Monday, August 17, 2015

Reviews for the Week of August 17, 2015

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

MR. SUICIDE by Nicole Cushing (2015 Worde Horde / 216 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Cushing's debut novel deals with a misfit 13 year old boy. Two of his older siblings have left home but one slightly off-balanced older brother remains. His mother wears the pants and his father follows her lead. At school he is made fun of and ostracized. He knows he's different, especially when he starts to become attracted to pictures of amputees...

And then he begins to hear a voice in his head claiming to be someone named Mr. Suicide. He gives countless reasons why our young teenager should kill himself, and our protagonist contemplates first blinding himself with an ice pick and then begins to read labels on households poisons. It seems the possibilities of ending it all are endless.

But when he turns 18, he leaves home and meets a cosmic force (or being) known as "The Great Dark Mouth" who claims he/she/it is able to annihilate him, although it will take three intense steps to do so. With the thought he can become unborn and erased from humanity, our now 18 year old teenager dives head-first into a taboo-crushing, psychological nightmare that will test the limits of your psyche.

MR. SUICIDE is an absolutely brutal, horrifying read, and Cushing's tale does so without relying on the splatter that's so prevalent among extreme horror novels. More notable than that, especially in light of this being her debut novel, is Cushing's use of a second person viewpoint. Here it enhances the overall sense of dread and, even when things start to head into truly strange territory, we're continually forced to experience some of the darkest situations a human being can fall into.

I've been enjoying Cushing's shorter work for a while now, and MR. SUICIDE has placed her on my must read author's list. This is horror fiction that's fresh, disturbing, and crafted to freak you out.

And it does.

-Nick Cato

SKINZZ by Wrath James White (2015 Deadite Press / 196 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In the rough-and-tumble streets of 1980s Philly, the stage is set for all kinds of clashes, but the one that’s brewing between the punks and the skinheads is heading for an epic battle just short of total war. Powderkegs are everywhere – poverty, racism, families falling apart, drugs, crime – and they’re poised to blow.

Stuck in the middle of this scene, feeling trapped by circumstances as much as loyalty, is Mack. He’s got a chance to escape to college, but it would mean leaving his mom, his best friend, and the girl he hasn’t had the chance to tell her he loves. He’s also big, strong, tough, and one of the best fighters the punks have on their side.

The skinheads have all sorts of reasons to hate him. Not just Little Davey; Little Davey starts off crazy and gets worse until even his own guys are starting to worry. Beating up punks is one thing … lighting old ladies on fire, or capturing people to torture and kill … yeah, they’re right to worry.

Skinzz starts off with a brawl and escalates fast, the cycle of violence and revenge speed-spiraling ever higher. The characters are deep and very real; the sense of backstory to most of them is tantalizing and compelling.

My only criticism is one of my usual peeves, which is to wish the book had gotten a bit more final polish to catch the bloopers. I enjoyed the story, and I enjoyed the cultural reference glimpses back to the 80s.

Overall, this book is vicious, gritty, all-too-real, and delivered with the merciless nervestrike visceral and emotional accuracy Wrath James White is so damn good at. His work can be confrontational in a really-make-you-think way, never psychologically easy to read or comforting, but all the more valuable because of it.

-Christine Morgan

OUT OF THE WOODS by William D. Carl (2015 Post Mortem Press / 284 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

An isolated mental institution in rural Pennsylvania is about to close its doors. Bob and Deena are (engaged) doctors, looking forward to new job assignments and being able to go public with their relationship. But on the eve of the hospital's closing, a new patient named Gary McCoy is brought in and Bob is fascinated with his wild tales of unseen monsters and an invasion from another dimension.

Thinking he could become famous off a book on McCoy's case, Bob goes out to the woods to find a cave McCoy claims has drawings describing the end of the world. And after they locate it, Bob and Deena also find the village McCoy came from, which is inhabited by all kinds of deformed people, including McCoy's maniacal father.

If H.P. Lovecraft co-wrote the screenplay for a 70s horror film, OUT OF THE WOODS might be the result. But Carl gives this one a healthy dose of very well placed humor, and not once does it take away from the horrific happenings.

Here's a monster tale with threats from every angle (picture THE HILLS HAVE EYES meets FROM BEYOND on the set of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) and a finale so heartbreaking it just might make you scream.

Carl continues to carve out his place in the horror genre with little-to-no mercy, and we're all luckier for it.

-Nick Cato

THE DEEP by Michaelbrent Collings (2015 Amazon Digital / 333 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

So, a playboy, a solipist, and a wallflower get on a boat … well, them and a few other people, including the captain, his two-man dive crew, and a father-daughter duo. Even under the best of circumstances, their little fishing/diving excursion would be bound to have more than its share of conflicts.

These are, as they soon find out, not the best of circumstances. Not when one of the lines pulls up a wetsuited corpse instead of a suitable trophy. A corpse with inexplicable injuries, and what appears to be a piece of gold clenched in one dead fist. Not when a bizarre wave-swell out of nowhere nearly tosses the boat, and the ocean floor seems to be several hundred feet higher than it should.

Plenty to be curious about, plenty of grim and tantalizing mysteries to explore, even for the members of the party who weren’t already on their own personal quests. While they wait for the Navy, they might as well explore. Maybe there are answers … treasure … more!

Tim, the divemaster, isn’t wild about the idea of a bunch of stubborn, headstrong, relatively inexperienced divers attempting such dangerous depths. But, when he can’t talk them out of it, the least he can do is try and make sure they survive.

It won’t be easy. Some of the parts I found the scariest came even before the real diving began, just from the info leading up to the diving. All the normal things that could go wrong, what would happen to someone if they did … more than I ever really wanted to know about the physical and psychological effects, eek …

And, of course, this isn’t the kind of story where only normal things go wrong. There’s something down there. Something even worse than the plethora of dangerous critters we already do know are lurking in the darkest waters.

The characters are what most makes this book shine. Each on his or her own is real, interesting, genuine, and likable/hateable. Thrown together, the tension cranks tight, with some surprising results. I did find myself hoping for a less-abrupt resolution, but mostly because I wanted more and wasn’t ready to be done reading yet.

-Christine Morgan


NOTE: as the summer months come to a close, we hope to finish off our last wave of review material and plan to open for submissions sometime later this fall. Thank you.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reviews for the Week of August 3, 2015

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

WHERE SPIDERS FEAR TO SPIN by Peter N. Dudar (2015 Books & Boos Press / 148 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sadie Mills is a once-famous and glamorous soap opera star who is now cared for by her resentful daughter Theresa. Theresa has never forgiven her narcissistic mother for her father’s death, a man driven to suicide by his wife’s affairs.

Now Sadie’s life is nearing its end, and Theresa is looking forward to finally being free of her mother’s demands and constant criticism. But she’s not the only one looking forward to Sadie’s death. Andrew, her husband, is waiting for her on the other side, plotting her eternal torment.

There are a few illustrations throughout the story, a couple of them creepy and jarring. The story itself is engrossing, and Sadie as a narcissistic mother was portrayed all-too-well. And while you root for her to finally get her comeuppance, you also feel a little sorry that she is paying the price while so terrified.

I’ve read a few of the author’s works, and have enjoyed each one.  I enjoy stories that can creep me out instead of grossing me out, and WHERE SPIDERS FEAR TO SPIN is a perfect example.

There is a bonus short story at the end of the book called “Peripheral Vision” that weaves a tale of parental grief with a ghost story. It’s not only sad, it’s scary as well.

If you like your horror a little less over-the-top, this book will be perfect for you.

-Sheri White

LOVE IN THE TIME OF DINOSAURS by Kirsten Allene (2011 Eraserhead Press / 96 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from a book like this, but whatever it was, I don’t think that was it. If a hallmark of the bizarro genre is leaving the reader with a vague but pervasive sense of baffled unreality, then we’re on target here.

Maybe I was expecting more of an actual romance (or dino porn, hey, c’mon, why not?). The back cover copy promises “love of his life” after all, and instead it seemed mostly to do with the monks, their politics, and their ongoing war with the dinosaurs.

For something with a first-person POV protagonist, there’s a strong sense of detachment. The character is nameless and just kind of … absent-feeling, lacking real emotion or connection or personality. Or maybe that’s the monastic aspect?

Anyway, okay, yeah, so, there’s these monks. Who are at war with the dinosaurs, which they refer to as Jeremies (if there was a reason, I missed it). For weapons, the monks have swords and whatnot, plus some sort of plastic-encasing goop guns (I thought of the game Dino Hunt, in which time travelers capture specimens for their zoos in the future), and people can survive all kinds of injuries. Dismembered? No prob. Torn in half? We’ll stick a spare leg on there and you can hop.

I guess, overall, I found it okay. Certainly bizarre, though maybe just kind of gratuitously so, weird for the sake of being weird, without much in the way of deeper substance going on. Definitely going to file this one under YMMV and leave it at that.

-Christine Morgan

A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay (2015 William Morrow / 304 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

When 14 year-old Marjorie begins acting strange, it sets off a series of events the Barrett family could've never imagined. John, Marjorie's out of work father, suspects his daughter's outbursts are more than just typical teenage issues, especially when her doctors are unable to help the growing problem. And after a local Catholic priests examines her and believes she may be demonically possessed, he agrees to help them out.

But this priest, Father Wanderly, has more on his mind: he contacts a reality TV production company about the Barretts, and with a little persuading, the company convinces the Barretts to allow their family to be filmed for a new program titled' The Possession,' which turns out to be a huge hit.

In the wake of the show's sucess, Marjorie's younger sister, Merry, is made fun of at school and grows increasingly paranoid of Marjorie's actions. She loves her older sister, but doesn't know whether to believe if she's truly possessed or just faking it.

The power of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is its narrative: most is seen through the eyes of young Merry, and a few sections are told through a horror fan blogger named Karen, who the author slowly reveals as she unfolds issues surrounding the TV show. It's an effective style that had me glued to the pages until the final chapter, which will surely become one of the most debated conclusions in the genre for some time to come.

Tremblay gives a fresh spin on the possession story, and adds plenty of surprises along the way. GHOSTS also features the best use of a reality TV show since Jason Hornsby's grossly underrated 2006 novel, EVERY SIGH, THE END.

Don't miss this.

-Nick Cato

DESPER HOLLOW by Elizabeth Massie (2013 Apex Publications / 226 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

I am a big fan of both Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series of Appalachian mystery/thrillers, and of Edward Lee’s depraved goretastic backwoods horror. Desper Hollow is like an example of what you’d get if those books had a baby together.

It’s also a zombie story, but don’t let that fool you … this is no ordinary zombie story in the whole outbreak apocalypse sense. Like the rest of the book, it’s kept close in, confined, rustic, and remote. The rest of the outside world has no idea what’s going on up there in the hills.

Of course, that will change if Jenkie Mustard has her way. She’s inherited a little something extra-special from ol’ Granny Mustard, something other than the thriving moonshine empire her brutish cousins have taken over. Better yet, ever since Jenkie’s sister Suze went nuts and burned down the town, she doesn’t have to share the credit with anybody.

She reckons, though, it’ll make her famous. The power to bring dead things back to life? She’ll be a celebrity for sure! Her letter is enticing enough to get some TV people to come visit, maybe to turn her into her the star of her own reality show.

If Jenkie hasn’t quite perfected the process, so what? She’s got a few examples of what she calls ‘hollows’ stashed in her old trailer. She can even control them. Kind of. Soon, the TV people and Jenkie alike are in for some surprises. One of the ‘hollows’ is different, not just mindless and hungry like the others.

DESPER HOLLOW did leave me with one agonizing unanswered question, but otherwise I found it a great read, highly entertaining and well-written, enjoyable from start to finish.

-Christine Morgan

SKINNER by David Bernstein (2015 DarkFuse / 226 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Rob and his friends are heading to Rob’s boss’s cabin in the mountains for a weekend getaway. As they get further up the mountain, they begin to have trouble navigating through an unexpected blizzard. They are almost to the cabin when Rob sees an old man standing in the middle of the road. He swerves to avoid hitting the man, and the Jeep ends up sliding over the edge of the mountain. From that moment on, the friends are in a battle for their lives from the elements and from the wolves that stalk them.

The group, one of them severely injured, find the cabin and hunker down, hoping for the storm to pass so they can be rescued. But the cabin isn’t the refuge they had hoped for, and they find themselves in danger not only from the wolves gathered around outside, but from each other as well.

This is a fantastic story. While it hinted at some common tropes – friends in a secluded cabin, sinister animals, a creepy old man, a broken-down car that leaves its passengers stranded — the story is original, with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. I will also admit to saying “Noooo!” out loud a few times at the fate of some of my favorite characters.

David Bernstein is a machine when it comes to putting out books. And yet, each new book is even better than the last. His books are a blast to read, and the stories are so well written you can picture everything in your head as if you were watching a movie.

When you start reading SKINNER, make sure you have a lot of time, because you’re not going to want to put it down.

-Sheri White

RIDING THE CENTIPEDE by John Claude Smith (2015 Omnium Gatherum / 241 pp / trade paperback, eBook)

The streak continues. Everything I’ve read so far by this author, the first thing I can even say is just “wow.” Followed by a babble of semi-coherent wonderings about how it is he’s not already hugely famous and rolling in loot. Because, well, WOW.

All I can think of is either: a.) he hasn’t been discovered enough yet; or b.) the writing’s so rich, decadent, heavy and luxurious that it scares off anybody just looking for an easy-breezy-peasy read.

Now, given how dang arrogant and pretentious and literary-snobby choice b.) would make ME sound, I’d really rather just go with a.) … so, get on it, people!

And you might as well jump right into the deep end with Riding the Centipede, a complex and labyrinthine magical mystery tour. Part psychedelic drug-quest as one young man works his way through a series of stages in search of the ultimate experience … part detective story as his sister and the private investigator she’s hired try to find him … part weird thriller as a nowhere-near-normal villain also joins the chase (awesome villain, called Chernobyl, with an origin story right out of a superhero universe!).

Plus, there’s bugs. If, like me, you’re kinda phobic about the creepy-crawlies, be warned. Be warned also for excruciatingly precise descriptions of various moments of sublime grossness. I almost couldn’t get through the scene with the Ratman, and the Reptile Queen wasn’t much more pleasant!

Great book. Not an easy read; you’ll have to pay attention. But it’ll be worth it. Smith’s artistry, style, and command of language is really, truly, staggeringly impressive. I am consistently blown away. Just SO good. This is a guy who knows his stuff, who has razor-sharp honed skills.

-Christine Morgan

JURSASSIC DEAD by Rick Chesler and David Sakmyster (2014 Severed Press / 215 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Sometimes, when you can’t decide between fighting zombies or dinosaurs, the answer is, like the little girl in the Tostitos commercial, why not both? Zombie dinosaurs! And why stop there? Infectious transformative ones whose bite turns people into ravening hybrid monsters!

With guns! And helicopters! And rocket launchers! From a secret polar research expedition to a classic supervillain volcanic island base! With evil geniuses and sexy covert operatives and gore and guts and explosions and nonstop action carnage!

It’s like a video game, starting off with a few basic mobs and weapons, but ramping up with vehicles and gear, bigger maps, crazier obstacles and boss battles. Not necessarily a bad thing. Fun in a caricature-character, over-the-top absurd, don’t hesitate long enough to think about it kind of way.

But I wanted more dinosaurs. I always want more dinosaurs. And I found the whole notion of a frozen, revived, undead T. Rex a little more plausible than most of the humans’ story arcs, reactions, or behavior.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, July 13, 2015

Reviews for the Week of July 13, 2015

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


THE CONSULTANT by Bentley Little (to be released 9/15 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 480 pp / trade hardcover and limited edition hardcover)

Craig Horne works for a failing company called CompWare. He's called into a staff meeting where the CEO explains they'll be hiring a consulting firm to help them get back on track. Regus Patoff, the firm's main consultant, arrives dressed a little odd and causing much of the staff to feel on edge. And before long he's getting a little too involved in everyone at CompWare's personal lives, going above and beyond what a standard consultant should be doing.

It doesn't take long for weird things to start happening: staff members are committing suicide, Patoff's comments become more personal and obscene, and the head of CompWare begins acting as if he's under a spell.

For some reason, Craig finds himself unable to be physically harmed by Patoff, and he learns his wife Angie's job is now being overlooked by BFG, Patoff's consulting firm, who also manage to bring their services to their young son Dylan's elementary school.

With CompWare's staff slowly being eliminated, and his family under constant threat by the mysterious Mr. Patoff, Craig and his friend/co-worker Phil are alone against this unusual threat ... that is, until Patoff makes Phil the new CEO of CompWare.

THE CONSULTANT is classic Bentley Little, in the vein of his novels THE MAILMAN and THE ASSOCIATION. Little brings some serious chills, but this time the tone is so darkly comic--and even absurd at times--that I found myself laughing out loud. But here the terror and the humor work well together, especially in light of Mr. Patoff (who I can envision being played in a film version by Steve Buscemi). He's one of the more interesting villains to grace a Little novel, and when total chaos breaks out in the final chapters, it's just so damn entertaining you can't help but sit there with a wicked, satisfed grin on your face, even as one burning question is left for the reader to decipher.

Little's twisted take on office paranoia is just what his fans have been waiting for.

Now get back to work!

-Nick Cato

END TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH by Ian Welke (2015 Omnium Gatherum / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, first off, LOVE the title! Were I a teacher, I’d give extra credit bonus points for that. And for the themes of the prom and the school play. I’d read a whole book about either of those alone. Brilliant. Great stuff.

So, yes, welcome to Ridgemont. It’s a lovely place. The school, the community, the church … the new church … that nice new Esoteric Order of Dagon church gaining such popularity …

Even Mr. and Mrs. MacIntire have converted, though their kids aren’t very interested. Son Tim is too busy trying to keep his job and save up for college; daughter Evelyn is about to start high school and much more concerned with friends and boys.

Soon, though, it’s hard to ignore the changes taking place in town. More and more kids are coming to school in church-inspired uniforms. The faculty members slow to adapt to the adjusted curriculum aren’t just risking their jobs. Behavioral problems may be at a low, but vandalism – particularly some strange and unsettling pieces of graffiti – are on the upswing.

If someone doesn’t do something, and quick, this year’s Ridgemont graduation class may be the last ever. That isn’t a future Evelyn and her friends are eager to see, so, they decide to be the someones to do something about it.

I lost track of a couple of the sub-plot threads along the way – hey, there was a lot going on! – but the references were hugely fun and the imagery was fantastic. Again, as mentioned above, in the bits involving the prom and the play were my far and away favorites.

-Christine Morgan

WET AND SCREAMING by Shane McKenzie (2015 Deadite Press / 220 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This new collection is packed with almost as much in the way of extra goodies as it is primary goodies, so that just makes for bonus win all the way around! An intro and bonus end stories by Jen and Sylvia Soska nicely bookend the volume.

Better yet, each story opens with a personal essay by the author to explain (or warn the reader) a bit about what they’re getting themselves into. I love this kind of thing, peeks inside the mindspace where some of my favorite people hang their creative hats. If nothing else, it helps make me feel better about my own muse’s living situation!

First up, obesity! The horror, the revulsion, the shame! In the eyes of many, fatness is The Worst Thing Ever; I remember a survey showing how many women would rather lose IQ points than gain pounds (admittedly, if I could just weigh my IQ, I’d be happy …).

“Fat Slob” hearkens back to King’s “Thinner,” but in a much more painful, gooshy, squicktastic way. And, like with “Thinner,” like with Wrath James White’s “Voracious,” as horrific as it is, the really evil and insidious part is, well, wouldn’t it still be kinda tempting?

“So Much Pain, So Much Death” I’d read before in the Fresh Fear anthology, and had almost successfully forgotten how disturbing it was … but here it is again, unsettling as ever! Maybe even more so on second read, because all those shivers just came rushing right on back.

Ouija board mishaps, the perils of distracted driving, Halloween hijinks, sport/trophy hunting, Ed Gein having a garage sale, dead kittens as just the tip of the hoarder iceberg, a troubled man’s unique deadly addiction, clowns, and all manner of weirdness make their way into the mix.

And then, it’s time for the grand finale, with the “Stab the Rabbit.” Damn near everybody I’ve ever known would agree with the first half of the intro; Jessica Rabbit defined sex-on-a-plate for an entire generation. But then it gets twisted. Deliciously, deviantly twisted. Cartoon universes are awesome, with their own rules and laws of physics that may or may not apply in our own … seeing them meet, in particularly unthinkable ways, is a sick, fun-filled ride.

The same can basically be said for the whole book. Does not disappoint, especially if you’re expecting gruesome hilarity with underlying depth, pathos and insight.

-Christine Morgan

CARRIER by Timothy Johnson (2014  Permuted Press / 322 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sci-fi’s not usually my thing, but horror is … so, something billed as sci-fi horror, sure, I figured I’d give it a shot.

Overall, I’m not sorry, though I must admit I did find it a bit of an uphill slog to get into at the beginning. Lots of introductions and tech made for a dense and heavy first course to try and digest all at once.

The heavy density did continue throughout in terms of the writing style; a lot of detail, a lot of telling rather than showing. Maybe not to the point of outright info-dumps, but very much making sure you-the-reader “get” it.

First novel syndrome? Upon checking, I saw that yes, this is the author’s first. So, explainable and understandable. And, for a first, off to a pretty decent start nonetheless. Better than several I’ve seen. The plot feels sound, the characters are distinct, the tension holds up, and many of the descriptive passages or turns of phrase are really good.

The premise is your basic outbreak of crazy/infected with zombies. Set on a huge spaceship, it’s claustrophobic enough to have that no-escape sense while big enough to have room to maneuver. For the leading ensemble, there’s the security officer, the ship’s doctor to whom he’s married, the cracking-under-strain captain, the shifty corporate agent, and a rapidly-dwindling supply of supporting cast as the situation worsens.

The pace picks up considerably once things shift more from the sci-fi to the horror portions of the program, or maybe that’s just where more of my interest kicked in. Either way, it held me through to he end. A solid effort and worth a look.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, June 29, 2015

Reviews for the Week of June 29, 2015

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

WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS by Joshua Gaylord (2015 Mulholland Books / hardcover, eBook, and audiobook)

Oh, those classic small town youthful coming-of-age stories … are nothing like this. In THIS small town, when the youth come of age, everybody else stays inside with the doors locked. Forget normal parental worries about wild parties; here, the teenagers really go wild.

They call it “breaching,” and it happens during the full moon. Those three nights a month are devoted to running naked through the streets, engaging in violent, lustful, and/or destructive rampages. By day, they just patch up their injuries and either don’t remember, or try not to remember, what went on.

The whole town plays along in a gentle sort of look-the-other-way indulgence. It’s just one of those things, you know? Part of life. All the kids in town experience it, usually for about a year or so, before growing out of the phase and settling down.

All the kids except for Lumen, that is. She’s determined to resist, to not go breach, even if it only makes her more of an outsider.

But peer pressure is a powerful incentive. Adolescents have their cliques and tricks, and the girls especially can be vicious even when not under the effects of the moon. And something about Lumen draws both the town golden boy and the town bad boy to her in different, dangerous ways.

Intriguingly written as a sort of flashback confessional from the later-in-life Lumen who thinks she’s left all that behind her, this book performs a deft balancing dance between past and present, maintaining the mystery while building the tension of both.

My one complaint is that I wanted more resolution at the ending. We’re going along great, tingling with anticipation of what’s going to be revealed about Lumen’s childhood in the past, what’s going to happen with her husband and kid in the present, and then … then it’s over. Not on a cliffhanger, exactly, but more of a trailing off into the vague teasing speculation of letting you wonder.

-Christine Morgan

NOTHING'S LASTING by Glen Krisch (2014 Cemetery Dance Publications / 244pp / hardcover & eBook)

Now an adult, Noah Berkley returns to his hometown for his father's funeral. While visiting his old home, he thinks back to the events that changed his life at the age of twelve in 1984. With separated parents, he had lived with his dad and had to deal with his new girlfriend and her slightly off-balanced son, Derek. Both he and Derek became participants in a crime, and Noah knew to be quiet or face whatever craziness his future step brother would dish out ... despite Derek becoming increasingly unstable.

When Noah met (and fell in love with) his neighbor Jenny, he did all he could to to keep these things secret from her, until one night when she vanished, apparently the victim of a local child snatcher. Suspects abound.

Krisch spends much time developing his characters, and they're all realistic and interesting. NOTHING'S LASTING is a slow burner, but the payoff is fantastic as multiple surprises cap this Stephen King-like coming of age tale that, although familiar, manages to come off as fresh in the end.

This is a dark, emotional ride that'll get under your skin the more you let its events sink in. Good stuff.

-Nick Cato

TERRA INSANUS by Edward Lee (2015 Deadite Press / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

So, on the same day, I read this whole book and watched that Blackfish documentary about the orcas … on top of other events in the news. You know what I did then? I turned off the television, stepped away from the internet, and spent the rest of the evening cuddling with my kitties.

Wow, we are an awful species. I mean, we go out of our way, WAY out of our way, to be vile. To commit atrocities that by rights should be unimaginable. And we do it a lot. A LOT a lot.

I’m telling you, as fun as most Edward Lee books can be – for those values of fun involving infernal torment, otherworldy abominations, and outrageously hilarious depravity – Terra Insanus is 75% not that.

25% yes; the last story, “The Sea-Slop Thing,” is classic Lee at his weird-sextastic gooshiness. Thankfully. How wrong is it to be RELIEVED to see a story about a lady who starts off doing something wildly inappropriate with a huge sausage from the deli where she works and goes on to find herself confronting a squelchy horror from beyond the deep?

Yet, there it was, and I was glad and relieved. Because the 75% prior to that was mighty damn bleak and altogether horrifying in a much-too-real way. Those vile atrocities that should be unimaginable, which we inflict and commit upon each other at a dismayingly regular basis, get a harsh spotlight of attention.

Well, okay, “The Stick-Woman” isn’t … uh … no, it IS that nasty, a tale of a woman held prisoner by a husband who goes far beyond any sane definition of abusive. But at least that one has more of a buffer, more of that only-a-story buffer.

“Sh*t House” and “The Ushers,” on the other hand … two fit-together pieces of a warped mirror casting fragmented reflections of the worst of the worst … part stream-of-consciousness, part uncomfortably autobiographical-seeming, part ripped-from-the-headlines … stuff like this (not Lee’s writing, but the subject matter and the fact of the truth of the subject matter) really can make a person think an extinction event can’t come soon enough.

Yeah. Bleak. Powerful, dark, despairing, and bleak. Even the diabolical brushes and undertones in “The Ushers” don’t allow for much fantastical wiggle-room. If anything, it serves to twist the knife. We can go on all we want about how the devil made us do it, but deep down we all know better.

-Christine Morgan

HOUSE OF SIGHS by Aaron Dries (2012 Samhain Publishing / 280 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

On a Sunday morning in 1995, bus driver Liz Frost woke up planning to kill herself. Instead, she ended up putting her passengers through hell. And once they realize they are now hostages to a woman on the brink of madness, it’s too late to get off the bus. 

I was browsing the Samhain table at the 2015 World Horror Convention in Atlanta last month, when I saw HOUSE OF SIGHS sitting there. The simple picture on the front - a hand covering the mouth of an obviously terrified person with the word “Help” written on her palm – intrigued me enough to read the synopsis. I was so taken by the description, I knew it was a book I had to read. I had no cash on me at the time, so I ran to my room. By the time I got back, the author was at the table, and he was thrilled I was buying his book.

Aaron Dries is so charming, so friendly and outgoing and just freaking NICE, that I wasn’t sure just how grim the book could really be.

It turned out to one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read. I know it’s cliché to say you’re hooked from the first page, but it is absolutely true here. The first chapter packs a gut-punch that completely shocked me as both a reader and a parent. I read HOUSE OF SIGHS in just a few days, only putting it down when I had to.

Although it was published in 2012, the author is new to me. But after reading this book, I will make it a point to read anything he writes.

-Sheri White

BILLY AND THE CONEASAURUS by Stephen Kozeniewski (2014 Severed Press / 164 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I saved this one until closer to JURASSIC WORLD time, expecting lots of dinosaurs. In that aspect, I confess, I was a bit let down – there aren’t herds or packs of them running amok or anything. But, by the time I realized I wasn’t going to be getting dino rampage, I was way far past beyond caring.

Because the real story is just TOO FREAKIN’ BRILLIANT. It grabbed me from the first page and held me in such rapt fascination that I was almost halfway through and utterly hooked before the cloneasaurus itself appeared and reminded me, “oh yeah, there’s that, too!”

What can I say? I am a huge sucker for well-wrought extrapolatory world-building. Take even a single, simple change or premise, spin it out to see where the repercussions go, do it right, do it plausibly, do it with skill and flourish, and I am SO THERE! And this book, especially the whole first half, gives me all I ever wanted and more.

Welcome to a utopia where everyone’s equal because everyone really is the same. Everyone’s a William. Everyone’s a clone, in a nice tidy numbered series. Look alike, sound alike, dress alike, act alike. With a nice tidy place in life, role to play, and function to fulfill.

So, everyone’s got the same habits, the same tastes and traits. That day a particular William decides it’d be a good day to knock off work early and miss the rush hour traffic, there’s rush hour traffic anyway because all the Williams had the same idea. But it’s okay, because things all work out and go the way they’re supposed to.

Except, on this one particular day for this one particular William, things stop going the way they’re supposed to. It’s supposed to be his last day, the last day for him and the nine other Williams in his series. See, the population is cycled through every year – out with the old batch, in with the new. The last guy of a number is removed (courtesy of a machine known as The Whirling Fan of Death) and a freshly-made version is to step right in and take over where he left off.

But something goes wrong as William-789 is being slurried. The machine breaks down with the day’s last William left over. Here’s poor 790, a loose end until it can be fixed. Awkward. What’s a William to do? His replacement’s already set to begin his own year, but there’s his predecessor, still hanging around.

The sudden, drastic upheaval of 790’s whole worldview gives him some strange new perspectives. He begins to really think about his life and society. He begins to notice things he never had before. He’s becoming – gasp! – an individual, and he kind of likes it.

The latter half of the book, as 790 accelerates off the rails, is also fun but felt hasty to me. When so much attention, detail and import had been given to even the smallest differences earlier, I guess I hoped for the big major revelations to have even greater impact. I still enjoyed it greatly, but my own weird personal wiring had much more fun with the earlier day-to-day William stuff.

Of all the utopias and dystopias I’ve read – and I like to think I’m no slouch in that department – this one is a definite favorite and delightful good time.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC Issue #46 (May/June 2015)

I'll get right to the fiction: in this issue almost every tale is incredibly bleak, and a couple are truly horrifying. I'd say something like "If you're looking for an easy time look elsewhere," but honestly, how many horror fans are looking for an easy time? And right off the bat, author Steven J. Dines delivers 'So Many Heartbeats, So Many Words,' about a family dealing with a weird black mold that has infested their home. Young son Alfie has an underdeveloped voice (which, in Dines' hands, adds a whole new level of creepy in an already multi-leveled tale) that helps lead to a depressing and stomach-dropping conclusion. Starting an issue with a story like this is equivalent to being slapped in the kisser when you greet your grandfather and expect a hug.

In 'The Secret Language of Stamps,' Neil Williamson introduces us to Hilda, who begins to get close with her tenant Ernest. As their relationship grows, he's called away on a job overseas, but before leaving for an undetermined amount of time, he leaves her a book that deals with how stamps were used during Victorian times. And as she receives letters from Ernest from different countries on his trip, she begins to see why he left her with the book. This is easily the scariest tale not only in this issue, but in the past several issues I've read. Hats off to Williamson's slick prose and satisfying finale.

Damien Angelica Walters' 'Falling Under, Through the Dark,' about a mother trying to cope with the death of her son, is as depressing as it is eerie. Kara is not only dealing with grief, but suffers intense, all too real panic attacks where she envisions herself drowning. They strike at anytime, and there's nowhere she's safe. Here's a tale of a woman's breakdown that's short and (not so) sweet. I usually enjoy shorter pieces, but when they're this good I want it to go on. I'm looking forward to more from Walters.

The always reliable Gary McMahon returns to BLACK STATIC with 'My Boy Builds Coffins.' While cleaning her son's room, Susan finds a miniature coffin in his bottom drawer, fascinated at how realistic it looks, and disturbed at a brass plate on it that says Daddy. While his parents are blown away by their son's skills, young Chris looks at it as no big deal. And when they find another mini coffin with Mummy engraved on its plate, Sara and husband decide to find out what's going on and discover how he's able to do this. A slick, supernatural tale that had me thirsting for more.

The only slower piece here is Sarah Read's 'Magnifying Glass,' where a mother and son move into a new home and shortly after, young Warren claims he sees someone peeking in the windows (could it be his dad, who we learn is the child's true legal guardian)? One of the walls in the house is made of glass panes, which is probably symbolic of something, but I lost interest too quickly to figure out what it was. Read aims this tale in the right direction but in the end I was left wanting.

Final tale, 'Men Wearing Makeup' by Ralph Robert Moore is--hands down--the highlight here. Disgruntled worker Chris goes on a trip to the forest with his obnoxious boss Charles and some other employees and their families. While out in the woods, Chris gets lost and attempts to find his way back, but he runs into a man in a clown suit named Noisy Lips who invites him back to his camp, where other clowns live. Of course, being this is BLACK STATIC magazine, Chris isn't in for a friendly circus. He learns he must become a clown himself or become ... consumed. As I read this, I kept thinking this would've made a fantastic episode of "Masters of Horror," Showtime's heavily hit or miss series of several years ago. Despite Moore's second-person narrative (which I personally don't care for), this story shines and chilled me to the bone, no easy feat as I'm not scared of clowns. But it wasn't the clown factor that bothered me; read it and you'll see what I mean.

Immediately following the fiction is a fantastic 13-page interview with Ralph Robert Moore, as well as Peter Tennant's always in-depth book reviews and yet another batch of Tony Lee's DVD reviews (I couldn't agree more with him on his view of STARRY EYES).

Steven Volk's opening commentary on trends in recent horror films and Lynda E. Rucker's rant on the responsibility of horror fiction readers, writers, and reviewers not only kicks off a great issue, but gives the whole genre a great and always needed kick in the ass.

Don't miss this. Subscribe or buy a solo issue here:  BLACK STATIC subs


Monday, June 15, 2015

Reviews for the Week of June 15, 2015

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

CATTLE CULT! KILL! KILL! by MP Johnson (2015 Rooster Republic Press / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When his daughter goes missing, and the police in Catspaw, Wisconsin seem unconcerned, Morgan takes matters into his own hands and gets his local militia together. Up until now, the most the armed group has done is volunteer around their community, but now they're up against something that pales when compared to their darkest nightmares.

Johnson strikes yet again with this insane bizarro horror romp, featuring animal-masked cultists trying to summon a bovine deity. The level of strange here is parallel to the gruesome, and I'll assume vegetarians will want to approach with extreme caution. CATTLE CULT features several images I won't be shaking anytime soon, and I'm now officially finished with "O"-shaped cereals.

Johnson continues to carve out his place among weird horror writers, and this intense novella just may be the best place for newcomers to start.

-Nick Cato

SOMETHING TERRIBLE by Wrath James White and Sultan Z. White (2015 Blood Bound Books / 226 pp / trade paperback and eBook)

One of the greatest combined sense of pride and terror any parent can have is when your child shows signs of turning out JUST LIKE YOU. Or, worse, shows signs of outdoing you, the little stinkers. I know mine’s already a better writer than I was at her age. I can’t help but wonder if Stephen King feels the same way.

Now, consider if you will, Wrath James White. Wrath is one of the hardest-hitting, most brutal, most unflinching forces in the genre. Spurred on by any sort of collaboration or competition, he is not going to go easy on anybody. Not even, or especially not, his own son.

Talk about some shoes to fill, some legacy to live up to. Most of the writers I know are daunted by Wrath, and to have him as a father? That’s got to crank the intimidation factors up to damn near archetypal.

But, if this book is anything to go by, Sultan Z. White is more than up to it. Another precocious, talented brat. Just what we need! (though, sincerely, it IS what we need, and more of it, so, keep on bringing it, kids!)

Having them join forces in the same book? That’s a recipe for a tag-team powerhouse double threat, for sure. Neither of these guys takes any prisoners. The stories here, whether by one or the other or both … you know those movies where the fighters are training by pummeling a side of beef hanging on a meathook? The side of beef is your brain.

'Something Terrible,' the title story, is in itself the charming tale of a father and son willing to go to any lengths and then some to protect, or avenge, their family. It’s the ultimate in vindictive torture porn, and if you’re expecting things to lighten up after that, wow, are you in the wrong book.

What else will you find? Well, the themes of fathers and sons continue throughout, sometimes in terms of perpetuating the species at any cost, sometimes in terms of “as the twig is bent, so the tree is shaped.” You’ll also find sinister cults, sex and depravity, eternal enmities, and all kinds of good sick twisted fun.

-Christine Morgan

THE FINAL GIRL by Brandon Ford (2015 BF Books / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A midnight showing of a crappy slasher flick in an old run-down theater is always a fun time. Except this night, at The Colonial Theater. Life is going to imitate art for those unlucky enough to attend “Bloodletting,” and getting out alive will be a challenge.

The moviegoers are a diverse group – a reluctant reviewer, an exhausted waitress, two brothers who sneak out for the time of their lives. They, with several others, find themselves hunted down in the theater during the movie. Stalked in the dark, oblivious to the carnage around them, they will try to make it through the night.

THE FINAL GIRL reminded me of the opening scene of SCREAM 2 in that someone is murdered during the movie, but nobody really realizes what is happening. That scene creeped me out, and THE FINAL GIRL did as well. Even when you’re watching a comedy, you are vulnerable in the dark; who knows what kind of person is sitting behind you?

But once the few people who are still alive understand what is going on, they desperately try to get out of the locked theater. 

Who is killing the moviegoers? Why? And will the titular character get out alive?

For a slasher movie in book form, I actually became interested in several of the characters and upset at their fates. Even though most victims in body count movies are just there to die in horrible ways, the author managed to flesh out his characters enough to get invested in them. 

The ending was a bit of a twist and reminded me of a movie I recently saw, but I’m not going to name it because that would give it away. I was surprised at the ending, but it was perfect for this book.

I’ve read several of the author’s books, and I’ve yet to be disappointed. Check out THE FINAL GIRL, and have a fun time!

-Sheri White

CASINO CARCOSA by Mark McLaughlin & Michael Sheehan, Jr. (2015 Dunhams Manor Press / 24 pp / chapbook)

In this slick little tale, McLaughlin & Sheehan, Jr. introduce us to Mason Schell, a man heading to Vegas for one last romp before his terminal brain tumor does him in. But those familiar with the authors should know Schell discovers way more than he bargained for, and this "Tale of the King in Yellow" will delight fans of weird fiction across the board.

Considering this is such a short story I won't give anything else away, but kudos to artist Dave Felton for some great interior illustrationsand DMP for another fine publications Lovecraftian collectors will want.

-Nick Cato

AT HELL'S GATES VOL. II edited by Sheila Shedd, Terri King, and S. Kay Nash (2015 Amazon Digital / 471 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The second installment of At Hell’s Gates offers up 22 more stories to benefit the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. A great cause to support, and a lot of good reading in return! As I write this review, it’s Memorial Day in the U.S., which makes it all the more pertinent and poignant. Far too many have given their all, leaving their loved ones to struggle on without them, and too often without the recognition they deserve.

The book opens with 'Pulse' by Mark Tufo, which gave me mixed feelings right off the bat. I’m no fan of bugs, so, the prospect of a gadget to get rid of them does have its tempting side … but I’m also aware of their necessity. I really expected the story to go in that direction, when instead it surprised me by going somewhere else, and a whole lot further.

Among my other top fave picks from the lineup:

'Ink'” by James Crawford, is a really good example of why it’s important to trust your tattooist; those pics you see on the FAIL sites (“no regerts”) are bad enough.

Sean T. Smith’s 'Mirage' … wow, just wow … I’ve never read much sci-fi, but I’ve read some great bizarro, and the descriptives and alien otherworldly imagery in this one knocked me back a step.

'A Mother’s Nightmare' by J. Rudolph takes a theme often touched upon in zombie stories but explores it in more vivid and horrifying detail than is usually seen.

C.T. Phipps turns up the creepy with 'Cookies for the Gentleman,' which had nuances of the diabolical, the fae, and a nod to a certain sharp-dressed fellow of the modern monster age.

And last but not least, closing out the book is Paul Mannering’s 'The Gouger,' a gory piece of mechanical carnage that sheds a harsh red spotlight on aspects of the fishing industry I could have just as soon done without.

-Christine Morgan

THE RIDEALONG by Michaelbrent Collings (2015 Amazon Digital / 209 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

One of these days, this guy will produce a book that can be read at a mellow, relaxing pace. That day hasn’t come yet, and if THE RIDEALONG is any indication, that day still won’t be anytime soon. It is, as you might guess from the title, a cop-based action thriller.

But with more. Way more. THE RIDEALONG subject in question isn’t a reporter or researcher. It’s Officer Latham’s teenage daughter, Mel, who can’t bear to be apart from him now that he’s going back for his first day on the job after a terrible deadly shooting.

Mel is afraid of losing her dad, and why not? It’s been just the two of them against the world since her mother died, so long ago. How can she be expected to concentrate on school and boyfriend and such? Instead, they have a makeshift bring-your-kid-to-work-day. Neither of them expect Mel’s fears to be more than justified.

Someone else remembers the terrible deadly shooting, and wants revenge on the policemen involved. The most vehement, evil revenge looks to be planned for Latham in particular, who suddenly ends up framed and implicated in several crimes. Unable even to turn to his own brothers and sisters in blue, he and Mel are on their own in a desperate race to stay alive.

What is a dad to do? What is a girl to do? What is anyone to do, when you’re being taunted and manipulated by a mysterious voice over the radio, and things keep getting worse?

Aside from a couple early bloopers leading to some confusion about names, this one’s another solid win. An instant hook, engaging characters, unrelenting tension, some real hold-your-breath moments, gut-punching revelations, and enough to keep you guessing right up until the end.

-Christine Morgan