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


Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 25, 2016

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

THE SADIST'S BIBLE by Nicole Cushing (2016 01 Publishing / 87 pp / eBook)

Cushing (author of MR. SUICIDE, my favorite novel last year) returns with an equally as disturbing novella dealing with suppressed feelings, suicide, and a cosmic deity (themes she has and continues to handle quite well).

Ellie is tired of her religious lifestyle, which includes her devout husband. She's basically a closet lesbian who meets a younger woman in an Internet chat room. That'd be Lori, a slightly off-balanced bisexual who is looking to get away from both her mother and the demanding God who wants more than any human could ever give it.

They decide to meet up at a hotel for a night of wild sex before killing themselves. With this suicide pact to drive them, they travel to an isolated hotel, but their separate journeys are littered with different types of obstacles, and it's during this section of the story where Cushing puts her dark imagination into overdrive.

THE SADIST'S BIBLE spotlights two women who have been abused by religion and faith to different degrees, and places them on a course that's as chilling as it is mind-bending. Ellie and Lori believe suicide will end their troubles, but the God they're running from has plans far beyond either of their expectations.

Whether it's a novel or a shorter work such as this, Cushing has quickly become one of my favorite authors and THE SADIST'S BIBLE is another intense example why. Deep, intelligent, and genuinely horrific.

-Nick Cato

WIND CHILL by Patrick Rutigliano (2016 Crystal Lake Publishing / 206 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Among my many other vices, I’m always a sucker for extreme weather survival stories. Especially cold. Cold is fascinating. Nature at its most violent might be earthquakes or volcanoes or hurricanes. Cold, though, cold is different. So, you’d better believe I wasn’t going to pass up something with a freezing blue-white cover and a title like WIND CHILL.

And when said aforementioned extreme weather survival story also involves monsters or some other sort of peril? Even better! A howling, bitter, deadly terror to go along with an already precarious situation!

For teenager Emma, going on a sudden trip with her dad is far less surprise vacation and far more emergency bug-out; Dad’s been getting weirder and weirder since Mom died. Paranoid. Buying into conspiracy stuff, end-of-days societal collapse. The guns, she knew about, if perhaps not the extent of the arsenal. The cabin-turned-bunker way out in the middle of the wintry wooded nowhere, she didn’t.

Only once they’re there does she realize how truly isolated the place is. No internet, no phones, no contact with the outside world at all, and even if she could sneak the car keys, they’re snowed in and she wouldn’t know where to drive. Not fun. It’d be a bad scene even if there wasn’t something evil in the woods.

It’s an intense read, with plenty of that claustrophobic no-way-out trapped sense, Emma’s anxiety both tangible and sympathetic. I wasn’t ready for it to end as soon as it did, but that was because the rest of the book consists of bonus short stories, eight of them in all.

They are no slouches either, touching on some classic monster lore, some dark-fairy-tale-feeling pieces, some weirdness defying categorization, and what may just perhaps be a slightly discernible hint of commentary on practical effects vs. CGI.

-Christine Morgan

KRAKEN by Eric S. Brown (2016 Severed Press / 136 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

As you can tell by the cover (and in case you're not familiar with the author), KRAKEN is a classic-styled monster mash, written in a fast-paced style that won't bore those who can't deal with similar fare found on the SyFy channel.

The Desron 22 is on maneuvers with a few other military vessels when they come across a drifting cruise liner. They find only one survivor aboard, a man who claims everyone else had been attacked and killed by man-sized, squid-like creatures. And by the looks of the ship, they have no reason to doubt him.

Before long, it's a Navy vs. squid creatures action adventure, complete with some gleefully graphic kill scenes, and just when our boys think things are under control, they come ship-to-humungous-tentacles with the mythical title beast.

Brown has a knack for banging out pulp monster fiction like no one else, and here I felt like a high school student in the back of the classroom sneaking a read of something like John Halkin's SLIME (Google it!) or any number of paperback monster romps from the early 80s.

Fun stuff if a bit generic, but what else are you expecting from a novel titled KRAKEN? Get 'yer tentacles on!...

-Nick Cato

EVERY TIME WE MEET AT THE DAIRY QUEEN YOUR WHOLE FUCKING FACE EXPLODES by Carlton Mellick III (2016 Eraserhead Press / 122 pp / trade paperback)

The master of titles that make you go “okay, this I gotta see!” may have outdone himself this time … if nothing else, it’s almost twice as long as any of the Harry Potter book titles! Take that, J.K. Rowling. *And* it’s about a bullied school kid with special powers!

There, however, any resemblance to YA adventures and boy wizards comes pretty much to a screeching halt. Nobody at Hogwarts ever had a face that exploded when they got excited. And I do mean, physically exploded, in a sticky ker-splatter of blood and skin-shrapnel.

Which is what happens to Ethan’s girlfriend, Spiderweb, on their first date at Dairy Queen. He already knew she was different from other girls, what with the spiders and stuff, but the face exploding seems kind of bizarre. It’s okay, though; she’s on the bus the next day with a patchwork repair job. So they keep going out, despite the name-calling and cruel teasing of their classmates.

It’s only when their first kiss blows off part of Ethan’s face too that he starts having doubts. But by then, he’s meeting her parents, he’s at their huge fancy mansion-ish house, and her father’s patch-working ETHAN’S face back together while telling him the secrets of their family history.

After what happens with one of the bullies at school, Ethan has a drastic and immediate decision to make. Does he want to stay with Spiderweb? As in, forever, as in starting right now, leaving his whole life behind? Or does he want to break up with her, which would have its own dire consequences?

A charming tale of teenage romance with all kinds of disfigurements, malformations, blood, bugs, and gore … one of Mellick’s most bizarre yet, and also one of his best … he just keeps getting better, with no slowing down.

I find it extra cool that this book was written at a beach house writer’s retreat last year, and as I was reading it, the author was at a beach house writer’s retreat THIS year, where he no doubt wrote another complete book we can look forward to seeing soon!

-Christine Morgan

ALTAR by Phillip Fracassi (2016 Dunhams Manor Press / 54 pp / chapbook)

Phillip Fracassi’s Altar is an absolutely great and fantastic character driven tale of impending doom. Although the overall book is rather short, it is crafted and written so well it still manages to deliver an unexpected depth. The characters are just as believable as they’re realistic to the point you can feel their own thoughts and emotions as they push the subtle story further into the deep end.

We as the reader are instantly drawn into the lives of a family’s summer getaway to a community swimming pool located in the middle of a suburban hell, an aside from throwing on a blood red sheer terror soaked bikini that’s so dark it’s black. You may want to think twice before taking a dip and getting wet while having a little too much fun in the sun, because there is something much deeper, much darker lingering beneath the surface of it all.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE DEATH HOUSE by Sarah Pinborough (2015 Titan Books / 286 pp / hardcover, trade paperback & eBook)

There’s a whole generation of kids right now growing up on a steady diet of YA dystopia, and when they are ready to move on to more solid grown-up fare, here is the book to get them there.

Here is a dystopia we-the-reader don’t even see, don’t have explained to us beyond the barest of bare-bones basics. There’s no scrappy rebellion against the system, no Team ThisGuy and Team ThatGuy ‘ship wars.

In this world, kids are routinely blood-tested for some never-named disease / genetic anomaly. The ones whose results come back as ‘Defective’ are, with no warning, picked up by agents in vans and whisked away to a boarding school on an island. There, they just … wait. Every now and then, kids get sick and are taken upstairs to the sanatorium, never to be seen again.

So many questions! The symptoms of the disease seem to vary, the kids share rumors about its effects and history, but none of them know, so neither do we. The nurses and teachers, overseen by Matron, are cool and detached. Lessons are perfunctory. Socialization is pretty much left to fend for itself.

Both Narnia and Lord of the Flies are frequently mentioned by the characters throughout the course of the story, and perfectly so because elements of each figure as prominent under- and over-tones to their own situation. The various dorms are their tribes, they have their own outcasts and troublemakers and weirdos.

The protagonist, Toby, likes to skip his bedtime ‘vitamin’ to roam the big old house alone while everyone else sleeps​. But that changes for him when a new girl, Clara, has the same habit, and he has to share his private night world.

Sarah Pinborough’s writing is flawless, and in this one she’s got a mastery of mood that wraps around the psyche with dark little tendrils to burrow in and squeeze. Brilliant work, truly top-notch.

-Christine Morgan



'A Devil Inside' by Gerard Houarner is an intense study of a man dealing with a (literal) personal demon. Fans of Houarner's "Max" stories know few write psychological horror on this level, and herethe author not only shines but sets the bar quite high for this issue's fiction.

Keith Minnion's 'Down There' finds a man working with the Navy on a mission that requires the ultimate sacrifice to keep the apocalypse at bay. A creepy-as-hell thriller.

Michael Wehunt goes deep in 'The Inconsolable,' as a suicide-attempt survivor wrestles with faith and his deteriorating family. As a fan of religious-themed horror this one blew me away.

Nik Houser's 'Citizen Flame' has one of the best opening lines in recent memory: "When I told the GPS in my dashboard to go to hell, I didn't expect it to take me seriously." Ha! We're then on an insane road trip with a father racing to deliver justice to his daughter's sleazy ex-boyfriend, only to find himself in a town that just may be hell itself. A wild time that brings the late great Richard Laymon to mind.

'Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words' by Amanda C. Davis deals with Jeremy, who receives mysterious messages and delivers them to various people through what those around him believe are crank phone calls. But just as his ex is about to have him taken to the Loony Bin, she learns he's not so crazy in this slick, haunting chiller.

Among the non-fiction treats are the usual heaping of Stephen King news and reviews from Bev Vincent, Michael Marano's always insightful film reviews, another great (and very personal) M.A.F.I.A. column from Thomas F. Monteleone, and two interesting columns on the rise of horror fiction (by Christopher Fulbright) and why "extreme" horror may be just a tad played out (by Mark Sieber).

There's also an informative interview with author Ray Garton and plenty of book reviews.
An all-around great issue (especially with the fiction), although Sarah X. Dylan's cover art--while a neat concept--just didn't do it for me.

Grab a copy (or subscription) here: CEMETERY DANCE No. 73

-Nick Cato


Monday, April 11, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 11, 2016

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


SUBMERGED by Thomas F. Monteleone (2016 Samhain Publishing / 338 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Former Navy diver Dex McCauley and his crew discover a sunken German WW2 u-boat in the Chesapeake Bay during a routine dive. But it's unlike any u-boat they've seen before, and there are no records of it ever exisiting. And when Dex discovers the captain's memoirs (and a strange object), he learns of the sinister mission the sub had been on.

As we follow Dex's present day story, the novel is split with what happened aboard the sub back in 1945. Captain Erich Bruckner runs a tight ship and has been ordered to keep his crew in the dark about their top secret mission, which includes a bombing assault over New York City. On their way to America, they are ordered to visit a top secret Nazi base under the ice in Greenland, where they discover a bizarre occurence had almost destroyed the SS's plans.

As Dex and his crew go back for a second visit to the wreck, an illuminati-like organization learns of the u-boat's discovery and are hell-bent on retrieiving whatever Dex has salvaged from the wreck. Their second dive ends with only Dex and one other diver alive and on the run...

SUBMERGED is a fast-paced action adventure/thriller with just enough Lovecraftian goodness to give it a horrific edge. While I hate to use a played out term such as "compulsive page-turner," there's really no other way to describe this as the close of each chapter forces you to read on. As I read, I felt as if I were watching a summer blockbuster, and it'd be a crime if someone didn't do their best to translate this one to the big screen (so make sure to have a big bucket of popcorn on hand before you start reading).

If you haven't read Monteleone before, this is a fine place to start. If you're a fan, you'll surely rip through this in a sitting or two.

An all-around great read from one of the best in the business.

-Nick Cato

MISTER WHITE by John C. Foster (2016 Grey Matter Press / 278 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

At times, this book gave me a crowded feeling, not in a bad way but a busy one, as if several people were conducting distinct big projects in a smallish shared space. No matter how well they got along, every now and then there’s bound to be some jostling.

In this case, instead of people it’s storylines – international spy thriller, family secrets, occult conspiracy, haunted house-ish, and stalking malevolence – and I was left with something of a reverse-gestalt impression … that the whole came out not quite up to the sum of its parts. I think I would’ve preferred a tighter focus on a few elements, to be more fully explored and resolved.

Summary-wise, Lewis Edgar is an operative for a shadowy agency which made the mistake of trying to harness and control an ancient evil force. When things inevitably go wrong, Lewis winds up on the run from enemies and former allies alike, while also trying to protect his semi-estranged family. His chase takes him across several countries and through weird supernatural encounters.

Basically, for me, I wanted more of some stuff and less of other. I was left tantalized but curious about the train and the nuns, I wanted more with Hedde and the dogs; I felt like there was a lot more going on, and I was somehow missing out on important pieces.

I did enjoy it, I found the writing top-notch, the mood nicely ominous with creeping dread, and I probably had more fun than I should’ve with putting my long-ago German classes to the test. My current plan is to let it settle a while, let it mull around in the back of my brain, and then see how a second reading goes over.

-Christine Morgan

ODD NUMBERS by Richard Chizmar / HOW THE WIND LIES by Brian James Freeman (2016 White Noise Press / 40 pp / limited edition chapbook)

The latest offering from White Noise Press contains two stories in a "flip book" style. The stories are unrelated but are both excellent.

In Richard Chizmar's 'Odd Numbers,' a man's compulsive use of numbers drives him over the edge, then in Brian James Freeman's 'How the Wind Lies,' ten families set out across America in colonial times to get away from a malevolent force, but only one survives and has to face what has been following them.

As with all WNP chapbooks, to reveal anymore about the stories would be a disservice to the reader. I think this one is sold out now but check the secondhand market. Collector's will surely cherish this beautifully designed edition.

-Nick Cato

SACRIFICING VIRGINS by John Everson (2015 Samhain Publishing / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m going to commit apophasis here by not even getting into the whole Samhain kerfuffle, except to say what a shame it is for the authors, especially when collections like this one are indicative of the kind of books we’ll have to look for elsewhere.

Because, wow, these are some excellent stories! Beautifully written, dark, evocative, spooky, sensual, each with its own unique blend of mood and emotion … disturbingly erotic, weird, powerful, mingling dread and humor … all with precise, intense effect.

There are ghost stories, murders, infestations, a guy in love with his answering machine, revenge, deadly dunk tanks, twists, kinks, and shocks. What would you do if you found a beautiful body buried on the beach? If you thought you had a chance to bring a loved one back from the dead? If you got tired of the deal you made with the devil?

This may be one of my toughest challenges yet in terms of trying to select my faves. So many of them are so good, it’d be easier to list the few I didn’t quite care as much for … but even that proved difficult when I went flipping back through the pages.

So, I’ll single out 'Green Apples, Red Nails' for particular mention, which made me literally gasp out loud not once but twice. I did NOT see that coming. Chills and goosebumps. Well done!

-Christine Morgan

THE SPECIMEN by Pete Kahle (2014 CreateSpace / 502 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When I was in college, a bunch of us went to the movies to see … uh … I can’t even remember what we went there to see! But the double-feature was some sleeper flick we’d never heard of, so we stuck around to give it a chance and find out if it was any good. It was THE HIDDEN. ‘Nuff said.

There’s just something about the whole alien symbiote thing, isn’t there? Something simultaneously fascinating and repelling, whether it’s squidgy body-taking-over evil or mutually beneficial willingness (one of my favorite characters in a superhero game was bonded with an energy-lifeform).

What you’re getting in this book is more the squidgy-evil kind, latching on with hooks and tentacles, implanting nasty little wormy larvae, subsuming the host’s will, etc. And they’ve been doing this for a long, long time … throughout human history … the flashbacks to the Viking and Aztec ages, being two of my favorite eras, I particularly loved!

And, just as they’ve always been among us, some of us have been either trying to exploit or destroy them. The struggle kicks into high gear when an urban explorer goes poking around an abandoned asylum and brings out something that’s been locked away for fifty years. Something very old, very powerful, and very unhappy about its long captivity.

This is also one of those books that has no dang business being a first novel. Are you kidding me? I mean yes, okay, the author’s done short stories and is no slouch as an editor, but whoa … so many characters, all vivid and distinct … so many storylines deftly interwoven … serious good stuff here, so, when I saw the ‘first novel’ bit in the About the Author, I was flatly gobsmacked. Never would have suspected.

I will be eagerly, and impatiently, awaiting the sequel. And now I also want to go watch THE HIDDEN again.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC Issue 51 (Mar-Apr 2016)

Martin Hanford's cover art, "Jack in the Box," continues Black Static's recent run of excellent covers, which houses this top notch issue.

The opening commentary begins with Stephen Volk on how the workings of the BBC remind him of THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (!), then we get Lynda E. Rucker's take on the three anxieties horror writers face (although I can say Peter Straub--contrary to this column--is very approachable and has given me solid time at three different events). Good stuff here.

Stephen Graham Jones' novelette 'Bird Father' finds a widow (and her sons) dealing with life after a fatal car accident claims her husband. She starts dating an officer a bit too soon afterward, and the boys decide to play some twisted pranks on her using a dead bird that was seen at their father's crash site. But the officer isn't what he seems to be, and the walls of their house become a Poe-like mystery in this dazzling chiller.

An old woman babysits in the house she used to live in in Mark Morris' 'Fall Up.' Both young Heidi and babysitter Shirley have recently lost loved ones (brother and husband, respectively), and despite its short length, Morris manages to build a growing dread in both characters that culminates in a hair-raising finale. A nice twist on the haunted house story.

Gary McMahon's 'Necropolis Beach' is a pre-apocalyptic Lovecraftian tragic love story that reminded me of an early Neal Adams comic strip from EERIE magazine. Picture something like HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP with a much better (and serious) script...

An old man attempts to make amends with an old woman he stole from in Caren Gossoff's 'Spring Forward.' I enjoyed the author's prose and the tale is fine, but this melancholy drama is out of place in a horror magazine.

In 'Listen, Listen,' "Mr." Stephen Hargadon introduces us to Robert Haig, who inherits his toy-making father's fortune. But Robert's old man comes back to torment him in a unique way in this wonderfully written study of ghosts and the afterlife.

Norman Prentiss shows what happens when a slightly apprehensive English professor goes a bit off the rails in 'The Future of Literary Criticism.' Professor Lowell Fitch, after receiving a calligraphy pen as an anonymous gift at a convention, decides to re-write much of his speech for his panel the next morning. His theory on what made Poe's detective stories tick causes near scandal at the 1962 job seminar. Prentiss fills his novelette with finely timed humor, a great ending, and a clever nod to Poe (I sense a partial theme this issue).

After 50 issues, the 'Blood Spectrum' dvd/bluray reviews are taken over by Gary Couzens, who delivers a fine debut column (with an excellent look at the new bluray of 'Thundercrack.') Readers who looked forward to Tony Lee's column will not be disappointed.

Peter Tennant's 'Case Notes' looks at some DarkFuse titles, a pair of ocean/shark-themed anthologies ('Sharkpunk' sounds like a good time) and a pair of novels by Angela Slatter before getting to an interview (and more novel reviews) with author/editor Molly Tanzer.

A very satisfying issue highlighted by a nice variety of story-accompanying artwork.

Grab a copy or subscription here: Black Static

-Nick Cato



Monday, March 28, 2016

Reviews for the Week of March 28, 2016

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

Celebrating 13 Years of Horror Fiction Fandom...

TOLERANCE: A WEST HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRE NOVELETTE by Hal Bodner (2016 Grinning Skull Press / 53 pp / eBook)

Bodner returns to his West Hollywood Vampire series (if you've missed the novels BITE CLUB and THE TROUBLE WITH HAIRY, correct that as soon as possible) with this quick and hilarious tale that asks the question: just how far should we go as a society to tolerate the customs and traditions of certain people? Or in this case ... monsters.

When young children go missing from the streets of West Hollywood, Coroner Becky O'Brien and Captain Clive Anderson decide to take a break from their investigation and find themselves having lunch at the Yo-Ogert-T, a trendy restaurant known for its tasty bar-b-q. While there, they run into everyone's favorite gay vampires, Chris and Troy. During their conversation, Clive suspects they know something about the disappearances, and they surely do.

We're then introduced to another creature in Bodner's ever-growing series (and I won't spoil anything here), who happens to own the restaurant.

By using unusual dietary and cultural traditons as metaphors for all-too-real social issues, TOLERANCE is as funny as it is serious, highlighted by Bodner's slick prose that's as rich with nearly non-stop innuendo and belly-laughs as his two aforementioned novels.

A fine distraction as we fans of the series eagerly await the unwrapping of the next novel, MUMMY DEAREST...

-Nick Cato

EXPONENTIAL by Adam Cesare (2014 Samhain Publishing / 218 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audio book)

Thanks to assigned reading in school, my daughter to this day grumbles about “Flowers-for-freakin’-Algernon.” Wouldn’t it, you might think, be a more fun, entertaining, and satisfying read if the experimental lab mouse turned into a giant protoplasmic blob-monster and went on a rampage of destruction?

Well, folks, your wait is over! THIS time, when the none-too-bright janitor smuggles a furry little friend out of the secret facility, he finds out all too quickly that he made a mistake. A big mistake. A mistake getting bigger all the time. Not that the janitor lasts long enough to realize the full implications of what he’s done.

But that’s okay, there are plenty of other hapless victims for Felix (no longer little, furry, or precisely a mouse anymore, for that matter) to crush and absorb in his ongoing quest to feed and grow. Poor thing … as giant protoplasmic blob-monsters go, you kinda gotta feel for him.

The rest of the cast of people-characters are a great mismatched lot; many of them meet messy ends and several find their paths converging at a bar in the middle of the Nevada nowhere, in hopes of hunkering down to survive or make a last stand.

The writing’s breezy, skillful, and clever. The story moves right along, the critter’s an inventive variation on expectations, the gory carnage is great, the action moves along, the banter’s good.

FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON meets TREMORS … what’s not to love?

-Christine Morgan

BLOOD FOR THE SUN by Errick A. Nunnally (2014 Spence City / 232 pp / trade paperback, mass market paperback, and eBook)

Nunally's debut novel is an entry into the werewolf vs. vampire subgenre, yet despite the predictability of some scenes there are plenty of surprises and a genuinely likeable lead character. That'd be Alexander Smith, a werewolf who helps the Boston Police Department deal with unusual cases. This time he's asked to help with a child murder that seems to be the work of cultists. A nasty global conspiracy starts to unfold...

While Alexander's werewolf-side helps his investigative skills, he's continually fighting to keep his wolf nature at bay, mainly due to his love for adopted daughter Ana (who happens to be a vampire), and he's constantly dealing with a memory loss so severe he can't even remember why he came to Boston in the first place.

As much as I enjoyed Nunnally's lively cast (which includes other creatures familiar to readers of urban fantasies), and the child murder plot set-up is fine, it's the brutal fight scenes that make this one sing. Some of the one-on-one brawls are quite tense and as life-like as it gets.

I liked BLOOD FOR THE SUN quite a bit, especially the comic book-like plans of the vampires. Nunnally has a knack for making the coexistence of the supernatural and the normal gel very well. My only gripe is this BEGS for a sequel, as there are a few unanswered questions, but I'll assume the author has another one coming as that seems to be the norm for dark fantasy tales of this ilk.

A fun, exciting read fans of horror, mysteries, and action will enjoy.

(Note to Spence City: I'm a huge fan of the mass market paperback size, but PLEASE make the font a bit larger next time! Thank you.)

-Nick Cato

THE COMPLEX by Brian Keene (2016 Deadite Press / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Longtime fans and readers will be treated to a bundle of kicks out of this one, which brings together elements from several previous books as well as real-life references, familiar names and places and faces … aaaaaand then pretty much obliterates them in blood-gluts of violent mayhem.

But, don’t let that stop you if you happen to be a new or casual reader. There may be a few spots that’ll have you puzzling, wondering what part of the joke you’re missing … maybe, though, those will send you looking for more books, and then when you connect the dots, you’ll experience that buzzy moment of ah-HA!

And even if not, hey, you still get a wild, nonstop blast of a read.

The denizens of the Pine Village apartment complex are just in the middle of another ordinary day – new tenants moving in, stoners playing video games, crazy cat lady spoiling her furry babies, happy newlywed couple, award-winning horror grandmaster author …

Then the naked crazy people show up with the murderous rampages. One moment, business as usual. The next, total chaos. No warning, no explanation, only desperate scrambling for survival.

Action and Easter eggs, guts and gore, a lot of extremely unsexy nudity, even some explosions. Moments that will make you cheer, moments that will make you cringe, moments that will make you shake your teeny fist in distraught rage.

-Christine Morgan

NOCTUIDAE by Scott Nicolay (2016 King Shot Press / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The book description is pretty spot on with what actually goes on here:

“NOCTUIDAE follows a trio of hikers into the savage heart of an Arizona canyon. Far from any sign of living civilization, and with no way to call for help, the trip goes from wrong to worse when one of the hikers turns up missing. The remaining two find themselves stranded in a shallow cave, suspicious of each other and desperate to survive until sunrise, praying that whatever’s out there won’t hear them.”

But, what we're not told is there's something much more hidden inside the cave. The author manages to keep the reader on the edge of their seat while reading a number of tropes found in many other books and movies today. Think titles doused with FEAR and SURVIVAL. But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing that demerits the overall creativity of this book. No, the author spins his take on the story to pull you in, pulling off top-notch writing that keeps you reading, and once you’re there wanting more—it’s there. It’s there in your face in the form of a giant, flying beast with bubbles and beautiful multidimensional time travel that has the power to alter time and space, leaving the characters left to ponder life’s shallow existence in more ways than one.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE HOUSE THAT DEATH BUILT by Michaelbrent Collings (2016 CreateSpace / 314 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The newest white-knuckle thriller from the wildly prolific Michaelbrent Collings is another one-sitting read, zooming right along at a take-no-prisoners pace.

You know how it is when a bunch of bad guys break into some place, expecting a smooth heist, easy job, and big score? Only, then, it all goes horribly wrong, and you’re not sure just how much you should sympathize with or delight in their sudden perilous plight?

This is one of those stories, a vicious and delicious vengeful rude awakening, a shoe’s-on-the-other-foot wicked turnabout.

The heist team consists of mastermind Rob, the crazy and crazier brother-sister duo of Tommy and Kayla, and talented safe-cracker Aaron. They’ve each got their reasons for doing what they do, whether it’s for the money, the challenge, or the thrill. They’ve also had a run of bad luck following a botched job, and a sweet opportunity falling into their laps might just be the one to get them back on track.

So they think. So they hope. So they expect. Boy, are they in for a surprise. These homeowners have been waiting for a chance like this. Out of nowhere it’s all dogs and deathtraps, and the thieves have their hands full just trying to escape with their lives.

Oh, and as for the sympathize/delight? I admit, I was cackling pretty maniacally. Then again, when I was running dungeon crawl games, I’d sometimes leave my copies of Grimtooth’s Traps sitting out just to watch my players sweat.

-Christine Morgan