Monday, May 11, 2015

Reviews for the Week of May 11, 2015

Note: Please see bottom of main page for submission info and take heed. Much thanks!

KEZZIE OF BABYLON by Jamie Mason (2015 Permuted Press / 190 pp / eBook)

Another zombie apocalypse novel … after the last few I’d read, I was a little nervous, but not ready to give up on the genre yet. I figured, every streak has to end some time. And, I’m glad to report, I was right. This one, Kezzie of Babylon, does it nicely.

For one thing, the opening like is a grabber. “Never fall in love with a stripper,” the book tells us, then goes on to unfold the messy series of unfortunate events in which our protagonist kind of accidentally helps destroy the world.

It’s a cautionary tale of how the perils of drug addiction can lead to increasingly bad decisions and worse crimes … until you’re somehow on the run to the wilds of Canada with a friend you hate, on the trail of a dream girl you’ve never met, and the place that seems like sanctuary turns out to be run by a complete psycho.

Welcome to Zack’s life. Oh, and by the way, now with zombies! Not even ones that can be dispatched with a sound headshot, either. Really persistent takes-a-licking-keeps-on-ticking zombies. It doesn’t help that Kazzie, the psycho leader, is wrapped up in a bundle of religious zealotry and the resurrected dead figure into her new worldview.

Fast-paced with fresh twists, well-written, an engaging bunch of dysfunctional characters stuck in an increasingly worsening spiral of crazy, this one was just what I needed to remind me again why I love a good apocalypse.

-Christine Morgan


TIN MEN by Chrstopher Golden (to be released June 23, 2015 by Ballantine Books / 352 pp / hardcover and eBook)

In the near future, America patrols the globe with "Tin Men," over-sized, super strong and armed drone robots run by soldiers from underground locations around the world. Each soldier's brain is "mapped" onto their robot's internal computer, essentially giving the 'bots the traits of their human controllers.

An economic summit in Greece (attended by the Presidents of the United States and Russia) comes under attack by "anarchists" at the same time an electromagnetic pulse throws the entire world back to the stone age. A platoon of Tin Men working in Syria have orders to rescue the president, and on their trip to find him they must protect the teenage daughter of an American ambassador as well as the head of the terrorists (or "anarchists" as they're refered to, although it's quite obvious they're Muslim extremists. And if they're not, they're uncannily close to being so).

Despite the world now being powerless, these sophisticated 'bots had safeguards, and have survived the EMP assault, although their human controllers are now "trapped" inside their metal shells until they can get back to the nearest base in Germany.

Golden's scifi thriller reads like a summer popcorn Hollywood blockbuster. It's filled with non-stop action, international intrigue, and a huge cast that may or may not be back for another installment (this seems like the start of a series). The novel digs into the hatred much of the world has for America's involvement in foreign affairs, and a surprise truce between America and Russia's presidents could lead to interesting storylines should the author continue with his latest creation. TIN MEN is a fun and exciting choice for your summer beach reading.

-Nick Cato

YOU MIGHT JUST MAKE IT OUT OF THIS ALIVE by Garrett Cook (2015 Eraserhead Press / 210 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Now, I’m not saying that the bizarro genre is the literary equivalent of recreational substance abuse … and I don’t have much personal experiences with recreational substances to begin with … but – bear with me, I’m going somewhere with this, I think.

Anyway, if it WAS, then the works of Garrett Cook would tend to be your high-end laboratory-grade LSD. Probably not something to start your experimenting with. Maybe need some gateway drugs first to ease into it.

Once you’re to that point, though, get this book and prepare for some serious bigtime Timothy Leary level psychedelic surrealism head-trips. You Might Just Make It Out Of This Alive is the title, and not inaccurate … chances for “alive” are pretty good, though “with your sanity and reality intact” are more iffy. And you will certainly be left questioning all of the above.

Nitty-gritty-wise, it’s a collection of stories that opens with one the author pitched as a diversionary joke but the publisher went for it, so he then had to write it – if there’s a moral to the whole bizarro genre, that may just be it. Money where your mouth is, pal, or keep your mouth shut.

That particular story is “Re-Mancipator,” a sweeping novella which is exactly what it sounds like … zombie Lincolns … and also exactly not like anything you’d ever expect.

And it’s followed with “Assorted Salesmen at the Birth of the Antichrist” at less than a page long … just to give you an idea of the variety here. You’ll find a selection of drabbles about Julie Newmar (yes, that Julie Newmar), and conjoined carnie porn. The end of the world, the ultimate sacrifice, allegorical abortion, an internet forum about the dangers of ‘shrooming in fairy rings … all this in one book.

“The Wake at the House of Dead Hogs” was when my brain just unraveled like a cheap sweater given to a litter of rambunctious kittens. I’m still trying to re-ball my mental yarn after that one. Wow.

“Along the Crease,” is a doomed love story and another of my favorites. Imagine being told you were about to meet your perfect soulmate, but, you couldn’t get together at all costs or it’d destroy the world. What a monstrous, beautiful, terrible, delicious work of cruelty!

Wonderful stuff. Wonderful and weird. No surprise this guy’s an award-winner! Okay, yeah, could be a bit much for beginners, or even seasoned readers, but don’t let that stop you!

-Christine Morgan

BAD BRATWURST by Jeff Strand (2015 White Noise Press / 28 pp / limited edition chapbook of 150 copies)

While White Noise Press usually delivers serious horror fare, in their latest offering they've unleashed another tale from the always twisted mind of Jeff Strand. This time we meet Klaus, who runs a meat store that makes the best bratwurst in Germany ... only for some reason sales have been horrible. His one employee, Stefan, tries to get him to change the recipe, but the idea angers Klaus.

One day a mysterious man arrives at the store and tries to convince Klaus to make bratwurst from human corpses he will supply, only to be kicked out when Klaus thinks the man insane. But when a patron accidentally gets his arm stuck in Klaus' meat grinder, things take a turn for the absurd and Strand amps the goofball sickness up to 10 ...

Yes, this here's some silly stuff. But I dare you not to laugh as BAD BRATWURST becomes a hilarious riff on EATING RAOUL, housed in another beautiful-looking White Noise chapbook any book collector will drool over (the end papers look like they came from an authentic butcher shop!). Strand completists, act now at White Noise Press.

-Nick Cato

EVE BRENNER, ZOMBIE GIRL by A. Giacomi (2015 Permuted Press/ 277 pp / eBook)

I tried to enjoy this one. Bits of it, I did. Some of the gore was pretty good. Overall, though, I just couldn’t get into it. I found more not to like than to like, and had to force myself to keep reading in hopes it’d get better.

My biggest problem was with the dialogue, or, more precisely, with the way the characters were constantly addressing each other by name every other sentence or so. People don’t really talk that way in real life, and it clangs of author nervousness.

Then there was the slow starting pace … a too-perfect heroine who spends most of the book being less “zombie girl” and more “that chick from Heroes only sometimes she eats people” … overwrought teen emotional angst … overall general implausibility …

But, anyway, story summary – Eve and her friends go on an archaeological dig, Eve sneaks off and gets bitten by something, then begins having unusual symptoms such as rapid healing and loss of appetite thanks to a nasty super-virus. She mostly manages to hide it at first, but things eventually get out of control, with conspiracies and cover-ups. Meanwhile, mean-girl rivalries and murders lead to campus-wide carnage, and only Eve can save the day.

I don’t know. Maybe the subsequent ones improve and this suffered from first-novel syndrome? I just couldn’t connect with it. Sorry. Your mileage may vary.

-Christine Morgan


THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will return on May 25th with a look at the mammoth collection:


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Reviews for the Week of April 27, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you. And we really, really, really mean what's said in it so don't be sending further hate mail if you don't read the bottom of this page for submission info. Thank you again.

CHILDREN OF THE MARK by Michael W. Garza (2015 Severed Press / 196 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Checking back now, I see that the age of the characters is given right there in the second paragraph of the opening scene, so I guess I have nobody but myself to blame for my stumbling-block confusion. But dang, they seemed so much younger. I kept thinking these were KID-kids, as in, twelve-ish, so then, references to them as teens and high school would throw me.

Anyway! So! There’s these kids. A trio of them – AJ, Dougie, and their pal Clair, whose bright ideas often seem to get them in trouble. This particular trouble looks to exceed the previous ones. In fact, they’re way over their heads, though it takes them a while to realized it.

Sneaking into an old warehouse is one thing. Finding it occupied is another. Finding it occupied by a group of weirdo cultists smack in the middle of some strange summoning ritual … well, that’s a bit off the charts. And, of course, witnessing strange rituals is bad enough without accidentally interrupting things, alerting the cultists, and nearly getting caught.

They do manage to escape, but only to find that AJ has been quite literally marked by the encounter. One of his eyes has gone eerie-milky, and he soon realizes it sees magic sigils beyond the sight of the rest of the real world.

Naturally, he tries to keep it a secret. His parents somehow don’t notice, and after a brief hey-freak run in with a bully, everyone else at school soon gets used to it. But meanwhile, he’s discovering that not only can he see the sigils, he can manipulate them.

The only adult to whom AJ and his friends can turn is a peculiar lady who runs a bookshop. She’s able to tell them more than they wanted to know about the cult, and the danger they’re in. It doesn’t help that the cult leaders are trying to get close to AJ’s parents.

What follows is fairly typical “those meddling kids” fare, but livened up with really good description, fun use of magic, and some nifty clever twists. I admit that my earlier confusion may have interfered with bonding with the protagonists, and I found myself a lot more interested in what the cult was up to and what the bookstore lady’s backstory might be.

-Christine Morgan

NAZI HUNTER by Jonathan Moon (2015 Dynatox Ministries / 120 pp / limited edition trade paperback)

In an isolated section of Poland, the Nazis are running a concentration camp where vile experiments on human guinea pigs are conducted in a sub basement as mass amounts of Jewish prisoners are gassed to death on the main floor. But one large prisoner named Emil decides to fight back. He's up against a couple of the most brutal officers in the SS, and they're baffled to learn he has survived the gas chamber...

This second installment in Dynatox Ministries' "Nazisploitation" series is a violent, action-packed romp that reads like a more extreme version of Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. If you're a fan of this subgenre seek Moon's wild ride out. I'm loving this series.

-Nick Cato

THESE VAMPIRES DON'T SPARKLE edited by Carol Hightshoe (2014 Sky Warrior Books / 252 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m so old that I was tired of moody-broody smoldering sexy emo-angst vampires BEFORE they even sparkled … so you better believe I had no patience whatsoever for the latest take on the craze. And, clearly, I’m far from alone. The backlash against sparkly vampires may not be bigger than the love for them, but it’s certainly as vehement, if not more.

Here, for example, is a whole anthology (the first of two, even!) to prove it. Not ALL the stories are undisguised Twilight-bashing or revenge porn … but hey, if that’s your thing, rest assured they gotcha covered.

There are also plenty of vampire tales dedicated more toward taking back the night, re-fanging them into the monsters they used to be. Sometimes with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, sometimes with grim seriousness.

“Customer Service” by Kathrine Tomlinson has a fun premise, but ended too soon and was way too short; I wanted a lot more. Similar problems of adapting to modern life feature in Jeff Baker’s “Night Work If You Can Get It.”

Peggy McFarland’s “Charlie Makes His Way” is also short, but, wickedly clever and a very different twist on a beloved classic.

In the midst of so much humor, Margaret McGaffey Fisk takes us on a hard turn into strangely bleak but beautiful despair in “To Catch a Glimpse,” and “Two Fangs” by Jonathan D. Nichols is both haunting and creepy.

I confess a particular bias toward “The Longest Night” by Cynthia Ward, because Vikings! And Vikings done pretty darn well at that. I also enjoyed “Origins” by Rie Sheridan Rose, which goes about as historical as is humanly possible to go with some Neolithic horror.

With 27 selections in all, there’s something for every blood-type (speaking of which, “Drac’s Diet” by John Lance involves a concern not usually addressed in vamp-lit). Biblical, dark, grim, modern, near-future post-vampire-apocalypse, and more.

-Christine Morgan


NIGHTMARE IN GREASEPAINT by L.L. Soares and G. Daniel Gunn (to be released 5/5/2015 by Samhain Publishing / 95 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In an attempt to erase a violent childhood trauma, Will Pallasso brings his wife and son to the house he grew up in. He sends them out during the day so he can destroy a shrine his mother had erected in the basement to his late father. But it's also a shrine that has been a sentinel of sorts over a family heirloom that harbors wicked powers. And when Will starts to dismantle the shrine, he and his son begin having vivid nightmares and something far more sinister returns to stalk them.

Part of the "Childhood Fears" series of novellas, Samhain strikes with this quick but powerful tale that, while full of familiar horror tropes, manages to build some serious suspense and will easily freak out those who suffer from Coulrophobia. Clowns, dark basements, occult objects, dark family secrets and noises in the night may seem tiring to most horror fans, but Soares and Gunn take these classic elements and twist them into a satisfying, well done creep-fest.

-Nick Cato

WELCOME TO NECROPOLIS by Bryan Killian (2015 Deadite Press / 293 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I don’t know what happened here, what went wrong. I went into this book with anticipation and high expectations, and left it wondering if I’d been the victim of some kind of April Fool’s Day prank.

Hyped up by Brian Keene, published by Deadite, supposedly another fresh new take on zombies … but I’m just not seeing it.

Pretty much your bog-standard outbreak yarn, with scattered survivors and military and all the usual, with characters that didn’t grab my interest. Plus, way too many problems with the writing, not to mention the editing and proofreading.

I kept slogging, then skimming, then skim-slogging, in hopes that I’d suddenly discover the clever bit that turned it all on end. But, if it was there, I never found it.

I guess, if you want yet another ho-hum video game clone type zombie thing, here ya go. For me, it did nothing. D- at best, and maybe a red pencil note to the effect of “not working up to potential.” You guys, come on. You can do better.

-Christine Morgan


McLaughlin is a master of goofy horror comedy, and these three tales are perfect for some bathroom-time giggles (or for the proctologist's office waiting room). The title tale finds the milk fearing Whore of Babylon attempting to take over the world when Santa throws a monkey wrench into her plans. If you dig silly and apocalyptic you'll be howling.

In my favorite of the collection, 'The Inside-Outer,' a man finds a copy of The Book of Grokh in the library he works at and chaos ensues in this hilarious Lovecraftian romp. Then in 'Satan's School for Graphic Designers,' even the Devil himself gets annoyed at a new member of his underworld class.

Fun fun fun ... and a contender for best book title of the year!

-Nick Cato


BLACK STATIC (Issue #45)

I missed the past few issues, but am glad to get back on track with the latest edition that features 8 solid tales along with the usual in-depth book and film reviews (not to mention two great opening commentaries by Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker).

Among my favorites are Stephen Hargadon's 'The Visitors,' in which our narrator thinks back on his life and listens to those around him at a local pub. We're never sure if he's alive or dead, but Hardgadon's strange conclusion made this one stand out from the lot. Emily B. Cataneo's 'Hungry Ghosts' is a powerful little story about an awkward teenaged girl named Sally who lives with her mother in an isolated house. There are secrets in the basement and it's interesting to see how Sally relates to the outside world once the authorities insist her mother place her in school. Beautiful writing here. And finally "The Drop of Light and the Rise of Dark' by Cate Gardner deals with a young woman confined to her bed when she finds her entire world covered in darkness. Gardner amps the creep factor up to 11 in this claustrophobic fever dream that ends in a way I hadn't expected. Not a bad story in the entire issue, and fans of the great Steve Rasnic Tem are in for a treat with his 'The Fishing Hut,' a slow but intense chiller.

As always, I loved Tony Lee's film reviews (his snippets are always insightful and useful when planning a film viewing night) and Peter Tennant's book reviews continue to be among the best in the business (his interview with Canadian author Helen Marshall is a great introduction for those whose radar she may have flown under. I've already ordered her collection).

Get yourself a subscription ASAP right here: Black Static Subcriptions

-Nick Cato



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reviews for the Week of April 13, 2015

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

SICK BASTARDS by Matt Shaw (2014 Amazon Digital / 238 pp / trade paperback, eBook, and audio book)

I guess I must be jaded and/or spoiled. Seeing a book so laden with disclaimers as this one (on the front cover, and again on the splash page) made me go into it expecting a heck of a lot worse.

I mean, yeah, sure, it opens with a graphic incest smut scene and goes right from there to dinner-table live cannibalism, but … it reads as if, I don’t know, the intent is to do a big double-feature right off the bat to PROVE how shocking and offensive this book’s going to be, before moving on to the actual story.

Which is, in premise, interesting enough – the actual story, that is. Some sort of world-ending disaster happens, leaving our characters amnesiac and nameless, with a photograph the only clue that they’re a family. They seek shelter in a house, defending it against looters and other post-apocalyptic dangers, and eventually learn more about what happened.

Plus, of course, gradually succumbing to the above-mentioned graphic incest and cannibalism. Which might have been much more meaningful or horrifying if the characters were even slightly sympathetic. As it is, they start off so broken and unlikable, it’s hard to drum up much in the way of feeling for them.

Yes, the book IS called “Sick Bastards,” nobody’s expecting innocent good guys. But still. When everyone’s despicable or creepy, there’s much more of a challenge.

For what it is, it’s fine, an okay story, reasonably well-written; it works and holds together. It’s mostly just that initial matter of the bold disclaimers. If you’re going to make a big deal out of telling me something like that, then I want to be shown it, too. I want the proof. I want to walk away with the stunned thought of “wow, they weren’t kidding.” This one, I don’t think it did it.

Or, like I said, maybe I’ve been spoiled. I didn’t have any other problems with the book, so I could certainly give this author another try or two.
-Christine Morgan


CLOWNFELLAS: TALES OF THE BOZO FAMILY by Carlton Mellick III (to be released July 14, 2015 by Hydra/Random House / 400 pp / eBook)

As hilariously absurd as it is entertaining, Mellick takes classic gangster film tropes and slaps them in the face with exploding banana cream pies. Here are six novelette-sized tales of the Bozo Crime Family, who operate out of a small NYC area known as Little Bigtop.

In 'City of Clowns,' a human (called "vanillas" by the clowns) veternarian is hired to care for family boss Don Bozo's pet lion, and the poor sap, named Earl Berryman, has a chronic fear of clowns which is put to the ultimate test. Then in 'The Juggler Brothers,' members of the Bozo family square off against two of the toughest hit men in the French circus, who are the Bozo's sworn enemies.

'A Sad Day for a Happy Clown' introduces us to Pinky Smiles, who is about to propose to his girlfriend Taffy who also happens to be the daughter of Bozo family underboss Uncle JoJo. But standing in his way is a ruthless contract killer named Mr. Pogo and a bunch of twists and turns...

'Funny Business' tells the story of Buggy Buttons, and older gangster who is in charge of Little Bigtop's flailing comedy clubs. He is given a short time to get things back on track, and what follows was my favorite tale of the lot.

In 'The Unwackable Bingo Ballbreaker,' we meet the titular mob solider who, despite his massive size and strength, is a virtuoso violinist. When his "girlfriend" Melinda is kidnapped (she's his his prized, rare violin), Bingo pulls out all the stops to get her back.

CLOWNFELLAS concludes with 'The Wedding Day,' where Taffy prepares for her wedding to Pinky. But the French clowns have requested that underboss JoJo whack Pinky to even up with the death of one of their own (problem is, Pinky is Don Bozo's son). What ensues is an all-out battle that brings most of the books' characters out of the woodwork in an inventive, bloody finale that doesn't end like your typical mafia story.

Picture THE GODFATHER by way of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE and you can pretty much see what's going on here, although Mellick throws in some surprises (the mutant carnies were a cool touch) and for such a lengthy read, there isn't a single slow moment.

Perhaps CLOWNFELLAS, despite being an eBook-only release, is the beginning of a bigger step for the bizarro genre (hopefully Random House will deliver a print edition). Time will tell. Either way, I'd love to see more from the Bozo crime family.

-Nick Cato

ZOM-B BRIDE by Darren Shan (2015 Hatchette Book Group / 186 pp / hardcover, eBook, audio book)

Normally, jumping into a series mid-stream might be a bad idea. Even if it was a story set in our familiar everyday world, there’d be a lot of back story to catch up on, a lot of characters, a lot of what-came-before, if you didn’t start at the beginning. I can’t imagine being able to do that and make sense of it with something like the Lemony Snicket books, let alone Harry Potter.

And then here comes this one, a YA near-future dystopia with factions of living humans, undead, and mutants vying for survival, power, and dominance … and the first book I read of it is Book 10. BOOK TEN. By rights, I should have been just sooooo lost it wouldn’t even be funny.

Yet, I wasn’t. Without encyclopedic info-dumping recaps, without condesplaining narration, the writing caught me up and swept me along as easily as if I’d already read the previous volumes. Which isn’t to say that I don’t need to read the previous volumes; I certainly want to! But I wasn’t left floundering and wondering what was going on. I was able to immediately grasp enough of the setting and scenario, not to mention the characters, to fully enjoy this engaging story.

The B in Zom-B is for Becky, Becky Smith, our protagonist. Not your typical YA protag, either … okay, she’s unique and special, she’s got rare connections and gifts … and in this one, she’s the object of an obsessive love interest … but she’s also the Zom in Zom-B.
Not that that prevents her from feeling pain, or being tortured, disfigured and mutilated. Take that, Bella, Katniss, the rest of you. The book opens with her being carried out of the abattoir of a sadistic maniac by a host of mutant babies, and her situation doesn’t exactly improve from there.

Being rescued is good; being rescued by minions of psycho-clown super villain who wants you to be his bride is a little less so. But, playing along might get B closer to a secret that could save a lot of lives … if she can withstand her would-be groom’s ideas of courtship.
Gross and engrossing, an engaging engagement, a good read and lots of fun.

-Christine Morgan

BLACK METAL HEART MONSTER (2013 Dynatox Ministries / 76 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Norwegian death metal band Obscura Mortis has lost one of their members in an odd onstage accident (or was it?). Vocalist Throatbutcher is up to something strange and new member Skinreaper eventually realizes his band is much more sinister than he had bargained for.

When the late Obscura Mortis member returns from the grave (in a most unusual state), this brief novella dives head first into a trippy hardcore horror yarn that even a non-death metal fan could enjoy. Fun (and dark) stuff.

-Nick Cato

HIGH ON BLOOD AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Joel Kaplan (2012 Kaplan Publishing / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Must say I never got a review copy with a handwritten note folded into a paper airplane before … but, considering I was approached to ask if I wanted to try out this twisted book after being recommended by one of the leading sick-(bleep) publishers … hey, the weirder the better, let’s go!

Then I ended up reading the entire thing on the plane, flying back from a trip to take my daughter to the Museum of Death and Carrie: The Musical. It seemed a fitting finish for such a vacation, though I can’t help wondering if the passenger next to me peeked over and got an eyeful.

Because, ahem, there are eyefuls. Sex and violence, drugs, gore, devil worship, rock-and-roll, lots of crazy good fun, done in the sort of fast-and-loose style of describing the awesomeness of your favorite action movie or video game scenes to your buddies.
Here’s a sample: “... held up the rest of Disco like he was a big slam of Mountain Dew instead of a headless corpse and gulped the blood.” And that’s just from the first chapter, folks.

That’s before a couple of teenage hellcats pick up a hitchhiker and go on a murderous crime spree … and a guy stumbles across some werewolves doin’ it in the woods … serial killers and mobsters, disrespectful children, revenge, evil clowns, pizza … it’s like everything our parents ever warned us about or worried we’d get into, all rolled into one wacky wild ride.

It’s so wacky and wild, in fact, that the subtle under-weavings might almost go unnoticed, but they are there. The plot’s seemingly random, unconnected layers come together with mostly-satisfying resolution (I say mostly because there were a couple of characters I was left wondering what happened with by the end).

-Christine Morgan

The Horror Fiction Review will return on April 27, 2015...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Reviews for the Week of March 30, 2015

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

SLOWLY WE ROT by Bryan Smith (2015 Bitter Ale Press / 393 pp / trade paperback, eBook, and limited edition hardcover by Thunderstorm Books)

I'm beyond burned out on zombies, both in films and fiction. But when I heard Smith was writing a new zombie novel, I knew it'd be worth the wait. While SLOWLY WE ROT isn't as different as his 2006 novel DEATHBRINGER, ROT turned out to be an emotional roller coaster ride that countless "zombie authors" would be wise to take note of.

It's about 7 years after the undead have claimed the world. Noah lives on the east coast of the United States in an isolated mountain cabin, spending his days reading pulp westerns and living off the land. He sees few zombies, but the ones that come around his property are easily dispatched.

His quiet life changes when his thought-to-be-dead sister Aubrey shows up with an older, ex-marine named Nick. She's in a rage and forces him away from the house. Noah decides to trek west and look for a lost college love, whose California address and picture he kept saved.

On his trip, Noah encounters a psycho survivalist, a small army and a sheltered community where things go in directions you'll never see coming, and although this novel focuses mainly on the humans, there's plenty of gory zombie action to satisfy the most hardcore of horror fans.

There are a LOT of road trip zombie apocalypse novels, but few can touch the depths of SLOWLY WE ROT. Noah's battle with the undead pales to his pre and post apocalyptic struggle with alcohol, and I found myself cheering him on at every turn. Aubrey is also nicely fleshed out, as is Nick. These three characters won't be leaving my mind any time soon.

Whether zombies are your thing or not, SLOWLY WE ROT is an exceptional novel and will easily be regarded as a classic of the subgenre. Don't miss it.

-Nick Cato

SHUTDOWN by Shaun Meeks (2014 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It starts with the archaeological find of the century, an Egyptian tomb older than any previously recorded. Naturally, the thing to do is open it even though the people paying for the dig are explicit in their orders not to. Naturally, what’s inside is a bad surprise … if a brief one.

Skip ahead, and the contents of the tomb have been taken away to a corporate genetic research super-lab where a world-changing experiment is underway … a rival company hires some experts to try and get the secrets … and, of course, the experiment itself goes dangerously wrong.

Enter a hacker called Mouse, whose job is to infiltrate the building security and computers. He already fears he’s in over his head, and his employers will probably try to kill him after, but the offered money is too good to pass up. Little does he, or anybody – except for us readers! – know, but the situation’s about to become a whole lot worse.

The head of security is paranoid with good reason, one of the employees has a psycho abusive husband who doesn’t like her being late home from work, and when the SHUTDOWN happens earlier than intended, it not only strands Mouse and several others in the building, it releases the test subjects.

Plenty of ingredients for a big bowl of bad-stuff-gonna-happen stew! With a couple of dubious questions left nagging at my brain – for instance, if security is so top-notch, how does the psycho abusive hubby expect to get in? or is he too raged-up to think about it and just lucks out by happenstance?

Is it weird that my favorite characters actually were the test subjects, Adam and Eve? I really liked them, especially their powers and the descriptions as they finally fully cut loose.

My biggest issues with the book were an excess of omniscience and narrator voice instead of sticking to character POV, and a lot of fleshed-out backstory for characters who don’t have a lot to do or aren’t around much. It also could’ve used a good final edit pass for little bloopers.

That said, overall it served up a cinematic and fun read, with plenty of action, twists, turns, exciting special effects, and fun.

-Christine Morgan

CRYSTAL ROSE by T.S. Roberts (2014 Dark Silo Press / 84 pp / eBook)

You ever watch one of those creepy ghost shows on T.V? You know, like, Ghost Hunters International, Paranormal Home Inspectors, or The Dead Files? One of those badass shows with the team of paranormal investigators with all that high-tech audio and visual equipment, usually led by a somewhat attractive clairvoyant much like, Amy Allan or Nadine Mercey from two of the shows mentioned above.

Crystal Rose is just that. She’s smart, witty, and beautiful with an equally devastating past as to why she even possesses the psychic powers she has in the first place, and, the business is even named after her, Crystal Rose and Associates (and, boy, do they have some guts when it comes to paranormal investigations). But, much like the family members of a loved one involved in the impending doom abound, she doesn’t remember the horrid events that may or may not have transpired, or in what specific order they happened (if at all). The story unfolds when she and her friends (Leah, Julie, Owen) are called to a certain house, a historic home in Savannah, Georgia, in which she is immediately overwhelmed by the entity haunting it. Just so happens that the dark power haunting it turns out to be one of her ex-boyfriends, who decides to let her in on a little secret about herself as he tells her how much love they were in before he died and that her real name is Sarah. After the accident, Crystal Rose lost it all. The one and only true love of her life and her memory. Not even the rest of her crew knows who she really is. So, they more than anybody can tell when she starts acting funny and keeping secrets from them. And, maybe this isn’t quite the right time or place to be falling in love, or to be the one keeping secrets from each other.

This book has a lot going on at all times and it keeps the pace moving quickly. There’s an evil arch nemesis, Madame Zephyra, who is trying to take all the fame and glory for solving their paranormal cases in a more mainstream media sort of light, a family history buried so deep beneath the soils of some old haunted stomping grounds, and a love story sob-thick enough to peel the paint of the walls and make some of the biggest and baddest demons turn puppy soft. The house feels all too familiar, and the crew is really starting to realize what it takes to lend a helping hand to a friend in the time of need. Crystal Rose needs help and comfort and guidance, just as much as she needs to remember what really happened on August 27th.

These books from Dark Silo Press are a lot of fun, very well written, creative, and unique in all the right ways, and I can’t wait to dig into some of the other horrific books they have to offer.

-Jon R. Meyers

ABRAM'S BRIDGE by by Glenn Rolfe (2015 Samhain Publishing / 85 pp / eBook)

Li’l Ron makes a new friend, Sweet Kate, and soon comes to realize she is dead. He wants to help her find peace, but to do that, he will need to delve into the small-town secrets nobody wants to talk about or reveal. When he discovers his father may have been involved, Li’l Ron pushes on to learn the truth, no matter how hurtful.

ABRAM'S BRIDGE is a ghost / coming-of-age story. It has been done many times, but the author handles it beautifully, creating a tale that draws the reader in and leads to a satisfying ending. There are clichés and tropes throughout, but the writing is good enough to overlook them.

At 85 pages, it’s a short read, but still packs a lot of story into few words. I’ve read short stories by the author before, and he’s very talented, so I’m looking forward to longer works by him.

-Sheri White

INTRUDER by Dan Foley (2015 Necon eBooks / Six StarTree Publications / 116 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

1970. The USS Hancock, a submarine armed with nuclear warheads, is about to depart for a three month patrol with a few new sailors among its crew. As the newbies adjust to undersea life, the Hancock's radar indicates a Russian sub is nearby. To avoid it, they dive to almost unheard of depths, and while down there, the angered spirit of a drowned German sailor from WW2 manages to board the sub.

Men on lonely watches begin to see things, and before long the entire crew of the Hancock understands something supernatural has taken up an unwelcome residence, and that it has found a way to drive each one of them out of their minds.

INTRUDER is a tense, claustrophobic thriller filled with a constant sense of impending doom, plenty of chills, and one wicked antagonist. There's a lot of military tech talk, but it doesn't slow down this quick-paced tale that even includes some finely placed (but brief) comedic relief.

Nazi zombies are so 2010. Bring on the Nazi ghosts!

-Nick Cato

THE RISING: DELIVERENCE by Brian Keene (2015 Deadite Press / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Love this series, love this author, love this publisher … but just one thing … whoever had proofreading detail might’ve maybe dropped the ball a few too many times. I kept getting jarred out of the story, which is really too bad because it’s otherwise great.

THE RISING: DELIVERANCE takes us back in time to the very first days of The Rising itself, this time filling us in on how Reverend Martin ended up hiding out in his church before meeting Jim. We get to see more of the events from his perspective, which is able to look at things less as a personal crisis and more as a philosophical problem.

Here’s a good man, a man of faith, a man who’s served God for decades, who’s believed. Now this, and this is not much like what he’s been led to expect of the end times. It throws a lot of questions at him, and not a lot of comfort. It also shows his own struggles with despair, loyalty, courage and temptation.

As a bonus, this reissue of the 2010 edition includes two short stories. As a bonus, I say (and the author’s note says), but they’re far more than a bonus. They’re two VERY different takes on that bad ol’ Siqquism and everybody’s favorite legions-of-the-undead mastermind, Ob.

The first is “The Resurrection and the Life,” a historical piece going back to the first Rising … the one-man show involving Lazarus. Only, as a rather troubled Jesus soon realizes, his good friend Lazarus isn’t quite the same. It’s almost as if someone else, some other spirit, occupies his corpse …

The second brings us a fun bit of silliness holiday special in “The Siqquism Who Stole Christmas.” Sorry to say, this was where my inner proofreader had the most fits over the wrong homonym (but at least it was consistent, there’s that). Ob finds himself in another newly-deceased host, several miles up in a sleigh on a crisp winter night. From there, well, from there it just keeps on getting wackier.

Keene doesn’t want to be known as The Zombie Guy. That’s fair enough, and he’s woven satyrs, Lovecraftian nightmares, urban horrors and hauntings, primitive island savages, and more into the elaborate and expanding tapestry of his literary mythos. He’s certainly not JUST a zombie guy. But there’s something familiar and comforting about a revisit every now and then, and I was glad to see this one happen.

-Christine Morgan

THE ADHD VAMPIRE by Matthew Vaughn (2015 Bizarro Pulp Press / 74 pp / trade paperback)

As a fan of humorous horror, I love the premise of this one: Horace Dracul, the half brother of Dracula, gets loose on a cruise ship filled with geriatric sex addicts. He begins to feed off the elderly staff, but eventually meets his match in the form of a female (former) spy who also happens to be a cyborg.

While there are a couple of scenes that had me laughing out loud, Vaughn spends a bit too much time on adult diaper and feces gags, at times to the point you'll think he believes the only thing old people do is shit themselves. Yet with its over abundance of poop jokes aside, Vaughn's debut novella is full of cult-film style heart and is ridiculously entertaining.

I'll be keeping my eye on Vaughn. Once a few kinks are ironed out I can see some funny (and strange) stuff coming our way...

-Nick Cato

BURIED (THE COLONY, BOOK 6) by Michaelbrent Collings (2015 Amazon Digital / 217 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I thought this one was the conclusion of the series, and let me tell you, that had my anxiety levels spiking the closer I got to the last few pages. I wasn’t seeing ANY good way for the story to end, was expecting some hideous kill-everybody rocks-fall gotcha.

My relief upon discovering that there’ll be a next one … was only exceeded by my snarly frustration at another teasing cliffhanger. Aaaaaaaaaaargh!

So, where were we? At the end of Book 5, things had gone from already way beyond worse to really really really bad. Book 6 undergoes some drastic character and POV changes; if you’re all caught up so far, you’ll understand why. We last saw our ever-diminishing group of survivors pinned down in another doomed-looking scenario, about to all be wiped out.

Lucky for them, and for us too because otherwise there wouldn’t be much more story, a timely rescuer intervenes.

(by the way, for those of you just tuning in, the premise here is not just the zombie apocalypse but freaky mutating evolving xenomorph zombie monsters with some sinister hive-mind thing going on, and the entire series is taking place over a dizzying span of a few days)

The surviving survivors – I don’t want to give too many spoilers about who’s made it this far, but they are not in good shape, rocked by their ordeals and loss and despair – are taken to an underground survivalist bunker/shelter. For the first time since the world went insane, they could almost start to feel safe … if not for the disturbing psychic connection between some of their own number and the ravening hordes outside.

And, of course, as is the way with these things, no sanctuary can stay that way for long. There are some reasons to still need to venture outside. There’s the possibility – or certainty – that the undead menace will find them sooner or later, and be able to adapt enough to break in.

Keeping up the relentless high-octane action pace of the previous books, this one zooms right along with no pit stops or potty breaks until the above mentioned sudden to-be-continued end. By now, I really do think the author just enjoys tormenting us ...

-Christine Morgan

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Reviews for the Week of March 16, 2015

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

MISERY AND DEATH AND EVERYTHING DEPRESSING by C.V. Hunt (2014 Grindhouse Press / 98 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When an Author Starts their latest collection with a story titled 'To Say Mother Teresa Was Shocked When She Woke Up in Hell Would be an Understatement,' chances are you're in for an unusual time. What follows this brief, lurid opener are five tales written from (mainly) angst-filled angles.

In 'Last Woman on Earth,' our narrarator goes to extreme lengths to ensure her title, then 'The Quarry' is a crime-gone-wrong piece that turns into a classic EC Comics-styled horror yarn. 'No Room for a Child' is another solid horror story with (for this collection) a semi-positive conclusion.

'Baby Hater' is a wickedly fun tale I had previously read in chapbook form, but enjoyed it even more the second time.

'Human Contact' features a loner who discovers love in a way he never expected, and finally 'The Last Entry' shows us what might happen should half of a cojoined twin die.

Hunt's six tales deliver the spooky, the weird, and even the heartfelt, often in ways most readers won't see coming.

-Nick Cato

RAVAGE by Iain Rob Wright (2014 SalGad Publishing Group / 265 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

Iain Rob Wright destroys the world again! I like seeing someone do what they enjoy, and he must be having fun because he’s still going strong. His books so far have proved fast-paced rollicking reads, good crunchy entertainment

This time, it’s sudden-onset plague. Starts off simple enough, just a cold, maybe the flu, but before anybody knows what’s happening, everything’s being overrun by infected crazies who attack anybody, even their nearest and dearest. One moment, people are fine; the next thing you know, it’s a rampaging free-for-all.

One of these, Nick, is already having a crappy day at work. Sales are miserable, and then some sick guy wanders into the store … then, delirious, bites one of his co-workers. All Nick wants is to get home and spend a nice evening with his family. But, when he gets there, it’s to find a sick kid and a frazzled wife.

Naturally, things get worse from there. And fast. The infected aren’t just infected. Nick has to face some of the most terrible decisions anybody ever will. He ends up on the run with some other unaffected people, random folks who lucked into a bus driver headed anywhere but here.

Their ultimate destination, after some troubles along the way – and some additions and subtractions to their party – proves to be a little wooded mountaintop resort with hotel, amusement park, and modest zoo. (some of the absolute best, most touching, most wrenching scenes in the book involve the zoo’s orangutans, though that may also have to do with me being a sucker for animals)

Another group of refugees are there, including the hotel manager and the zoo’s vet. Of course, as in any season of Survivor, when the tribes merge, the personality clashes, politics and jockeying for position increase exponentially. Alliances shift, betrayals happen.

Some standard stuff, some unexpected stuff, but all in all I think this is one of my favorites yet from this author.

-Christine Morgan

THE WRETCHED WALLS by Brian Kaufman (2015 Dark Silo Press / 95 pp / eBook) 

THE WRETCHED WALLS is as great of an adaption of vintage era pornography as it is a well-crafted modern day ghost story. The book keeps you on the edge of your seat at all times, leaving you left alone and dying to know what happens next as the mystery unravels just as fast as Garrett Jenkins’ life before his very own twisted eyes.

It all started with a Victorian home purchased for renovation. The Wretched Walls inside has just as much a story to tell as the protagonist in the story when he stumbles upon a box of nude photographs dated back to the 1920s and a dead squirrel with a shiny valuable stitched inside its rotting corpse, and the woman in the photographs looks just as familiar as she does dashing and entertaining, wearing leather and accompanied by vintage bondage gear and some of the first sex toys ever made. This house has history, man. Prohibition era alcohol and tobacco smuggling, family ties, failed relationships, abuse, all inside a once hopping “talk of the town” bordello with some of the finest girls around. It was one of the biggest, baddest, and most active of its time.

Garrett quickly becomes obsessed with the house and its story and his life begins to unravel at the seams when Molly breaks up with him, winter passes like it was yesterday, and everything falls apart as time appears to pass faster on the outside than it does on the inside, leaving the reader wondering what’s going to happen next, or if maybe the whole thing was just something he’d conjured up in his sick and demented head with his own imagination.

-Jon R. Meyers

HUMAN MONSTERS by Gregory Lamberson (2015 Meadllion Press / 406 pp /eBook out now, trade paperback to be released on 3/17/15)

The sixth and final installment in Lamberson's Jake Helman series finds former NYPD detective-turned-PI up against a bioengineered clone of Nicholas Tower, the foe who nearly killed him back in the first book, PERSONAL DEMONS.

NYC is recovering from the destruction caused in the last novel by the STORM DEMON. Helman is temporarily living with girlfriend (and badass detective) Maria Vasquez in Queens, trying to recover from his battle with the weather-manipulating goddess. But it seems some shady characters Jake has killed are showing face again, and when his former secretary is found murdered, security footage shows the perp to be ... Jake Helman.

While "clone" stories can be tiring, Lamberson works it well here, especially when a bioengineered version of his murdered wife appears, not to mention a duplicate of the soul-stealing serial killer who took her life.

Fans of the series should be satisfied, as old friends make appearances, imaginative monsters attack at full force, and the action level gets amped up to 11, making this final chapter a violent blast of pulp action horror that sends Helman out on top. I'm going to miss this guy.

Now where's the movie?

-Nick Cato


GIALLO FANTASTIQUE edited by Ross Lockhart (to be released 5/15 by Word Horde / 240 pp / trade paperback and eBook)

Trusting the editor, recognizing almost all of the contributor names right off the bat, I knew I was in for a great read … and was not let down. If anything, my expectations were surpassed and left humbled. Not only did I learn a lot merely from the introduction, I found the stories to be a lavish, sumptuous tapestry of luxurious surrealism and strangeness.

The ‘giallo’ portion of the title refers to yellow not so much as a color but as a feel, as a literary and cinematic theme involving crime, mystery and decadence. The ‘fantastique’ part is where elements of the eerie and paranormal come into play.

The result is a book of thirteen stories that hit all the right notes of the uncanny, executed with the effortless-seeming skill of creative talents who aren’t afraid to let their minds wander down mysterious paths and take yours along for the ride.

I mean, come on, here; it’s got stories by Adam Cesare, John Langan, Cameron Pierce … it’s got a Brian Keene tale about The Exit, a character kind of like a spider at the intersecting web-strands of the author’s various universes … sordid crimes and passions from Michael Kazepis … Anya Martin delving into a world of more-than-musical transcendence … a multi-layered, multi-leveled investigative exposé from Ennis Drake … and so very much more.

My personal favorites:

Garrett Cook’s “Hello, Handsome,” just the most wonderfully-crafted piece of unusual POV brilliance, rich with sensuousness, sensory detail, desire and obsession.

The chilling, erotic, and evil “Terror in the House of Broken Belles” by Nikki Guerlain; familiar with her from cons and social media, this was the first time I’d read one of her works. Daaaaang, wow, spectacular, I’ve been missing out!

MP Johnson’s “The Strange Vice of ZLA-313,” a striking departure yet fitting companion to the rest of the book, delivering deft world-building, humor, cleverness, and well-thought-out sexy robots.

Now, it may be fair to warn you that GIALLO FANTASTIQUE is not an easy read. You’ll have to pay attention, you’ll have to think and work, you can’t just coast along. Well, okay, maybe you could, but you’d likely get lost, and miss out on a lot of luxurious texture and depth. Don’t do that. You’ll be doing yourself, and these stories, a real disservice. Indulge. Enjoy. They ARE decadence.

-Christine Morgan

NECROSAURUS REX by Nicholas Day (2015 Bizarro Pulp Press / 64pp / trade paperback)

Martin is a mildly challenged janitor who loves dinosaurs and has a fascination with the film Jurassic Park. Imagine his surprise when he meets two scientists who have created a time machine; he begs them to send him back to the time of the dinos, but things take turns that get stranger by the minute.

About halfway into this debut novella, the tale becomes a twisted, violent version of the creation story. Day's tale delves into some deep issues yet never loses the reader with its outrageous scenarios. In fact the whole thing is ridiculously entertaining and a welcome addition to the continually growing bizarro world.

Fans of the weird will want this.

-Nick Cato

WHAT ROUGH BEAST by James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge (2015 White Noise Press / 26 pp / limited edition chapbook)

Deputy Tom Morton is waiting at the saloon for his wife Hanna to arrive home by stagecoach during a raging snowstorm. He asks some of the townsmen to join him in searching for the late stagecoach, worried it had run into trouble. But nobody wants to go due to recent wolf attacks. But then Kharrn, a stranger in town, volunteers, and so does Tom’s friend Deke. As they head out into the dark, they are joined by Crowley, a mysterious man Kharrn seems to know.

When they are set upon by wolves, Kharrn and Crowley don’t seem surprised at all. They are also not surprised to see that the wolves aren’t just wolves, but something far more dangerous  - and evil.

WHAT ROUGH BEAST is very short, but packs a wallop of a story in its few pages. Gruesome and terrifying, but also somewhat melancholy, you are left to wonder which species is truly cursed in its existence.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how gorgeous this chapbook is. Intricately-patterned tissue paper, beautiful fonts, textured paper, and fantastic illustrations are the perfect touches to this story. The chapbook to 150 copies for sale, so buy it before it’s sold out. You will regret missing out.

-Sheri White

PLAGUE OF THE UNDEAD by Joe McKinney (2014 Pinnacle / 432 pp / mass market paperback, eBook, and audiobook)

I’d been eagerly awaiting this one since I first heard of it at World Horror Con. While I enjoy the immediate post-outbreak civilization collapse as much as anybody, the prospect of seeing something set way later was bonus-points intriguing. I really want to read about what kind of societies would develop, years or generations on.

In that particular regard, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Plague of the Undead is set thirty years after, but in a lot of ways, it’s hard to tell. Most of the various groups and enclaves of survivors could just as easily have formed and functioned pretty much the same way just within the first few months.

Now, don’t get me wrong; in THAT sense it’s a slam-dunk solid read. It just isn’t the whole cultural, anthropological, world-buildingy kind of thing I was craving. But c’mon, it’s Joe McKinney here. The guy couldn’t write a bad book on a bet.

The sheltered had-it-safe folks from the community of Arbella venture out into the wider world to see what’s what … and find it to be even uglier and more dangerous than they’d imagined. Their discussions about how to handle first contact – not with zombies, but with other living people – is made a moot point.

It’s another hard awakening for Jacob, who’s been groomed to take over as sheriff and already had to do some unhappy things in the course of duty. But even he is not prepared for the harsh realities of being captured, abused, enslaved.

And none of them are prepared for the sight of giant futuristic airships … or millions-strong herds of shambling undead following some strange almost-migratory compulsions … and they’re least of all prepared to discover hidden evil in their very midst.

The book features, in addition to the actual title novel, four bonus stories taking different looks at this falling-apart world. “State of the Union” is the harrowing adventure of a team of young diplomats caught on the other side of the world when the outbreak begins … “Jimmy Finder and the Rise of the Templenauts” looks at some of the scientific efforts to bring the world back under control … “Resurrecting Mindy” is a touching tale of tragic romance … and “Bury My Heart at Marvin Gardens” takes dedication to a loved one’s last wish to a surprising extreme.

-Christine Morgan