Monday, October 13, 2014

Reviews for the Week of October 13, 2014

(Note: Please see bottom of main page for submission info)



HALFWAY HOUSE by Weston Ochse (2014 JournalStone / 292 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

The residential treatment facility where I work is often referred to as a halfway house, so, I went into this book with not a little trepidation. It gets weird and creepy enough there anyway, thanks; what, I wondered, would the Weston Ochse treatment add to it?

To my surprise (and indeed relief; I do night shifts by myself), what I found in this Halfway House was quite different to say the least … in all sorts of strange but cool ways. The actual halfway house is there, is mentioned as a neighborhood fixture, but more in the background than center stage at first.

Center stage, you see, is taken up by what feels like the wildest, quirkiest Saint's Row expansion yet. With gang wars. And surfers. And an orphan's quest for validation of his lineage by way of a stolen piece of Elvis memorabilia. And a witch-curse trapping the souls of the dead. And the upside-down footprints of invading WWII soldiers.

In lesser hands, that combination could turn to total confusing mush. But, here, it all fits together, it all makes sense no matter how incongruous some scenes seem at first. The cast of flawed characters are sympathetic even when not particularly likable. The little touches – like the Paper Dogs – carry powerful impact.

Some plot twists and shocking developments left me reeling, saying, “hey, no, wait, what, that didn't just happen!” and going back to make sure I'd read it right (I had, and no amount of re-reading was going to change the harsh reality).

The story extends far beyond the surface, deftly layered to leave the reader with the sense of having gained a whole lot of depth and history without realizing it. Entire ranges of emotional experiences and relationships are well-presented here: family, nobility, loss, redemption, tragedy, the desire to belong.

This book will make you think. It'll make you feel. And you might not even notice right away, because you'll be too busy being entertained.

-Christine Morgan



PREVIEW:

WHERE ALL LIGHT TENDS TO GO by David Joy (to be released 3/15 by Putnam / 272 pp / hardcover & eBook)

Perhaps not strictly horror, but horrifying to be sure, a realistic and gritty tale of hopelessness, struggle, betrayal, misery and despair … with nary a whiff of the paranormal, just the all-too-normal human condition … yeah, I think it qualifies!

Jacob McNeely is only eighteen but he's already about given up on life. His father is a hill country drug lord, his mother's addicted to the worst of what the operation produces, he's dropped out of school while the only girl he's ever loved is getting ready to chase her college dreams, and he doesn't see any sort of future for himself.

Then things get worse. A fight here, a run-in with the law there, and soon Jacob's being dragged deeper and deeper into the mire and mess that is his father's business. Too deep. Deep, as in deadly-deep, when he's sent to help the Cabe brothers deal with a certain problem client, but things get out of hand.

The title is Where All Light Tends to Go, and that's also where the book goes: into darkness, and nothingness, entropy, and death. Not too shabby for a first novel (though in this case, first novel does not equal novice writer; the author has quite a list of other credits).

Powerful stuff. A difficult read, emotionally taxing. Real-world (TOO real) horrific, the kind of thing that makes a person crave a nice monster movie or zombie book as an escape.

This is some bleak, grim storytelling here. There's none of the good-ol-boy Dukes of Hazzard comedy, none of the brooding V.C. Andrews gothic, no rustic but beautiful Appalachian romance. It's hardship, it's dirt, it's anger and spite, crooked county cops, murder, revenge, and the poison kind of hate that can only build up and boil over.

I can't say I exactly enjoyed it, because it isn't quite that sort of book. But I was certainly hooked by it, and pulled through the emotional wringer.

Look for Where All Light Tends to Go in March of 2015. A film adaptation close on its heels would not surprise me, though, like with THE ROAD, it would not be the feel-good movie of the year.

-Christine Morgan




HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD II edited by Eric Miller (2014 Big Time Books / 374 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

“Twenty-two more tales of Tinseltown terror,” promises the tagline, and it does not disappoint. True, not ALL of the tales are about movies and the silver screen, but most of them are, and even those that aren't are still about the dream-chasing and star-making, the magic and mystery, the glittery facade and the sometimes darker truths behind it.

My personal favorites of the bunch include:

“Culling the Herd,” by Eric Miller, takes many a loving jab at horror fans, the zombie genre, and well-meaning activists who should know better.

Heather E. Ash's “Method” delves into the dubious world of child casting, and how to walk the fine line between encouragement and exploitation.

In “Hot Tub,” the ever-entertaining Hal Bodner serves up a steamy endless feast of eager young hardbodies to whet the sinister appetites of a spirit nothing like I Dream of Jeannie.

“Mexican Clown Hands” by R. B. Payne is set contemporary but has an older feel, a gritty sepia-toned noir feel, resulting in a creepy and effective whodunit.

The archetypal sleazy director gets taken to new lows in “The Devil's Friends” by Ron Zwang, when a guy can't even sell his soul to get ahead in this town.

Daniel P. Coughlin's “From Script to Scream” will resonate with the writers who yearn to see their creations made real (and show all those doubters, ha!).

“Buried!” by Kelly Kurtzhals is all about desperation and the lengths some fading stars will go to in hopes of regaining some fame and fortune.

Eric J. Guignard's “Dreams of a Little Suicide” ends the book on a poignant kind of downer set against the grand backdrop of the making of a legendary classic.

As usual, I have to make myself stop listing favorites or I might as well just hand over the entire table of contents.

It's twenty-two very diverse tales, twenty-two different takes on various elements ranging from script-writing to special effects, from old-school stage plays to the latest in 'reality' television.

Some are funny, some are scary, some are disturbing, some are sad. All are memorable, lingering in the mind like the evocative and unique aroma of movie-theater popcorn. So, settle into your seat and let's start the show.

-Christine Morgan




THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will return in November, 2014...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Reviews for the Week of October 6, 2014

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




HELL'S WAITING ROOM by C.V.Hunt (2014 Grindhouse Press / 122 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Greg and his wife (who goes by many names) find themselves without power in their home. Greg,a semi-conspiracy theorist, has been expecting something like this so isn't as worried as his wife. He knows they can live off the food in their garden, and cold showers don't bother him.

But when Greg becomes ill and needs medicine, his wife ventures to a neighbor's house and they make Greg a home remedy. The neighbors are a strange bunch, and no one knows if the power outage is a local thing or a larger problem.

As Greg's health worsens, his wife (whose viewpoint the story is told through) becomes more paranoid and Hunt reveals her true nature through several clever and surreal situations.

HELL'S WAITING ROOM is a nifty take on the end times, conspiracies, and mental health. It's a quick read, full of darkly comic situations and enough weirdness to satisfy anyone looking for an off-the-grid tale.

-Nick Cato



PANDEMONIUM by Warren Fahy (2013 Tor / 320 pp / hardcover, mass market paperback, & eBook)

You know the little joke going around about wanting to take this relationship to the next level, it’s an underwater level, (bleep) I hate those? Except for the hating it part, and if we mostly substitute ‘underground’ for ‘underwater,’ that fits this book. A direct sequel to FRAGMENT, it takes the experience to whole new levels! 

The tricky part for me, the reviewer, here … describing the second book without doing too much in the way of spoilers for the first. Go read it, or at least read my review. I’ll wait. 

Done? All rightie, moving on! We rejoin some of the survivors of the ill-fated explorations of Henders Island (but I won’t name names!) after the spectacular revelations at the end (which I won’t tell you here, neener-neener!). 

They’ve been invited to visit another hidden, separate, almost alien ecosystem on Earth … this one not in the middle of the ocean but half a world away, in a network of incredible caves deep below Russia. It’s more extremophile species to discover, more breathtaking natural wonders and terrors! 

Aaaaaaand it’s run by a megapowerful maniac who would make an excellent Bond villain. Once our protagonists have taken him up on his offer, they find out that leaving the subterranean cave-city complex may be a little harder than they anticipated. 

It is impressive, though. It’s also got a history of enforced labor worked to death, paranoia, revenge, ghosts, and other weirdness. Plus, windows into a vast underground sea where yet more strange bioluminescent life forms cruise through the silent dark. 

Obviously, things have got to go horribly wrong, and they sure do. Not the least of which is when organisms from Henders Island somehow get loose in the caves … and when a conspiracy unfolds to try and take out some of the more noteworthy survivors because of the threats they might represent to humanity. 

I can’t tell you more without giving too much away but it’s thrilling adventure, wild good fun, some squee-worthy moments, and a few bits of shocked “Oh-you-did-NOT-just-DO-that!” 

Get them both. Read them both. Then you’ll see why when I say ALL the thumbs-up, it’s a LOT of thumbs!

-Christine Morgan



BLACK HEART METAL MONSTER by Michael Faun (2014 Dynatox Ministries / 76 pp / limited edition trade paperback)

What does Black Metal and limited edition chapbooks from Dynatox Ministries have in common?  Well, the answer is quite simple. Absolutely nothing. But that’s not entirely true anymore. Not with a copy of Michael Faun’s Black Heart Metal Monster sitting gently in the palm of my hand.

The book description reads, “Black metal meets horror in this novella by Swedish Cult Author, Michael Faun. What inhumane acts cause an unblemished heart to grow black and putrid? How does Satan's influence manifest itself, when invoked where the Christian illusion has cracked? One Band, One House, One Heart Horror Fiction for Black Metal fans.”

But this doesn’t do the book enough justice. As I followed along a gripping tale about some dudes in a Black Metal band, I became aware of something.  One thing. And that is this; Michael Faun is an absolute beast of a writer. The guy eats, sleeps, and dreams visions only some of us wish we had (and the numbers are few and far between). But, not only does he do this, he writes with a heart of gold, expressing as much concern for the reader as necessary, and really knows how to craft a golden tale. He takes the reader on an epic journey alongside the band. Some real class acts by the name of Throatbutcher, Ateranimus, Skinreaper, and Nex. Faun manages to spin a tale as beautiful as it is unsettling, as black as it is metal, page after page. A couple things to expect in this novella would be, flailing guitars, DOOM, serpents, blood and guts, heart, and a soul blacker than perhaps the Devil himself, while snorting a pentagram into one of his nostrils.

If you’re looking for something to read with a literary value that pays refuge to Black Metal music, Darkness, or Satan himself, BLACK HEART METAL MONSTER hits just as hard as Joel Lane’s classic rock and roll/grunge debut BLACK AND BLUE. This dark little gem right here is your jam, especially if you’re in a band.

-Jon R. Meyers



HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD II edited by Eric Miller (2014 Big Time Books / 362 pp / trade paperback)

I missed the first volume of this tinsel town-themed anthology, but apparently it did well enough that a second helping of 22 (mostly) new stories was in order. Edited by Eric Miller (whose screenplays include ICE SPIDERS and DOG SOLDIERS II), most of the contributors here are screenwriters, but a few names will be familiar to horror fiction fans.

Among my favorites are 'The Crimson Marquee,' about a woman who finds her destiny at an old Hollywood revival theater (written by Anthony C. Ferrante, director of the infamous SHARKNADO films: he wields his pen much better than his camera). In Lisa Morton's slick 'She Devil a Go-Go,' a director with a secret meets his match, and in 'The Voice Coach Cometh,' an actress meets a strict voice coach and her failed students in one of the creepier stories of the lot.

In 'Buried!" a washed up actor gets another chance on a crazy new reality show. If you're claustrophobic stay far away from this, but man is it good. 'The Devil's Friends' is a hilarious comedic horror tale about a b-movie director making a deal with Satan to become one of the greats, while in Hal Bodner's 'Hot Tub' a malevolent entity turns a handsome guy into a star. It's another darkly comic yarn and one of the strongest of the book.

'Welcome to the Jungle' features an actress taking a job on a cheap horror film and discovering why the film's monster looks so authentic, and 'The Scottish Play' follows a couple as they open a haunted theater. It's one of several ghost stories here and also one of the best. Editor Eric Miller strikes with 'Culling the Herd,' where the owner and protege of a zombie ranch confront a creature-rights activist. It's quite funny and just plain fun.

The book ends with 'Dreams of a Little Suicide,' which any fan of THE WIZARD OF OZ will drool over. A midget from Wisconsin goes to Hollywood in 1939 to be a munchkin in the film. He falls in love but things don't work out the way he wished. Written by Eric J. Guignard, it's easily the one tale here you won't soon forget.

I found the majority of the other tales to be so-so and predictable (one titled 'Careful What You Wish For' doesn't even follow the book's theme), but the tales mentioned above are well worth your time. Good stuff, especially those featuring a comedic angle.

-Nick Cato



Monday, September 22, 2014

Reviews for the Week of September 22, 2014

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



PREVIEW:

THE FAMILY TREE by John Everson (to be released 10/7/14 by Samhain Publishing / 215 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

After his uncle dies, Scott Belvedere takes some vacation time from his job in Chicago to go see a historic Inn he has inherited in Virginia. The Family Tree Inn is run by a nice old lady named Ellen, and Scott assures her he isn't there to change things or fire anyone. This makes Ellen's pretty young daughter Caroline happy, and in no time Scott falls for her. But sexy Inn guest Rocky has taken a liking to him too, and so has the beautiful Sherrilyn.

Scott's nights at the Inn (which is built around a huge tree) become ale-fueled sex parties. Caroline, Rocky, and Sherrilyn have sex with him every night, and while he's having the time of his life, things start to get a lot stranger than having three women wanting him all the time, the least of which are two of the Inn's guests who Scott discovers chained to the base of the tree in the cellar.

THE FAMILY TREE has a typical horror novel set up that has been done thousands of times (city slicker finds ancient evil in rural town). But Everson is one of a handful of writers who is able to make this work and even seem fresh. Like most of his novels, this one is heavy on the sex, and the prose pulled me through in two quick sittings. The second half is suspense-filled and had me cheering for Scott until the final page.

This is Everson's eighth novel and it's a sure-fire hit for anyone who loves 70s/80s-styled pulp horror.

-Nick Cato




THE WHISPERER IN DISSONANCE by Ian Welke (2014 Omnium Gatherum / 157 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Insomnia is evil. Sleep deprivation is a proven torture technique. Messes with the body, the mind, and the soul. It can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, and full-blown psychosis. 

This book opens with insomnia and nails it. Nails it so hard that anyone who’s ever had trouble getting a good rest, who knows the intense personal agony of exhaustion, of being SO DAMN TIRED but unable to sleep … yeah, this’ll resonate. It’s like instant empathy. 

You FEEL for poor Annie, right from the first page. As she suffers through late-night infomercials, as she does the auto-math calculations each time she looks at the clock to see how much sleep she could get before the alarm went off if she fell asleep RIGHT NOW, as she’s already dreading the long day dragging herself to and through work. 

It’s hell. It’s a living, waking hell. And then it gets weirder. Or does it? Annie already has trouble fully trusting her senses and reason, thanks to exhaustion. When she starts noticing things that are decidedly odd, how can she be sure if they’re even real? Or if she’s just finally lost her last marbles? 

That uncertainty, that lack of reliability, carries on strong throughout the entire story. It’d be crazy to think that electronic viruses are infecting people, or that dreams can be hacked like computers. Wouldn’t it? It seems crazy. But doesn’t it also seem horridly plausible? 

It’d certainly seem crazy to think that Annie’s stumbled onto a vast conspiracy slowly taking over everyone and everything, or that an old college acquaintance is sending her secret messages, or that her mother and best friend are being corrupted. 

Except, things sure don’t seem normal, either, do they? How much of it can she blame on lack of sleep? What if she’s had a breakdown and is raving away in a madhouse? What if that’s what they WANT her to think? And doesn’t that itself seem crazy?

Insidious, paranoid, gripping, unsettling, and very well done … probably not something to read right before bedtime, though!

-Christine Morgan




FATAL JOURNEYS by Lucy Taylor (2014 Overlook Connection Press / 204 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Taylor (author of one of my all time favorite short stories) delivers her first collection in over ten years, and it was well worth the wait. Each tale takes place in a different part of the world, which is the running theme here.

After an introduction by Jack Ketchum, 'Summerland' gets things going in the Bahamas as a sister and brother meet a most unusual fate; 'Soul Eaters' is a pre-apocalyptic monster tale that begins aboard a cruise ship heading for Vancouver, Canada, while 'The Butsudan' finds a Westerner discovering dark secrets while in Japan.

In 'How Real Men Die,' Eddie is in Thailand on a mission to kill one of his friends, only to discover surprsing things about the both of them; 'Sanguma' deals with the moral issues of the natives in Papau New Guinea and one woman's fight to understand them. 'Tivar' follows an American couple on a trip to Iceland. This one's full of twists, turns, and a slick surprise ending.

'Nikishi' is a suspenseful shape-shifter tale set in West Africa, and while it's predictable, it's also well done and highly entertaining.

As good as the stories are at this point, the final three are easily the best of the bunch. 'Going North' is a fantastic revenge tale about a slightly off-balance aunt helping her neice overcome the adult human monsters in her life; 'The High and Mighty Me' follows a man searching for a fireworks vendor who he swears killed one of his friends when they were kids. What he finally finds is anything but what he expected. And capping the collection is 'Wingless Beasts,' a prime example of how to do a serial killer story the right way. Taylor keeps this one tight and adds a wicked spin you might not see coming.

Any horror fan will enjoy Taylor's FATAL JOURNEYS. I won't be forgetting a few of these tales anytime soon, and only hope it's not another ten years until her next collection.

-Nick Cato




NOTE: THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will return in two weeks on October 6th.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reviews for the Week of September 15, 2014

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



PREVIEW:

THE FRENZY WOLVES by Gregory Lamberson (to be released 10/14 by Medallion Press / 400 pp / trade paperback)

The third (and presumably) final installment in Lamberson's "Frenzy Series" finds NYPD police Captain Anthony Mace now off of the K-9 unit after helping to bring down The Brotherhood of Torquemada in the last book. But after a brief period of peace, serial killer /rogue werewolf Gomez (who Mace captured) has escaped from prison and is hellbent on taking down Mace and his family.

Meanwhile, head werewolf Gabriel is trying to keep his pack together despite brother Raphael not being happy with his place in it, hence causing a battle among the wolves as well as with Mace's special NYPD unit. Adding fuel to the fire is Rhonda, another lone wolf who starts to build her own pack from wolf teenagers, and ambitious reporter Carl Rice, who manages to shoot footage of the wolves fighting and transforming and sells it to a local news station.

With wolf transformations now being broadcast on TV and the Internet, it's up to Mace and co. to do what they can to contain NY's latest outbreak of werewolf chaos before things get even worse.

Like the two novels proceeding it, THE FRENZY WOLVES is written at a break-neck (full pun intended) pace, is full of action and twists, and features an edge-of-your-seat scene inside an elevator shaft. And while the series ends on a satisyfing note, I'm all for seeing some more from Captain Tony Mace, especially in light of some surprise developments. Fun stuff wether you're a werewolf fan or not.

-Nick Cato




OFFLINE by Kealan Patrick Burke (2011 Amazon Digital / 42 pp / eBook)

Skin-crawlingly creepy right out of the gate … not even halfway down the first page, and the “NOPE feels” start kicking in. They get worse and worse at an accelerating pace throughout, and yet, you might be unable to look away.

This is an entire story told in the form of social media message exchanges between Josh and Mandy. It’s Facebook with all the drama, stalking, discomfort, occasional ‘frape’ hacks, and more.

It’s brilliant in its brevity, altogether too true to life, believable to a point beyond paranoia, terrifying, and compelling. Especially if you have teenagers in your life (or are one yourself). TRUST NOBODY ON THE INTERNET! Snoop! Pry! Check histories! Think before you share or post!

A quick but gripping and unforgettable read. Soooo disturbing. Fantastic. But, yeah. Sets off all the alarm bells and red flags. If there was a list of required reading cautionary tales for the modern age, this book belongs on it. At the top.

-Christine Morgan



PREVIEW:

THE MIND IS A RAZORBLADE by Max Booth III (to be released 9/18/14 by Kraken Press / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Coming in at a little over two-hundred and thirty pages, let me just tell you this. You NEED this book.

If this thing doesn’t grab you within the first couple of chapters, stick it out. I promise it’ll be worth it. The author writes straight to the point, action-packed, in first-person with some absolutely brilliant interior monologue. He manages to do this with little to no exposition. Booth takes us head first straight into the action from page one. This makes the reader want to read quickly, as the author continues to weave his web into our heads.

A psychological romp disguised as neo-noir that takes us straight into a world of pandemonium. Horror. Conundrum. Apocalypse. Spiders. Bloody hearts. Demons. This is a morbid place where a confused man with telekinetic powers is going through just as much, trying to simply figure out who he is in the first place. And, yep, you guessed it… The Mind is a Razorblade.

-Jon R. Meyers




WARRIOR WOLF WOMEN OF THE WASTELAND by Carlton Mellick III (2009 Eraserhead Press / 316 / trade paperback & eBook)

If there ever was a book that not only deserved but outright NEEDED to be the focus of a Happy Meal promo campaign, this is … oh, so very much NOT that book … I don’t know for sure, but, it would not surprise me if author Carlton Mellick III is banned for life from good old McD’s. 

Funhouse mirror visions of unreal, twisted dystopias are one of his specialties, and in this one, it’s the country if the Golden Arches took over. Total corporate and community dominance, total control of diet and dress, religion and reproduction, and everything. 

Welcome to McDonaldland. Where anything not on the fast food menu is illegal, Fry Guys maintain order, and parents scare their kids into good behavior with stories about the Hamburglar. It’s hell in red and yellow, hell but greasier. Obesity is the norm. Sex is strictly regulated. Alcohol is against the law. 

Oh yeah, and there’s a huge wall around the whole thing. Nobody can leave. For their own safety and protection, of course. Beyond the wall is the wasteland, and in the wasteland are the wolves. 

The wolf-women, to be precise. Ferocious packs of them. And the mutants, exiled for various sins of deformity. There’s a whole chaotic, violent, savage world on the other side of the wall, and that’s where misfit Daniel Togg ends up. 

What follows is level after increasing, over-topping level of everything you might expect from this illustrious author. And speaking of illustrious, his illustrations are liberally scattered throughout … making it rather NSFW because you’ll turn a page and BAM topless wolf-women right in your face. 

So, I suggest you hit the drive-thru for your super-sized value meal of choice (fries with that? don’t forget the hot apple pie!) and settle in for a high-octane, high-calorie experience. It might not be very good for you, but it’ll sure be tasty!

-Christine Morgan


COMING SOON:


Monday, September 8, 2014

Reviews for the Week of September 8, 2014

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




CORPUS DELICTI by William Cook (2014 James Ward Kirk Publishing / 210 pp / trade paperback)

Poetry can just be so cool … language in a more freeform, flowing arrangement … imagery and evocation … the sound and rhythm of the words, and even the look of them on the page, as much an element as their meaning. 

It can also be challenging, maddening, baffling, incomprehensible, and weird. Does it have to rhyme? Is it like a song, or not? How does it work? What is it? What does it do? What does it MEAN? Or, for that matter, DOES it mean anything? And so on. Vincenzo Bilof’s introduction to this collection sums up all that better than I can. 

And then you get to William Cook’s collection of poems. Rest assured, this is no slim poetry chapbook. This is a BOOK. Almost 300 pages, something like 140 poems, two decades’ worth of accumulated artistic craftsmanship. 

Don’t go thinking that poetry equals sappy flowery greeting card stuff, either. These are dark jewels, bloodied and moonlit. These are raw nerves, the exposed heart and meat and emotion. These are heinous acts framed in beauty, and beauty wrapped in hideousness.

As to whether they’re romantic – isn’t that one of those big poetry things, after all? – well, it’d depend on who you were trying to romance. I know some people who might seriously go for being courted with such poems. How worrisome that may or may not be, I’ll leave up to your own discretion.  

With so many poems, and blending together in the harmonious threads that they do, it’s pretty well impossible for me to single out any particular few by title. Some, I know I just didn’t ‘get,’ but I figure that’s more on me than on the poems or the poet. 

I found myself uttering “oh wow” and “ooh that’s nice” and various wordless noises of appreciation several times at particularly stunning bits of phrasing, lines that made me just have to pause for a moment or two to reflect, to admire and think and mentally savor the resonance. 

Admittedly, they may not have been the best thing to be reading during a stressful time surrounded by difficulties, depression and drama. Then again, maybe that’s the perfect time. Maybe that’s when they’re most needed.

-Christine Morgan




NIGHTMARES FROM A LOVECRAFTIAN MIND by Jordan Krall (2013 Dunhams Manor Press / 127 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection of 14 tales (7 presented here for the first time) takes Lovecraft's Mythos and goes in its own direction. At times personal, surreal, and terrifying, Krall's prose is sleek and literary, and his manner of suggestion makes each tale sing.

Among my favorites are 'Nightmares of a Pampiniform Mind,' in which we're introduced to Osman, an odd mystic ritual practicioner and his exploits in the early 80s, 'His Candescence,' a bizarre meditation on men dealing with their mothers, while 'A Repentant Hell' features a similar take on fathers.

'And You Should Believe in Solar Lodges' follows two friends as they visit their old college's unusual library, and 'Argon Seizure,' where the author exploits his fear of buildings in a most cerebral way.

Here are a host of horror tales that will make you think. The violence is not for shock value alone and as strange as things get, Krall manages to bring the chills along with the odd goings-on. Highly recommended even if you're not a big Lovecraftian fan: this one stands on its own.

-Nick Cato




BRAINEATER JONES by Stephen Kozeniewski (2013 Red Adept Publishing / 234 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

Offered the chance to read some hardboiled zombie noir, what else am I going to say but HECK YES? I love zombies, I love noir, let’s see some shambling gumshoes, deadly dames, and all that good stuff! 

Within the first few lines of Braineater Jones, I knew I was going to get everything I hoped for and then some. 

The opening is as classic as they come: a corpse floating in a rich man’s pool. Except, in this case, the corpse wakes up and is our protagonist. Stark naked, with a big hole in his chest and a bigger hole where his memories are supposed to be, the guy who comes to be known as Braineater Jones isn’t even sure whether or not he’s a detective before he’s got a case. The case being, of course, his own murder, not to mention his identity. 

It turns out he’s not the only one with an undeath problem. There’s a whole community, just doing their best to get by in a city that isn’t exactly happy about them. Only booze can keep their more traditional brain-eating urges under control, but it isn’t easy to find places willing to cater to their trade. 

Jones, not having many other immediate options, sets out to make a place for himself in this undead underworld consisting of characters such as the enigmatic Lazar, the uniquely creepy Old Man, the denizens of a seedy speakeasy and a house of ill repute, gangs, gravediggers, voudon practitioners, back alley body repair specialists, talking heads, and more. 

Naturally, the more Jones investigates, the deeper he gets. Each question answered only leads, hydralike, to two more. People try to kill him so often he’s almost glad to be already dead, since it doesn’t hurt as much to be shot. The prospect of a dead-for-keeps wound, however, is still to be avoided. 

Given the genre, I daren’t get too specific about the plot because nobody wants spoilers. But it’s got the flavor and style, it’s got fedoras back when they didn’t have a tarnished reputation, it’s got wisecracks and action and unexpected surprises. A very fun read from start to finish; here’s hoping there will be more!

-Christine Morgan




NEXT WEEK:


Monday, September 1, 2014

Reviews for the Week of September 1, 2014

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



FRAGMENT by Warren Fahy (2010 Dell / 528 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback & eBook)

I was planning to have a more productive weekend. I spent most of Saturday reading this book instead. And, as the meme-cat says, I REGRET NUFFIN’. 

What with smaller presses and ebooks and all, it’d been a while since I sat down with a good ol’ traditional size mass market paperback. And a while further since I sat down and read a whole 500-pager in a day. 

I mean, people, c’mon, to make you understand how momentous this is, I walked away from the INTERNET. No multi-tasking, no television in the background. I just sat and read with my whole undivided attention. It captivated, it demanded, it would brook no less. 

“Okay, Christine,” maybe you’re saying. “We get it; get on with it, what’s it about, this amazing riveting read?” 

Well, basically, it takes every lost world / undiscovered species / final earthly frontier / extinction / evolution all that stuff and blows them away. Just blows them the [bleep] away. Blurb comparisons to Jurassic Park are practically laughable; this is the book Michael Crichton cries himself to sleep wishing he’d written. 

There’s this island, see? Henders Island, it’s called, after the captain of the only known vessel ever to set a man aground there (over 200 years ago, and by ‘a’ man I mean exactly that, one hapless sailor who met a grim fate before the rest of the crew was full sail the hell outta there and never mind searching for fresh water). 

It’s about as in the middle of nowhere as is possible on the planet, surrounded by over a thousand miles of open ocean on every side. Add in that it’s tiny, and that it consists of a ring of sheer cliffs around what appears to be a spent volcanic crater, and it’s no wonder hardly anyone’s heard of it. 

To the producers of the reality show SeaLife, however, picking up an old distress call from the vicinity might be the perfect opportunity to boost their flagging ratings. The hoped-for drama among their team of scientists could use a little spice, and a change of scenery would do them all good. 

Well, they’re right about the ratings and the drama, but the change in scenery does them anything but good. People thought the divergent evolution of Australia and the Galapagos was weird? Kiddie stuff compared to Henders Island. EVERYTHING we know about the natural world – invasive species, predator/prey relationships, plant and animal life, everything – is kiddie stuff compared to Henders Island. 

It might as well be a whole alien world. Which would be fine, and fascinating in and of itself, but humanity has a pretty terrible track record when it comes to keeping anything isolated. 

Warning: if you have a thing about bugs (as I do) or freaky crustacean bug-like critters (as I also do), or biohazard infestation contamination (guess what) … you could be made a smidge uncomfy. Where “smidge” = metric boatloads, and “uncomfy” = nightmares for a week at least. 

Right when you think you know where the story’s headed, every time you think so, along come new twists, curveballs, surprises, and gobsmack moments of sheer WHOA. Best, or perhaps worst and certainly creepiest of all, is the all-around believability. Of the science, the characters, the works. 

This may well be the best book I’ll read this year … except that I’ve also got the sequel standing by, and am just trying to make myself be disciplined enough to wait until I’ve made some progress on various deadlines.

-Christine Morgan




100 NIGHTMARES by K.Z. Morano (2014 Amazon Digital / 171 pp / eBook)

I am not a big fan of flash fiction or in this case Micro-Fiction (I never have been. Maybe a select few collections here and there but for the most part, not really.) But what we have here is quite the feat. Morano manages to put together a 100 story (yes, 100 story) collection of some of the most original and powerful Micro-Fiction that I’ve seen to date in the horror genre. But, that’s not all. She attempts (and gracefully succeeds) in writing these stories with 100 words, hence the Micro-fiction. The author further manages to do this with quick, witty, powerful, bizarre, and brutal one-liners that hit nothing short of hard. The imagery captured is brilliant, and, at the same time, horrific. It keeps you on the edge of your seat like a flopping fish. A cinder block to the back of the head so to speak, leaving the reader shocked, taunted, and, well, bloody.

Some of my personal favorites were “The Peephole,” a firsthand account of a family being watched through a peephole with some pretty creepy human characteristics found in perverts and serial killers alike. “The End,” a short bash to the face in a place where bones clog the streets. This one is just as creatively gruesome as a stone-cold murder. “Jubokko,” a quick read about valiance and memories, soil and fluids, and the smell of blossoms, some haunting imagery inside yet another horrific little horror tale. And, finally “The Diner” is a bizarre and terrifying mini-tale packed full of enough brain meat, slaughter, and fidgety worms to feed anybody and everybody that dares to enter the Diner of Doom.

Among some of the other titles that stood out were, The Statue, The Burning Question, His Cold in Hell, The Well by the Monastery, Detached, Witch’s Stew, and Cradle.  

100 NIGHTMARES is a real gem and a must have for any fan of Horror, Flash Fiction, and Micro-Fiction. Now, put your gas mask on and proceed with caution.

-Jon R. Meyers




SCREWED EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK AND TWICE ON SUNDAY by J.S. Reinhardt (2014 Blood Bound Books / 90 pp / trade paperback & eBook) 

One of the undisputed all-stars of the Gross Out competitions struts his oogy stuff in this slam-bang collection. I’d witnessed a few of the live performances, and they are unforgettable to say the least. Hilarious, disgusting, energetic, wild, laugh-until-you-puke, puke-until-you-laugh, both at the same time. 

“Baby Boo,” for instance. Nasty piece of work, just NASTY! “Baby Boo” reduced an entire hall full of the hardest of the hardcore horror writers and fans to helpless shudders of howling, dry-heaving revulsion. 

Reading the stories is an unforgettable experience all its own. NOT an experience for your lunch break, though, or to peruse over dinner. Or if you want to have a snack anytime in the foreseeable future. 

Every bodily fluid you can think of and several you wish you hadn’t play prominent roles … no orifice goes unviolated, and some new ones are created just for the occasion … 

“Cranial Rectosis” requires the strongest of intestinal fortitude in every possible sense. Took me three tries to get through that sickiepalooza and I still almost didn’t make it. 

“Openings” takes kinky masochism to uncomfortable levels even for such a subject. “One Mistake” is equally uncomfortable in a very different way, as a young friendship meets a bad end. 

As the collection title suggests, there’s eight stories, one for each day of the week and an extra … but wait, there’s more, because it includes the bonus stories “Stud Service” (which may do for the sex drive what “Cranial Rectosis” does for the appetite) and the disturbing psychological “By the Time I Get to Five.”

And, perhaps as the title suggests, these stories are best parceled out over the span of several days … perhaps attempting to tackle them all at once was an ambitious overreach on my part. But hey, if you’re up to a challenge of the nerves and gorge, go for it!

-Christine Morgan




GUNS by Josh Myers (2014 Copeland Valley Press / 214 pp / trade paperback)

A slick hitman/pilot for hire named "Organ" becomes involved in a kidnapping with Farley, another hired muscle who talks too much. Along with the mysterious Kate, they work for an underground organization known as AICE, ltd. It seems a journalist has received information about an astronaut that AICE doesn't want being released, so they go to work.

But both Organ and Kate have other things interfering with their mission, and Myers throws all kinds of twists and turns into this wonderful modern noir that despite its 214 pages, can easily be read in a single sitting.

GUNS is a dark ride, full of nasty villains and "good guys" who are just as bad. Myers gets an extra plus here for citing Gibbler from FULL HOUSE and still keeping this one as cool as ice ...

-Nick Cato


Next Week:


Monday, August 25, 2014

Reviews for the Week of August 25, 2014

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan




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

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

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

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

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

-Jon R. Meyers



PREVIEW:

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

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

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

Then there’s Booker.

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

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

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

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


-Sheri White




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan