Monday, August 25, 2014

Reviews for the Week of August 25, 2014

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




OPERATION ICE BAT edited by Brian Keene (2014 Amazon Digital  / 201 pp / eBook)

OPERATION ICE BAT is, as you probably already know, an anthology put together by Horror Grandmaster Brian Keene to help a member of our own extensive online community, Dave “Meteornotes” Thomas. 

That in and of itself is reason enough to buy this book, but wait, there’s more! Because you get serious bang for your buck here. Keene’s assembled some of the genre’s best to lend their talents, and it certainly shows. 

A glance at the Table of Contents reveals a namedrop lineup of high order. Christopher Golden, James Moore, Kelli Owen, Keene himself, J.F. Gonzalez, Mary SanGiovanni … it’s a cavalcade of awesome before you even begin reading the actual stories. Once you do that, well … 

I beta-read Mandy DeGeit’s contribution, “Inviolable,” a while back under a slightly different title. I’ve been flinching ever since. Not something that the mind easily forgets, and believe me, I tried. So, when I saw it again, I confess I skimmed … once again flinching the whole way. Ouchie ouchie ouchie. Traumatic, to say the least. 

If “Inviolable” has a counterpart in this volume, it’d be “Arrearages” by Wesley Southard, for sheer hideously imagined wince factors. The protagonists of both stories, now, that would make for one weird meeting. 

“Mouth” by Nate Southard was another I’d also seen before, but is no less effective on the re-read. If anything, it was even more so, because I remembered just enough to get that delightful frisson of anticipation without OMG SPOILERS. 

Robert Swartwood’s “Noogle Knock” was new to me and probably my favorite of the batch, hard though it is to pick just one. “Pretty, Pretty Shiny” by Alyn Day was a close enough second that maybe I should have ‘em fight it out. 

There’s crushing claustrophobia, plenty of odd family secrets, a strange turn in the Holmes mythos, dark pacts and deals with the devil, and much much more. A great book for a great cause, so, don’t miss out.

-Christine Morgan




DYSTOPIA by Richard Christian Matheson (2011 Macabre Ink / 448 pp / hardcover & eBook)

One of the things I like to do is spend nearly all of my time reading, writing, searching for books. Books. Books. Books! To the point where I make those around me sick to their stomachs. Now! To do this, I usually go to the bookstore, the library, search various places online, etc. But usually if I’m in the mood to pick up something quick, I go to amazon and see what is available on the kindle RIGHT NOW! Because, let’s face it, when I get time to sit down and read, that’s what I want to do. Call me impatient or crazy, I don’t care… that’s my thing. So when looking through the kindle shop I stumbled across this. And only for .99c right now, this thing packs a mean punch for not even a dollar you might have had tucked neatly away in your dirty sock or gently underneath your sweaty brazier. I missed this one a couple years back, and, perhaps, maybe you did too. I didn’t even know this thing existed. So, if you missed this one (like I did) perhaps maybe you’re missing more than you expected!

Richard Christian Matheson’s DYSTOPIA is the ULTIMATE short story collection, written by the son of the famous Richard Matheson. Now, having a legend for a father could work in a number of different ways, the first thing that comes to mind is pressure following in such great footsteps. But, however, in this case, we can see the influence and sheer genius behind yet another master in the horror genre (and he even wrote the introduction). Like father, like son, his words are powerful and thought-provoking, haunting and psychological, and, at times, just plain beautiful and gruesome. DYSTOPIA is an omnibus of some of the best stories available from Matheson Jr. But, this isn’t just a collection that reads like a reprint (Let’s face it, nine out of ten times we hate those). No, this thing is packed with a handful of new stories as well. With over 50 stories of some truly amazing and brilliant Horror Fiction, there is sure to be a little bit of something for everyone here.

My personal favorites were, “City of Dreams,” a fascinating tale about love at first sight, but, maybe what you thought you saw wasn’t really there after all, completely blinded by loneliness and desperation on levels so high that it messes with your current state of reality and perception. This is what happens to the protagonist when the cops show up at the door over a stolen movie poster wrapped up and sealed in a gold frame, which sends him head first into a world of madness, psychological horror, and a quest for a film titled City of Dreams and a woman named Aubrey. What happens next is a smack in the face when our favorite movie collector realizes he’s lost it all, aside from his obsession for films, memorabilia, and the likes. Looking for something more gruesome like in “The Film,” a story centered around a military controlled theatre. The floors open up and dump the seating into an acid bath near the end of the flicks, leaving the viewer’s literally dead in their seats (so to speak). The owner of the theatre teams up with the nation’s finest to make a quick buck and helps take out the “Damaged ones”. I also really enjoyed the short, sweet, straight to the point structure found in “Vampire”, “Manifesto”, and “Shutterbugs”. Three brilliant stories crafted out of minimalistic sentences, sometimes even just a word or two, or a piece of well-crafted dialogue. But, don’t let the short writing fool you. Matheson Jr. is a wordsmith like his father and makes them count every time, leaving these short sentences hitting harder than some paragraphs written by others.

Like father, like son… Richard Christian Matheson leaves us with an omnibus of brilliantly crafted Horror Fiction for years to come.

-Jon R. Meyers



PREVIEW:

JACKPOT by David Bernstein, Adam Cesare, Shane McKenzie, and Kristopher Rufty (to be released 9/23/14 by Sinister Grin Press / 142 pp / trade paperback)

You hear of so many heart-warming lottery stories – the family on the brink of homelessness who wins just in time, the cancer survivor happy for a second chance at life, the generous winners who share their new assets with those less fortunate.

And those winners usually pick their numbers based on their children’s birthdays, anniversary dates, or just let the machine pick and let the numbers fall where they may.

Then there’s Booker.

He’s a serial killer who has been trying to win the lottery for years, using a very unorthodox number system – he abducts people off the street and finds out their ages after brutally torturing them. Booker uses the ages as his lucky numbers. To his amazement and utter joy, he finally hits the jackpot, becoming richer by millions. But although able to visualize the torture house of his dreams, and actually gifting a car to the cashier who sold him the ticket, Booker’s life doesn’t completely improve. 

A shifty lawyer wants to piggy-back on Booker’s success, and Booker is also hunted by a backwoods family who think they were tricked out of the money. All Booker wants to do is have a good time, but nobody will leave him alone.

Now, I’m no stranger to extreme horror fiction and not easily shocked, but I admit, the first few pages got to me a bit. I’ve read each of the authors’ separate works. They are all great writers, but put them together, and you’ve got one hell of a gruesome and perverse story.

There is a promise of a sequel to come, and I hope that’s true. I’d love to see the further adventures of Booker, and what these four writers can shock me with next time.


-Sheri White




CROOKED HOUSE by Joe McKinney (2013 Dark Regions Press / 162 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

Is there anything more classic in the genre than the haunted house story? In some ways, that IS the genre. Whether it’s a cabin in the woods, a Winchester-sized mansion, an ordinary suburb, even a hotel … just something about the haunted house touches on our deepest yet most everyday fears. 

And why not? A house is a home, it’s supposed to be refuge and safety. Where we relax, where we undress and shower, where we sleep, where we raise our children. The idea that hideous, insidious evils might be THERE, inexorably linked to our ultimate safe zone, is the nerve strike none of us can escape. 

The best part is how people can be just so plain DUMB about it and it’s still believable. We should know better. Really. Yet we keep moving into these places with weird histories of horror, murder, suicide and death. And then we have the nerve to be surprised when bad stuff happens. 

In CROOKED HOUSE, Joe McKinney takes on the trope with a deft and referential sense of humor. The characters even joke about it. A house like this, for such a price? Too good to be true, what’s the catch, is it haunted or what? Ha ha ha.

Yeah. Ha ha ha. Let’s ignore or laugh off the effect this place seems to have. Let’s overlook (har har) how WRONG it seems from the get-go. Let’s look into the history of it but still fiddle-dee-dee doesn’t mean anything and besides, what choice have we got? Family in desperate straits and all, last chance to start over, godsend, etc. 

This book is like a tribute to all those that have come before, sometimes subtly, sometimes right out there in your face. I think there was only one of the characters I ended up not wanting to smack upside the head, and that was the kid, because it’s hardly her fault if her parents don’t want to acknowledge reality. 

With the time span condensed into a mere couple of weeks, this is a short and sweet, fast and furious spin into total madness and destruction. Secrets are exposed, relationships are twisted inside out. A fun homage and a nice take on the thanks-Captain-Obvious angle, while also engaging on its own.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, August 18, 2014

Reviews for the Week of August 18, 2014

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





THE LAST INFECTION by Michael W. Garza (2014 Severed Press / 218 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Fast zombies or slow zombies? It’s been one of the contentious hot-spots dividing the genre for many years now. Traditional rotting shamblers, or quick and agile mindless crazies? 

Well, as the little girl in the taco commercials says, why not both? That’s the answer in the case of this book. The outbreak does turn ordinary people into blood-hungry maniacs who go on murderous rampages … but, once they die, they then become moaning animated corpses. 

A dual threat, as it were, which only complicates matters further for the desperate and ever-outnumbered living. Who, of course, also face the usual obstacles of finding supplies and shelter, and keeping themselves safe not only from the crazy and the dead but from their fellow survivors. 

I’m sorry to say I found this one pretty much standard just-another-zombie-book fare. There’s a lot of ‘tell’ rather than ‘show,’ so that reading it felt more like listening to someone talking about a book, movie, or game. 

The plot is kind of the connect-the-dots, usual, hitting most of the typical marks along the way. The characters show occasional glimmers of potential but never really get the chance to shine, their actions and interactions not the most believable, and many of what are supposed to be the big emotional moments just kind of falling flat. 

All in all, it’s okay, it’s a time-passer, but aside from the interesting twist with having both infected and zombies, it didn’t grab me. I’d give it a C+

-Christine Morgan



MIDNIGHT MOVIE CREATURE FEATURE 2 edited by TW Brown (2013 May December Publications / 226 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This anthology is a lot of things. It’s a horror anthology from a great press doing great things. It’s a collection of top notch stories written by a handful of brilliant authors. And, most importantly, it’s a trip down memory lane. Upon opening the book I was greeted by a motivational forward, TOC, and, get ready for it, it’s exciting… Ready? An admission for one, gold cinema ticket! I felt like I was gearing up for a trip to the classic Drive-in to watch the first showing of Mosquito. I took the ticket and ran with it straight to the couch, opened up the book, and left behind the bucket of popcorn and buzzing proboscis because I didn’t want the pages to get greasy.
  
There were more than a handful of standout stories I enjoyed. Some of my favorites were, “Dark Water” by Lillian Csernica, a gripping tale based around a glass of scotch, love, and family in an emotional rollercoaster that takes place by the sea. “Barry the Basement Bear” by Stuart Conover, a story about an abusive, drunk father and a child’s need for his best friend, who just happens to be his stuffed teddy, Barry. Barry has obsidian button eyes and an ivory smile. He comforts the main character throughout the beginning stages of becoming a foster child, until it’s time to let go. “The Blood Red Ruby” by D. Alan Lewis, is an action-packed tale that picks up where Film Noir left off, adding depth and horror into a great vintage pulp setting. You know, it’s 1929, we’re robbing banks, we’re getting the hot dame in the red dress, and having a first-hand encounter with death, the Grim Reaper, and a beast with razor sharp teeth.  

With stories by Theric Jepson, Lillian Scernica, Stuart Conover, Chantal Boudreau, Matt Kurtz, EA Black, Tom Ribas, Suzi M, D Alan Lewis, Jill Behe, Elsa Carruthers, Jay Wilburn, and Michael James McFarland. We have this home run hitting, slam dunking, glass breaking and shattering in your face horror anthology that knocks it out of the park and is sure to make an impact on your psych just when you thought you were safe from the world outside. Oh, and don’t forget those giant pesky, blood-sucking mosquitoes!


-Jon R. Meyers


PREVIEW:

THE LAST MILE by Tim Waggoner (to be released 10/21/14 by DarkFuse / 140 pp / eBook)

Alice wakes up hogtied in the backseat of a car. Dan, the driver, is bringing her to his Master, who is part of a supernatural race who has taken over the earth. Through then-and-now story telling, Waggoner reveals why Dan is doing this, and while it's never quite clear who these beings are, it's safe to say they're more Lovecraftian in nature than alien (at least in light of what they expect from their human servants).

While some readers might be turned off by a few unanswered questions, I found leaving these out gave the tale a spookier edge. Waggoner paints an incredibly dark future full of mystery, monsters, and people who will do whatever is necessary to protect their families.

Another fine offering from the DarkFuse novella series.

-Nick Cato




DEMONIC VISIONS 4 edited by Chris Robertson (2014 Amazon Digital Services / 308 pp / trade paperback & eBook) 

Fifty stories! There are fifty fun-size stories in this book, like a sweet Halloween trick-or-treat haul! 

And, like with a sweet trick-or-treat haul, there’ll always be some that aren’t to your own particular individual tastes … into every plastic pumpkin, a few Almond Joys must fall, hey, it happens. And some people like coconut anyway. At least there’s no snack-packs of raisins, or worse, sample-size dental floss. 

I know, I know, here it is only August, but I’ve got Halloween on the brain. Don’t we all? The stuff’s already showing up in stores, and unlike other holidays, for this one we say aw yeah bring it! 

However, I digress. I’ve got an anthology to tell you about, and while I could list all the goodies, for space and sanity’s sake I will hit the highlights … my personal equivalents of the Snickers, Twix and Reese’s. 

“Twelve Volt Existence” by Adam Millard starts things off with a zinging look at an all-too-plausible future scenario. 

Maggie Carroll’s “Falling Like Flies” would be the candy equivalent of a stealth Tootsie Pop, where you start off expecting one thing and get a delicious surprise at the end, while “Something’s Wrong With Ethan” by Doug Robbins is a nice little wafer-thin mint that packs a chilling wallop. 

“The Prima Donnas” by Vince Liberato is eerie, eldritch, evocative, and beautifully done, more Lovecraftian in spirit than a lot of outright Lovecraftian stories I’ve seen. Patrick Freivald’s “Trigger Warning” also triumphs with creepy atmosphere and ambitious style. 

Any sense of “Apt Pupil” déjà vu you might experience while reading Arran McDermott’s “The Protégé” is only to lull you into a false sense of familiarity before flipping the tables. 

The opening line of Shaun Avery’s “Apology Addicts” – I guess it was as I was sawing the little kid’s arm off that I realized how far things had gone – is all the hook anybody should need. 

R.L. Ugolini’s “The Change” is a fun, well-written tale of a couple whose relationship is falling apart in more ways than one, while “Walk a Mile” by Shenoa Carroll-Bradd shows us a warm scene of family togetherness. 

“The Bus Driver” by Jody Neil Ruth resonates perhaps a bit uncomfortably too well with anybody facing another dreary day’s commute; similarly, upcoming bizarro star Kerry Lipp’s “Lunch Time” offers tasty work-day revenge. 

And then, just when you think you’ve polished off the entire contents of the plastic pumpkin, you might find one extra final treat waiting at the very end!

-Christine Morgan




NOTE PART TWO: please see bottom of our main page for submission info. Thank you.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Reviews for the Week of August 11, 2014

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





PROUD PARENTS by Kristopher Rufty (2014 Samhain Publishing / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Greg and Sheila weren't able to have children. But when they joined an experimental birthing project, they became the only couple whose child survived ... and they became the only family who got out of the facility alive when mutations and chaos struck.

Today, Greg, Sheila and their six year-old son Gabe survive by moving from small town to small town. Gabe is a human/reptilian hybrid who they try to keep inside, but his urges often cause him to sneak out at night and eat their neighbor's pets. Now they've found a new town and are getting friendly with their neighbors Todd and Lisa. Greg has even discovered Doctor Henry Connor, one of the men who helped them conceive their son, living nearby, and he offers to help them find a cure for Gabe.

As Greg and Sheila get closer to their new neighbors, Gabe begins to spy on Todd and Lisa's teenage daughter Jenny and discovers new feelings. Doctor Connor is also blackmailed by a superior from the birthing facility, and before long Gabe manages to get out of the house and claims first another pet as a victim, then an elderly neighbor.

PROUD PARENTS has all the ingredients of a classic pulp horror tale: a cool monster, horny obnoxious teens, nosy detectives, a hint of conspiracy, and a truly gruesome finale. The story reminded me somewhat of Edward Lee's MONSTROSITY, but with its own flavor. The second half features a nice blend of suspense and grue, and will surely satisfy anyone looking for a solid creature feature.

-Nick Cato




THIS DARKNESS LIGHT by Michaelbrent Collings (2014 CreateSpace / 430 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I sat down to this book thinking it’d be a nice break from worries about the state of the world and certain current events like oh say we’re all going to get Ebola. The opening, an email exchange between the President of the United States and the mysterious X, an email titled OUTBREAK, really should have been a penny drop for me that I might want to hold off a bit. 

Maybe I glossed over it, or maybe I just let it slip my mind because the rest of the first chapter captivated me with the introduction of a gutsy ol’ gal of a widow who was, bum hips be damned, going to cross ‘climb Kilimanjaro’ off her bucket list. I fell in love with her instantly, I wanted to read about her uplifting tale of determination and triumph! 

Boy, was I a sucker. 

Outbreak, remember? One of those horrible HOT ZONE situations where an ordinary airline flight goes hideously wrong in a matter of moments of screams and explosive gushing biohazard. 

The scene then jumps to a hospital, where a man who should be dead wakes up with no memory but an inexplicable skill set. And, as he soon discovers, enemies who will stop at nothing to finish the job. His only ally is a nurse, whose co-workers have already been cut down. 

Meanwhile, in case his enemies aren’t up to the challenge, an expert assassin has also been recruited. Or, not recruited so much as conscripted, made an offer he can’t refuse on pain of death to his own nearest and dearest. 

What follows is a breathless cross-country pursuit, peppered by the delightful interludes of emails as the President tries to cling to control of a situation where he never had it. A situation that’s rapidly deteriorating as the outbreak – in all its horror – spreads. 

With a strong but vulnerable hero, a tough but beautiful heroine, a special child, secret conspiracies of far-reaching power, deviant pervert bad guys, and the fate of the world in the balance … I daresay we’re a saintly dog away from needing to do an intervention. Collings’ work has been compared to that of Koontz before – with reason, and I’ve done it myself – but he’s thus far escaped the descent into overwrought, overwritten preachiness. 

We can’t let that happen, people. He’s too good to let go off the deep end. He writes amazing books, and he writes them too fast for even me to keep up. THIS DARKNESS LIGHT is another winner.

-Christine Morgan




KETCHUP ON EVERYTHING by Nathan Robinson (2014 Snakebite Publishing / 119 pp / trade paperback and eBook)

KETCHUP ON EVERYTHING is one of those books where the title is mysterious. It is also one of those books where the title remains that way up until the very end. However, this is not by any means a letdown. Nope, this is very much the exact opposite. The author successfully keeps the reader’s interest well intact and creatively adds to the mystery at hand throughout the entire book, leaving the reader just dying to know what it all means without the plot being overly predictable.

I picked this book up on a whim merely because of the cover. It caught my attention right away when shopping on amazon with its minimal, text-only appearance. To me it screamed 80’s all over it, like some of those old T.M. Wright hardcovers or something. I don’t know why but the bold, pale text is straight to the point and does the job well. But, aside from maybe a slight resemblance it didn’t really scream horror to me (well, not at first). This is intriguing because aside from the book description I didn’t really know what I was originally getting myself into.

So, let’s talk about what’s on the inside. First of all, the story is great. It keeps the reader on the edge of his/her sanity, needing to know what’s going to happen next. The author manages to hold onto the horror genre by a thread. A loose thread, but, when it hits it, it hits rather hard. The rest of the book comes off as something (like the cover) almost unexplainable. We have an attempt at some sort of literary, almost poetic imagery that goes further in-depth in the narrative than most of the horror books I’ve read as of lately. The emotion is fantastic. But just when you start to think, “Hey, this isn’t horror at all…” it creeps up on you and hits you right upside the back of your head and puts you right back in place, almost like the huge plot shift near the beginning of this book (which was absolutely brilliant by the way). The author does this to set the mood for what is to come, and, before you know it, you’re right back there in that grimy diner at night with your RV parked in the back lot, facing what could end up being your last breath of life inside of one of your worst nightmares come true, standing there with your hands in your pockets, wondering what to do next, while face-to-face with death.


If there is a lesson to be learned here, I think it's safe to say that in order to survive, sometimes we have to break down and put Ketchup on Everything.

-Jon R. Meyers




APARTMENT 7C by David Bernstein (2014 Samhain Publishing / 62 pp / eBook)

Revenge stories can be tired and familiar. Played out. Seen this / done that. But thanks to the unlikely protagonist in Bernstein's short novella, APARTMENT 7C has a little bit more of a kick than your standard DEATH WISH-type tale.

Beth is an 82 year-old woman who lives in the apartment next to a decorated police officer. But despite his public image, Beth hears him abusing his wife every night, and one day decides to pay her a visit. The cop finds out and his wife ends up dead. Thinking back to her own daughter who was killed at the hands of her abusive ex-husband, Beth decides she must take action, especially when she figures no cop will believe her.

This slick thriller really gets into the mind of a senior citizen, and gives a reasonable way for her to take justice out on a man who could easily kill her. The finale is quite extreme, so those squeamish toward hardcore violence be warned. A quick, one-sitting read that can be read to the older folks in nursing homes (on second thought, maybe not...)

-Nick Cato




NEXT WEEK:


Monday, August 4, 2014

Reviews for Week of August 4th, 2014

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




AFTER by Samantha Gregory (2014 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 177 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

One of the things about zombie stories that makes people keep saying maybe they’ve been played out is, let’s face it, because a lot of them are pretty much the same basic recipe. Modern day, the initial outbreak/apocalypse, civilization crumbles, survivors struggle, the fellow living turn out to be worse threats than the undead, etc. 

THAT aspect, okay, maybe that aspect IS getting a little stale and overdone. Taking it a few steps further, seeing what comes next, what kind of civilizations DO rise from the aftermath, years or even decades down the line … hey, that still has plenty of potential. Plenty to play with. 

AFTER is one of those books. The whole zombie uprising took place twenty years ago … effective government and military response eradicated them … problem solved … move along, go about your business folks, nothing to see here. In theory. 

Of course, something like that would irrevocably change society, the way immense disasters, tragedies, wars and the like do. Big changes, and small ones. Pervasive ones we get used to or don’t even stop to think about anymore. And the fear is always there. Lurking. Could it happen again? Could it happen HERE? To YOU? To YOUR CHILDREN? 

Fortunately, the New Alliance has stepped up to keep everything safe and everybody nicely under control. Or should that be the other way around? Whatever. Just do things their way, and it’ll be all right. Sure, there’s poverty and shortages and containment camps for those who might get mouthy, but you don’t see any zombies, do you? There’s a vaccine now, isn’t there? 

To seventeen-year-old Jenna, this is simply the way it has always been. She knows all about it, or thinks she does, because her father was an Alliance scientist before that suicide stuff. What Jenna doesn’t know all about is her father’s actual research, and when others come looking for it, she finds herself swept up in the middle of a deadly conspiracy.

She also finds out that most of the truth as she knows it is a big honkin’ LIE, as she ends up fighting for her life against rebels, traitors, and, of course, plenty of zombies who haven’t been eradicated after all! 

And, to make matters worse, she keeps getting interested in the wrong guys. With lower-key violence and not much sex, AFTER is the a fast, fun, well-done, and engaging start of a series suitable for YA and older.

-Christine Morgan


PREVIEW


CONDUITS by Jennifer Loring (to be released 9/16/14 by Darkfuse / 142 pp / eBook)

Mara has been cutting herself to deal with the death or her sister. And when her boyfriend Jason dies, the cuttings grow more intense. Her roommate Andrea tries to get Mara's mind off things by bringing her to an isolated estate with a couple of friends, but this is when things only get stranger.

Before long, Mara finds herself locked up in an insane asylum, and Loring challenges the reader to dechipher if what Mara is going through is real or imagined. Mara (a Japanese American) also thinks back to when her grandfather told her the legend of the Horimono Miko, and at this point CONDUITS takes on the feel of a solid Asian horror film, complete with spiritual undertones and what at first may seem like much confusion ... but thankfully the author ties things up during the intense, eerie, and heartbreaking conclusion.

CONDUITS is a well written surreal ghost story that can be consumed in one sitting. This is the first I've read from Loring and am looking forward to more.

-Nick Cato



PREVIEW


THE SPECTRAL BOOK OF HORROR STORIES edited by Mark Morris (to be released 9/14 by Spectral Press /  trade paperback & eBook )

From the press release: “Published by Spectral Press, edited by acclaimed, award-winning novelist Mark Morris (Toady, Stitch, The Immaculate, Fiddleback and the forthcoming Obsidian Heart trilogy) and inspired by the Pan and Fontana books of horror and ghost stories, which were hugely popular in the 1960s and 1970s, The Spectral Book of Horror Stories will be the first volume of a non-themed annual horror anthology, showcasing all-original stories by the very best writers in the genre. Each yearly volume will contain around fifteen to twenty stories, and will be available in paperback and e-book format across all platforms. The cover for each volume will be a new and original work by multi-award-winning artist Vincent Chong.”

Before we talk about what is going on inside this thing, let me just tell you this book rocks! There’s a little bit of everything for everyone, well, when it comes to the horror genre that is. The stories manage to sneak up on you in the dark before smacking you with their depth and cunning wit when you least expect it. I don’t know if this was on purpose or a mere coincidence on behalf of the editor, Mark Morris, but there is a recurring theme throughout the entire book. All of the stories work together to build this haunting atmosphere with beautifully constructed tales of love, family, death, friendship, regret, and music. That’s right, there are a handful of stories in here based around music. The Fender Stratocaster. A protagonist that has ties to The Beatles. There are some very interesting and well-constructed concepts executed and they hit hard.

Among my favorites are “The Dog’s Home” by Alison Littlewood. This is a creepy tale about a family, a hospital, and a dying love that may or may not be for certain. It ends with a tragedy that is poetic and beautiful at the same time, chock full of creativity and originality in a way that you don’t see coming until it’s far too late. “Funeral Rites” by Helen Marshall, a gripping tale again based around a family and death, earning trust with a stranger to eventually dig up the remains of a corpse in an old house. “Dull Fire” by Gary McMahon, a tale based around love and emotions. Here we have two characters that are bound together by much more than a new spark in their relationship.

There are also stories by Ramsey Campbell, Tom Fletcher, Steve Rasnic Tem, Reggie Oliver, Alison Moore, Robert Shearman, Conrad Williams, Michael Marshall Smith, Brian Hodge, Angela Slatter, Stephen Laws, Rio Youers, John Llewellyn Probert, Lisa Tuttle, Nicholas Royle, and Stephen Volk.

The Spectral Book of Horror Stories is sure to dig its way six feet deep into the heart of any horror aficionado.

-Jon R. Meyers




THE CHILDREN OF OLD LEECH edited by Ross Lockhart and Justin Steele (2014 Word Horde / 315 pp / hardcover & eBook)

My main concern about reading a tribute to the works of Laird Barron, is that I have – shamefully, and due to be rectified! – not read many of his works! Therefore, I’m in a woeful state of disqualification to speak with authority on how well the stories in this book achieve that goal. 

I am, however, arrogant enough to speak with authority about whether I liked ‘em or not … and also humble enough to defer to the editorial wisdom of those who put the project together. With high standards of quality and knowing whereof they speak, let’s just all agree that these tales ARE fitting and worthy. ‘Kay? Kay. Moving on. 

Because hey, there’s enough skill, talent, craft-mastery and deft wordsmithing here to … to … see? There’s so much that I can’t even find words! Within a matter of pages, I’d completely forgotten about worrying whether or not I was appreciating the full nuance (I got back to worrying about it later) and just settled in for some good reading. 

I got it. I got beautiful texture and profound depth … whole-skin-creeping chills and soul-shrinking cosmic terrors. 

My all-around favorite, for various reasons of mythology and sheer blow-your-socks-off descriptive artistry, was John Langan’s “Ymir.” 

Other personal top picks include “The Harrow” by Gemma Files, Cody Goodfellow’s “Of A Thousand Cuts,” Richard Gavin’s “The Old Pageant,” and “The Woman in the Wood” by Daniel Mills. 

Even the stories that I initially expected not to really be able to get into (settings or styles not normally to my personal taste) found a hook and a way to draw me in, impress me, and hold my attention. No skimming allowed. Or, whether allowed or not, maybe simply not possible. 

Besides, I live in the Pacific Northwest, setting for many of these, and it’s always a treat to take a strange tour of familiar places. Or, maybe not a treat … things around here don’t seem quite as ordinary as they did before …

-Christine Morgan




EQUILIBRIUM OVERTURNED edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson (2014 Grey Matter Press / 256 pp / trade paperback & eBook )
The heart of darkness awaits in this brilliant genre-bashing anthology.

The book description reads, “There are uncountable evils lying in wait, ready to consume the souls of mankind. From alien civilizations bent on human destruction, to demonic incursions from beyond the event horizon, to the horrifying malevolence that lives within us all, Equilibrium Overturned grabs you by the throat and drags you screaming into the heart of darkness. Exploring terrifying dystopian societies, post-apocalyptic survival, the whitewashing of our own terrifying past, and supernatural worlds both near and far, Equilibrium Overturned offers 14 shocking revelations into the true origins of evil. Come with us on a journey into malignant terror that will drive a nail through all that remains of your own humanity.”

With that being said, I couldn’t agree more. There are 14 action packed stories from some very talented and creative individuals managing to craft tales within the confines of horror, but with an innovative use of Hard Science Fiction and Fantasy elements. The stories possess an overly dark and haunting undertone that anxiously keep you turning to the next page.
A couple of my favorites were “The Final Testimony of Molly Ryder” by Jeff Hemenway. This is written in an almost neo-noir kind of light (but still possessing a strong Horror and Science Fiction aura). The story takes place in the future, where prisoners serve their sentences in drug-induced comas. Via psychic link, the Sandman Project, an investigator journeys into the mind of a killer to uncover the details of a brutal murder. What's revealed has terrifying repercussions for all of humanity, as we discover the tragic events that occurred in regards to the project’s first patient, Molly Ryder. “This is Not a Horror Story” by Tim Waggoner is a brilliant story about a woman living under government surveillance, where upon a simple visit to the DMV she is horrified to learn that they know far more about her than just her driving record. Mr. Waggoner delivers an action-packed thriller with more creativity than one can imagine. The writing is great and the story is gold. I loved “Sunrise” by Tony Knighton simply because the use of the Black Market and its crime-esque nature. Another tale packed with creative, genre-bashing elements. Tony does it up real big and closes this anthology out, leaving the reader to sit back and recollect his/her thoughts. You may even need to pour yourself a glass of cold water to cool things down a bit.

 With a Table of Contents that also boasts John Everson, JG Faherty, Rose Blackthorn, Geoffrey W. Cole, S.G. Larner, Martin Slag, Roger Jackson, Sean Eads, Stephen T. Vessels, Josh Vogt,  and Jay Caselberg, we have an unforgettable anthology waiting to be picked up and read again and again.

-Jon R. Meyers





NOTE: For those who missed it at the top of this page, please see bottom of our main page for submission info. Thank you.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Reviews for Week of July 28th, 2014

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




PREVIEW:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan





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



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

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

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

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

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

-Jon R. Meyers




NEXT WEEK:

a preview of 


Monday, July 21, 2014

Reviews for Week of July 21, 2014

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



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

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

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

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

My favorites of the bunch include:

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan




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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan