Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 25, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

-Jon R. Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato


Monday, April 11, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 11, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC Issue 51 (Mar-Apr 2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grab a copy or subscription here: Black Static

-Nick Cato



Monday, March 28, 2016

Reviews for the Week of March 28, 2016

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

Celebrating 13 Years of Horror Fiction Fandom...

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

-Jon R. Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan



Monday, March 14, 2016

Reviews for the Week of March 14, 2016

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



UNDEAD FLESHCRAVE by Jim Goforth (2016 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 422 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The end of the world cannot GET more metal. Well, unless a ginormous asteroid of molten iron smacked the planet and totally encased it in hot gooey splatter.

And speaking of hot gooey splatter … this book doesn’t just wallow in gore. It’s an utter, shameless, unabashed celebration of gore. With sex, and of course music, and no Laymon-inspired work would ever be complete without the word ‘rump’!

The death-metal band Undead Fleshcrave only want what any other aspiring artists do … success, fame, fortune, groupies, and to usher in the zombie apocalypse. Their new hit, ‘Zombie Trigger,’ aims to do just that, turning the already chaotic and violent concert mosh pit audience into an even more chaotic and violent cannibalistic corpse-army.

But, not everyone at the concert is affected, because – as is the case in any discipline, from the hallowed halls of academia to sub-genre bickerings to ‘shipper wars on Tumblr – only the REAL TRUE death-metal dedicated die-hards count. Those other posers, dabblers, and fair-weather fans … they’re just meat.

Seth and his friends are more into black metal, and quickly find themselves on the run in an ongoing fight for their lives. A fight which becomes a crusade, when they join forces with the black-metal band Subversion, who intend to stop Undead Fleshcrave once and for all.

Also like metal, it’s on the heavy-and-dense side reading-wise; there’s a huge cast of characters cycling through and I more than once felt like I could’ve used a checklist or scorecard to keep track of who’s who … the writing and style at times got a bit deafening, a bit headachy and overdone, a steady pounding-thunder bass-pace to leave the ears ringing … but the author was clearly having a great time, and that always makes things fun.

-Christine Morgan

HANNAHWHERE by John McIlveen (2015 Crossroad Press / 380 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When they were only seven years old, twins Hannah and Anna witnessed the unimaginable right in their own home in an isolated area of Nebraska. Two years later, a trash collector finds a girl in a dumpster somewhere in Massachusetts, and amazingly she is still alive. A case worker named Debbie eventually gets the girl to talk, and we find out it's Hannah. But how did she get so far away from home, and where has she been for the past two years?

In McIlveen's dark fantasy, we're introduced to a woman and child who despite their age difference, have quite a bit in common, from dark pasts to supernatural abilities. A mystery unfolds as Debbie tries to help Hannah locate her sister, who may or may not be dead, and Debbie's skeptical superior is in for a shock when she learns both Hannah and Debbie have the ability to transport to other locations by will. No, this is no goofy X-Men stunt, but a fresh take on astral projection that is put to frightening use in the novel's excellent epilogue.

McIlveen's debut novel is a fast paced, absorbing read, original in its handling of its antagonist, and slick in its ability to make the fantastic seem believable. With as many heart-breaking moments as there is suspense, I won't be forgetting this great cast anytime soon.

-Nick Cato

TEXAS CHAINSAW MANTIS by Kevin Strange (2015 CreateSpace / 192 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I am not a fan of bugs. I really really don’t do well with the creepy-crawlies. Way too many legs. Way too alien and weird. But I also sometimes can’t resist … at least, in book form. Something called TEXAS CHAINSAW MANTIS? There’s a fun and clever title I couldn’t possibly pass up!

Though, I’ll tell you, the introductory author’s note alone almost did me in. On the one hand, it’s a kind of charming, kind of sad little autobiographical piece about a lonely kid who needs a friend … something of the sweetness and poignancy of Charlotte’s Web … except, even the end scene of Charlotte’s Web gave me the shuddering horrors, and that was mild by comparison.

Somehow, I pressed on past the intro, and suddenly found myself in a first chapter where it’s giant murderous mantises versus a sociopathic occultist serial killer, and I was having a great time! I could’ve happily read a whole book just on that, except, this story had other plans.

See, that was only the beginning of the mantis apocalypse. Skip ahead a couple dozen years, and the mantises have won. They’ve wiped out and replaced humanity, stepping with only some adjustments into the surviving infrastructure and social order.

Mantises with jobs, going to school, driving cars, buying houses, getting married, raising families, running for office. Dealing with pressing problematic issues such as violence, cannibalism, and sex.

Mostly, it’s the violence, cannibalism, and sex. A romping, stomping, head-chomping, gluttonous, glorious, pheromone-driven rampage of mantis-on-mantis violence, cannibalism, and sex.

I ended up reading the whole rest of the book in a single sitting, enjoying it probably way more than I should have, giddily impressed, gleefully disgusted, delighted, and amused in turns. VERY glad I didn’t let my phobia chase me away!

-Christine Morgan

SPLIT TONGUES by Kristi DeMeester (2016 Dim Shores / 40 pp / limited edition chapbook)

I've been hearing about Dim Shores' high quality chapbooks for a while now, but this is the first one in my collection. SPLIT TONGUES is a real treat to look at (collectors will love it), but readers will be happy to know this isn't just a 'purdy package: both tales here are top notch.

First up is the title tale, a strange religious horror yarn about a divorced couple who have joint custody of their daughter. The dad is a member of an unusually devout church, and the mother can't understand why Brianne has forgiven him for his adultery. And while her father and his congregation speak in tongues, Brianne is starting to experience something with her own tongue, along with a young man at the church.

Then in 'The Dream Eater,' a young girl and her mother are living in some kind of post-apocalyptic situation, teasingly revealed in almost every sentence. The story is only seven pages, so to say anymore would be a disservice to the author.

This is only a brief sample of DeMeester's writing, and if it's any indication of what's to come I'm completely on board. Great stuff for fans of horror that's on the weird side.

-Nick Cato

ROCK AND ROLL HEAD CASE by Lee Widener (2015 Eraserhead Press / 88 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know those stories when they try to come up with the most outlandish, most outrageous, most improbably ridiculous situations, and then reality seems to decide to take it as a challenge? When South Park, The Simpsons, or Back to the Future are trying to do a satirical, parodic spoof? Except then, suddenly, it’s all too plausible?

Admittedly, in ROCK AND ROLL HEAD CASE, the majority of what goes on – getting a weaponized disembodied Alice Cooper head stuck to the end of your arm, for instance … or meeting the little old woman who lives in a shoe but her kids are creepy carnivorous baby dolls … flying chairs, teabagging giants, talking bananas – are, hopefully, a ways further beyond the realms of coming true.

Still, the popular new political candidate Franken-ssembled out of various celebrity and insect/animal body parts, including Trump’s hair and JFK’s brain? That’s enough to give any sensible person the willies. Worse, compared to what we ARE looking at, Trump’s hair with JFK’s brain might be an improvement.Thankfully the monstrosity rejected Palin's brain...

Anyway! So here’s a guy named Chaino Durante, who only meant to start off his day quitting and robbing the Nuclear Burger where he works. An odd find in the toxic fryer vat leads to him getting the aforementioned Alice Cooper head stuck on his arm, and his simple robbery attempt turns out to be only the start of a crazy crime spree / journey / adventure.

When I was a kid and came down with a fever, I’d have these recurring weird dreams, body horror and transformations and inanimate objects turned horribly animate. Reading this book was kind of like that. It all makes a certain sense at the time, and only afterward, usually when trying to explain it to someone else, you’re all, “okay, I know how it sounds, just bear with me, huh?”

By the time you get to the pirate ship and Wil Wheaton’s big toe …

See what I mean? Try to explain it, try to sound normal, and you come off like a spokesperson for wraparound jackets with buckles up the back. It’s a fitting addition to the New Bizarro Author bibliography, a good example of a genre that really has to be experienced to be believed, and a non-pharmaceutical way to make your brain feel like a pretzel.

-Christine Morgan

COMPANIONS IN RUIN by Mark Allan Gunnells (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 162 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Mark Allan Gunnells’ latest Horror collection is something you’re probably going to want to check out sooner than later. The author manages to put together another beautifully horrific plethora of short stories that have the power to linger for a while well after you’re done reading them. The book is jam packed with stories that contain such original diversity and creativity that the author manages to standout in the genre to the point where you never really know where the story is going, so you absolutely have to keep reading for yourself to find out. Be prepared to cringe, laugh, fear, love and be downright entertained by the pages and stories buried deep within the dark recesses of this book.

The author kicks things off with 'Ours is a God of Anger,' a tale about a photographer traveling around the countryside checking out humorous church signs. You know, the mottos and slogans meant to catch your attention as you pass by, so you irresistibly want to attend their service over others on Sunday morning. Well, the main character goes deep into a small town during his travels when he finds a peculiar sign that reads, OURS IS A GOD OF ANGER. Interested by the off the wall roadside attraction, he decides to pull over and check it out a little closer for himself, until he’s lured into the basement by a shirtless teenager, and fed to a black mass with yellow eyes. Some of my other personal favorites were, 'The Gang', a little gem of a story that takes place on Halloween, where what better time to rob a bank than when the neighborhoods are chaotically flooded with children in costumes carrying around bags full of candy? It’s pretty much a field day for a group of dwarfed misfits who have a little trick or treating planned for themselves, and they won’t stop until they receive their final payment.

'The End of Her Rope' is a shocking tale about a child’s alleged hatred for his own mother that doesn’t end well in more ways than one. In 'Debt', a medical debt collector has a couple tricks hidden up her sleeve, or top desk drawer depending on how you look at it. You might want to keep your payments up to date after reading this one. 'Rebecca Weston Speaks the Truth', if you have a problem saying things you shouldn’t to others, yo’ she’ll solve it. Or, cut her tongue off with a butcher knife.

This is a must read Horror collection for any fan of the genre.

-Jon R. Meyers

TOMORROW'S CTHULHU edited by Scott Gable and C. Dombrowski (2016 Broken Eye Books / 318 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

“Stories at the dawn of posthumanity” reads the tagline for this snazzy anthology, which presents twenty-nine tales of Lovecraftian horrors set in the near-, far-, or all-too-near-future. Now, normally, history’s more my thing than sci-fi, but, the Mythos makes everything so amazingly flexible, I’m always glad to give some new takes on it a try.

Besides, I recognized more than a few of the names on the TOC, any one of which on his or her own is like a quality guarantee. Cody Goodfellow? Damien Angelica Walters? Pete Rawlik? Nate Southard? Score! They also, each, of course, knock it out of the park in their unique styles.

Then, of course, I go and read some stories by people I don’t know, and am equally blown away. The book opens with Daria Patrie’s 'Tangles,' and it is just a wonderful descent into creepy madness. Other stand-outs by new-to-me names I’ll be keeping an eye open for include Richard Lee Byers’ 'Advanced Placement,' 'Tekeli-Li, They Cry' by A.C. Wise, 'Beige Wall' by Joshua L. Hood, and Matt Maxwell’s Melville-esque seafaring 'Chunked.'

As I was working on this review, I went back through the book and, yes, it’s another where I could have kept adding my top picks until I’d pretty much added them all. Kudos to the authors for delivering the solid goods, and kudos to the editors for assembling such an amazing lineup.

-Christine Morgan