novella chronicles the girl's dealings with the witch cult, which are at times as perverse as they are terrifying. The cryptic ending promises another blast of blasphemy to come.

The brand of witchcraft on display here is extreme and will probably piss off "white witches" and Wiccans, but fans of occult/witch horror will surely enjoy the author's poetic writing style and eye for morbid detail.

Now I'm off to get a pre-exorcism just to be safe...

-Nick Cato

WE ARE WORMWOOD by Autumn Christian (2013 Amazon Digital / 376 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Some stories depict a gradual, inexorable descent into surreal otherworldly madness. Not this one. This one starts out there and just keeps twisting its way deeper and deeper. It’s a horribly beautiful, agonizing, compelling journey, dredging up emotions and experiences from the darkest hearts of the psyche.

And never mind “unreliable narrator” … in We Are Wormwood, you pretty much get unreliable everything … what’s real, what isn’t, who is, who isn’t, who’s crazy, who’s sane … all subject to interpretation. Well, I mean, of course obviously since it’s fiction, none of it’s REAL-real, but you know what I’m saying.

It presents an interesting puzzle and somewhat discomforting reading experience: when the point-of-view protagonist admits her own insanity, how much can her perceptions be trusted? Is it just her who’s completely ‘round the bend, or is everyone else really also that weird?

The character in question is Lily, and whether you’re of the nature or nurture camp in terms of mental illness, being raised by her mom, she’s basically sunk. Demons and exorcists, weird bugs, Vikings and robots, lost gods, and ancient sagas all figure into their lives...while Lily’s also dealing with school, other kids, being an outcast, and all that fun stuff.

Her best friend collects carnivorous plants, there’s this artist guy who paints in blood, there’s a boy who may or may not have been blinding neighborhood pets … and a bonus story at the end which manages to simultaneously shed some light and further muddy the waters.

Rich with elements of folklore, fairy tale, mythology, and age-old storytelling elements tapping into Jungian or even pre-Jungian archetypes, there’s a lot to unpack here. A lot to absorb. It’s beautifully done, unsettling, disturbing stuff.

-Christine Morgan

BLURRING THE LINE edited by Marty Young (2015 Cohesion Press / 277 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know those stories you hear, not the urban legend ones like the escaped lunatic with the hook hand or the baby in the oven, but the more local-folklore / conspiracy-fodder ones that are a little harder to dismiss or discount? The ones that aren’t a friend of a friend, or my cousin’s hairdresser’s neighbor, but multiple sources, sometimes widespread over distance and years? When you can’t really with a hundred percent beyond reasonable doubt just chuff it off as wackos and superstition?

Well, here’s a whole book of it … not just of skillfully crafted inspired-by tales from the talented pens of some of the spooky spec-fic genre’s best, but interspersed with educational, informative articles and essays on past sightings, theories, and events. There are looks at some of the strangest, most inexplicable crimes and incidents in history, madness and murder and mass hysteria and magic, government experiments, cryptids, all kinds of things.

Best of all – speaking as someone who suffers through too many of those History or Discovery Channel shows – the level here is elevated, presented without all that breathless ‘could it be …?’ melodrama, but with an honest sense of ‘hey, this is a big weird world and we have not yet found answers for everything.’

Food for thought, food for thought, lots and lots of food for thought, especially where thought is bunches of nibbly little critters stocking up morsels for the winter, burying it, saving it in the nooks and crannies of your brain. I would have happily read a whole book just of that; the stories were extra bonus features!

Fiction-wise, it opens with a not-very-fictiony-at-all piece by the late Tom Piccirilli, written toward the end he knew was coming. It is hard to read, even for someone like me who never had the privilege of meeting him, but only knew him through the anecdotes of those who did. And maybe it’s strange to start a book with an essential goodbye, but in terms of setting the tone of transition and possibility, it works. It really works.

My personal favorite, for reasons involving my own predilections as well as familial lore of a great-aunt, is 'Hoarder' by Kealan Patrick Burke. Even though you know it’s a bad idea for the salesman to go inside (even though HE knows it), the lure is too strong, the compulsion, the curiosity. It’s chillingly creepy loooonng before the inevitable doom settles in.

Other particular stand-outs for me were Kaaron Warren’s 'The Body Finder,' 'Honey' by Annie Neugebauer, and Brett McBean’s 'With These Hands' … so much deep-down disquiet, wonderfully done.

-Christine Morgan