Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June, 2011 Reviews


(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story.  Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out.  Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.  Unless otherwise noted, all reviews are by Nick Cato).

TORMENT by Greg Chapman (2011 Damnation Books / 61 pp / tp and ebook)

In 1984, Deacon Douglas Mackinnon performs  an exorcism on his wife; she dies in the process.  Police believe it's a case of cold-blooded murder, and Mackinnon's young daughter, Jessica, is left traumatized.

25 Years later, Jessica travels to Scotland with her husband and son when they learn of her father's passing.  They've been called to assess the Deacon's mansion and decide if they want to sell it.  Of course things quickly go wrong when Jessica decides it'd be a good idea to spend the night at the house; her son is haunted the first night, her and the hubby quickly afterward.

TORMENT features some genuinely scary moments and keeps the reader guessing if it's a possession or a haunted house tale (or a combo of both).  The brief 61 pages could easily have been stretched to novel length, but considering how slick this reads, perhaps it's current size works for the best.

I want more from Chapman.

THE NOBODY by Tom Piccirilli (2010 Crossroads Press & Macabre Ink Digital / 100 pp / ebook)

This is the umpteenth noir tale I've read from Piccirilli, and he always manages to craft broken down protagonists you can't help but cheer on.

This time, a man nick-named Cryer comes home to find his young daughter gutted and his wife in the tub with her throat slashed.  To make matters worse, he almost grabs the killer as he's fleeing out a window, only to have a 3-inch blade slammed into his forehead, almost killing him and wiping out his memory in the process.

Much of THE NOBODY features Cryer regaining his memory in various institutions as he searches for who he was before the stabbing, while simultaneously searching for the person who killed his family.  Suspects abound and at times the tension gets as high as I've ever read in a Piccirilli tale.  You probably won't guess who the killer is until the page he or she is revealed.

I'm LOVIN' these brutal, pulpy crime dramas from Mr. Pic...

(NOTE: This was released as a limited edition trade paperback and hardcover in 2008 by Tasmaniac Press, both now long sold out)

ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL by Zoot Campbell (2011 Grand Mal Press 2011 / 230 pp / tp)

The world has gone to Hell and the bitches are taking over.  While trying to create an AIDS vaccine, scientists have inadvertently unleashed a new “disease” on the world—one that only affects women and turns them into zombies.  Lock up your daughters, wives and granddaughters because the first chance they get they’ll chow down on the family jewels and anything else they can get their teeth and claws on.

ZOMBIE BITCHES follows Kent, a reporter from Denver and his friend Tim who decide to make their way to Boston so that Kent can find and hopefully save his girlfriend Jen.  Along for the ride in their hot-air balloon is Kent’s trusty mutt MG and the owner of said balloon Rick.  The story is told from Kent’s point of view and relates the trouble they run into—from a convent full of zombie women, a barn with nursing home refugees and an old armory full of white supremacists.
The disease is named the GaGa after Lady GaGa collapses on stage and turns into one of the first hungry harpies from Hell while the world watches on television.  As Kent and Tim make their way east the zombie hoards make their way west, but a change is going on.  The packs of screaming banshees are becoming organized.  The undead women are evolving and they are determined to take over.  When Kent finally makes it as far east as land will go he not only finds a sizeable stronghold of male survivors but he also discovers just how evolved and organized these bitches are.

Between the title, the author’s name and the awesome cover art by Michael Lindsey, ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL reminded me of an old pulp novel—in a good way.  While I love my zombies, the whole “apocalyptic zombie” thing can get a bit repetitive….but not with ZOMBIE BITCHES.  Zoot Campbell adds a fresh narrative to the zombie sub-genre.  The story flows nicely and character development is  good.  The end of the novel totally works for me and there are a few nice surprises thrown in, including the question of Kent’s sanity.  Zoot Campbell left me wanting more…..and from what I understand, I’ll get it.  ZOMBIE BITCHES FROM HELL is a great addition to zombie lit and I can’t wait to read more!

-Colleen Wanglund

BLOOD BORN by Matthew Warner (2011 HW Press / 497 pp / tp)

When several girls go missing in the Washington, D.C. area, detective Christina Randall goes on the case; the girls who are found have been the victim of rape...but that's far from the worst part.  It seems each victim of this serial rapist has been impregnated--and are experiencing excelerated pregnancies.  Within one week, each victim gives birth to a primate-looking creature that immediately turns and devours its mother.

Margaret Connolly's daughter is now missing.  Margaret works at the CalPark Fertility Clinic, and has been trying to understand the outbreak of bizarre pregnancies.  She begins to loose her marbles when her daughter is abducted, but she eventually meets up with detective Randall and the two begin to piece things together.

BLOOD BORN features genetically-created bigfoot-like creatures who are on a sole mission to breed.  They rape without remorse, causing a quarantine of the D.C. area.  Among several nightmarish scenes is a highway packed with cars trying to escape the city being attacked by the creatures; the blood and guts fly, yet Warner keeps the chills on target without getting silly.  You'd think a novel with rampaging monsters raping women with over-sized penises would garner some laughs...but BLOOD BORN doesn't.  It's serious horror written at a break-neck pace, and despite a larger than usual roster of characters, the reader is never lost.

While BLOOD BORN is a fun monster mash, I wish Warner would've let us in a but more regarding what caused our Third Reich-worshipping genetics doctor to tick; his creatures were "born" from a mistake in an attempt to create the perfect human...but we learn so little of Dr. Nicolae Schaefer that he truly takes a backseat to the his unholy creations (it's suggested Schaefer may even be of supernatural origin, leaving things wide open for a sequel).  But regardless, Warner's 3rd novel is a serious scare-fest, blending police procedural thrillers with plenty of blood, guts, scares, and some of the horniest monsters to hit our nation's capital since the Clinton administration.  You've been warned...

Smell Rating: 2

BABY’S FIRST BOOK OF SERIOUSLY FUCKED-UP SHIT by Robert Devereaux (2011 Deadite Press / 176 pp / tp)

If you’ve read Robert Devereaux’s almost-pornographic take on Jolly Old Saint Nick, SANTA STEPS OUT, then the title of this collection won’t surprise or offend you.  If you are offended by the title, then why did you pick up the book?

The first story, “Showdown at Stinking Springs,” brings together two well-known lovers of sex - Hefty Jake Gentry and Lily Mae Dalton - for a showdown of the sexual kind.  Kyle Hardwick, an old man, tells the tale of how these two sex fiends finally meet in the town of Stinking Springs in the summer of 1882.  Their showdown destroys the town by fire, the conflagration sparked by the heat of their mutual power orgasms.  As he tells the tale, Kyle delights in the attention of several naked beauties.

“Showdown at Stinking Springs” starts the collection off with quite a bang, and sets the tone for the rest of the stories.  The tale originally appeared in Hustler Fantasies, which should indicate just how intensely sexual the story is.  

As he did with Santa Claus, Mr. Devereaux takes a childhood favorite and defiles it, albeit in an interesting and fun way.  “Clap If You Believe” is the story of a man who meets his fiance’s parents and sister for the first time.  While the sister, Melissa, is a normal human girl, Tinkerbell was born to human parents although she is a fairy.  Mr. Jones is suspicious of Alex’s motives for wanting to marry his daughter and invites Alex into his den for a talk after dinner.  Alex confesses he’s been intimate with Tinkerbell and cares for her very much. But when Mr. Jones asks Alex if he loves his daughter, Alex gives the wrong answer and loses everything.

What boggles the mind about this story isn’t so much the graphic descriptions of Tinkerbell’s sexual prowess, but that the couple had sex at all.  The story does have some amusing moments, such as the sly mention of Disney World and Donald Duck.  Overall, though, the story is a little melancholy with a sad ending.

“Li’l Miss Ultrasound” is a great take on the distasteful practice of child beauty pageants, knocking the stage-mom stereotype up quite a few notches.  “Bucky Goes to Church” tells the story of Bucky, a man who finally snaps after years of abuse and bullying and shoots up all the people in his church.  Instead of going to hell after being shot by police, he is turned into God by the previous God and finds out being Divine isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Adam and Eve are revisited in the Garden of Eden in “Fructus in Eden,” but this time they keep eating that apple, alternately tempted by and remorseful about the beautiful fruit.  Eventually gluttony and wantonness take over, and they no longer give a rat’s ass about God’s wrath.  God finally gives up and lets Adam and Eve do what they want with Him, resulting in a foursome with the Serpent.  Eve’s orgasm brings about the cries of children not yet born, who fly out of her womb as balls of light and color.  Adam and Eve leave the Garden to find their children, leaving God a shell of Himself.

Interestingly enough, this is one of the least offensive stories in the collection.  The story that follows, “One Flesh: A Cautionary Tale,” follows a father and son who are killed in a car accident the night the son’s child is born.  Their spirits inhabit the baby, and they are very aware of their lust for their respective wives.  They get through childhood OK, but once the hormones hit in the teen years, it’s all they can do not to touch the women they are living with.  They finally snap one day and tied up their wives and “pleasured” the horrified women.  The men then decide to make one woman out of the two, and start cutting various parts.

This is a great story, full of offensive content, including the hint of incest.  But is it really incest if the son’s body and mind are inhabited by his father and grandfather lusting after their respective wives?  This is a fun story, but it can really mess with your head.

The weakest story of the collection, but by no means a bad story is “The Slobbering Tongue That Ate the Frightfully Huge Woman.”  A woman who is raped cuts out her attacker’s tongue, which comes to life and tries to find her.  While in the lab where she was attacked, a pink substance splashes her, causing to grow into a gigantic woman.  She makes her way to the Grand Canyon where she knows she will fit, while the tongue pulses after her, killing people in its wake.

The final story “Holy Fast, Holy Feast” is a neat zombie tale that was a little difficult to follow at first, but once I realized what was going on, I was hooked.  Zombie sex, a zombie baby and a dead guru who has brought the dead the life round out what is a great collection of stories.

BABY’S FIRST BOOK OF SERIOUSLY FUCKED-UP SHIT is the perfect title for this collection.  Every one of these stories fucks with your mind.  I hope Robert Devereaux keeps writing short stories; this collection left me wanting a lot more.

-Sheri White

BLEED by Ed Kurtz (2011 / 390 pp / tp)

Walt's a young man with a promising future: he has just purchased a fix-er-up house out in the sticks, yet close enough to his new job as a high school English teacher.  He's also planning on proposing to his girlfriend Amanda.  He notices a spot on the ceiling one day, and after not being able to get rid of it, the spot begins to grow.  At first it becomes a bigger stain, then eventually, it turns into a pulsating lump.  And as it grows, Amanda notices Walt starting to act strange.  She ends up leaving when she witnesses the ceiling lump eat a cockroach one night; Walt refuses to leave the house or the strange thing that is rapidly taking control of him.

If David Cronenberg and Frank Hennenlotter decided to remake LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and HELLRAISER, BLEED would be the result.  It reads like an 80s-styled horror novel with the gruesome feel of a classic splatter film--but where most gore-film inspired novels falter, BLEED finds its strength.  The reader cares for Walt, despite him becoming a murdering slave to the blood-thirsty creature, while at the same time we're cheering for Amanda as she attempts to escape the clutches of her now crazed boyfriend and his ever-growing monster.

For a first novel (self published, no less), Kurtz has done a fantastic job, seldom seen even among the best of professionally-released horror novels (i.e. there's NO filler here).  While there's a couple of typos and POV issues, the story is well told, the suspense and gore work side by side, and the touches of Henenlotter-like dark humor work like a charm.  It was also great to see a couple of characters introduced more than halfway through the novel actually work and add to the satisfying conclusion.

I had an absolute blast reading BLEED, and you can tell the author had a blast writing it.  I'm keeping my eye on Ed Kurtz, and hope to see another winner like this from him again soon.

Smell Rating: 2

ENTOMBED by Brian Keene (2011 Camelot Books / 204 pp / limited edition hc)

I don't splurge for limited editions too often, but when I heard Keene had written a sequel to DEAD SEA, I just had to have it.  While this takes place in the same "world" as DEAD SEA, I really wouldn't consider ENTOMBED a "sequel;" there's no zombie whales or people adrift at sea.  However, it takes a turn I never saw coming and made me happy despite the slight disappointment this wasn't the type of sequel I had in mind.

Told from the point of view of Peter (who gave guided tours of a former fallout bunker located beneath a posh hotel before all hell broke loose), this is one of those zombie tales where the undead take a back seat to the living: there's limited zombie action, but Keene's claustrophobic tale of a man bent on survival against those he thought were on his side is quite grim and difficult to put down.

When they realize starvation is nigh, the 17 trapped survivors in (said) bunker agree cannibalism will be the only way to survive.  They vote for Peter to be the first one to be killed; but a friend lets the cat out of the bag and Peter finds time to hide before the hungering humans could take him in his sleep.  As Peter kills for self defense (and survival), someone refers to him as a "serial killer," causing Peter's mind to shoot in dozens of directions.  IS he really doing this to survive, or is he also enjoying the power killing seems to brings him?

ENTOMBED is a violent, satisfying tale of survival in the face of the apocalypse, although those looking for an all-out zombie story might be a bit disappointed.

There's a bonus second story here titled WHITE FIRE, where a tornado knocks over a van and unleashes a virus that's basically a suped-up meningitis.  While killer virus stories are nothing new, Keene injects a fine supernatural element that adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing, and there's a few nods to other Keene shorts that'll have fans grinning in end-time glee.

Glenn Chadbourne provides some great interior artwork, while Gak's cover captures the main tale to the tee.  Camelot Books did a fine job with the production here, as did the author who once again proves he's hard to beat when it comes to end of the world horrors.

Smell Rating: 5

BRAIN CHEESE BUFFET / BULLET THROUGH YOUR FACE by Edward Lee (2010 Deadite Press / both TP)

Ahhh, the surefire Edward Lee diet plan … appetite-killing emetics in written form!

Eeeeeeeeew. These books. So gross. So nasty. So cringeworthy and disgusting, you about want to wash your hands merely after turning the pages. 

My unsuspecting husband ordered these two for me as an anniversary gift, because they were on my wish list. Okay, well, with titles like that and given the way he’s heard me rave about Lee’s work before, maybe “unsuspecting” is the wrong word there. Poor guy. 

For instance, the other night we were watching a rerun of SOUTH PARK, the episode where the boys react to being assigned THE CATCHER IN THE RYE  by writing the foulest, filthiest book they can imagine. A book that makes anyone reading it immediately puke their guts, yet also be unable to put it down. 

And I scoffed and said Ed Lee could blow them out of the water without even breaking a sweat. Hubby and teenager didn’t believe me. I found them some excerpts to read that didn’t involve sex (honestly, what kind of a wife and mother do you take me for? tsk!) and watched their reactions (on second thought … maybe you’re right to think that …)

The results didn’t involve my family throwing up, but they did look at me funny after that. “This is the sort of stuff you like to read?” their nervous eyes seemed to say. “This is a writer you respect, admire, and damn near idolize?”

Well, yes. Yes, it is. Yes, I do. Okay, so maybe that makes me a weirdo sickpuppy. But I do. I love the whole vile squicky yucky visceral gore in all its vivid, VIVID detail. More than that, I admire the underlying structure, the skill behind it all. 

Such a juxtaposition! Here is an author obviously brilliant, erudite, skilled, personable and cheerful … writing about characters so unutterably loathsome and vile … utilizing dialect thicker than the congealed biological sludge he describes all too well … involving acts more heinous than anybody should ever have to contemplate … there’s enough bodily fluids in these two slim trade paperbacks to keep a hazmat team busy for a year … wow. Just bleeping wow. 

BRAIN CHEESE BUFFET contains nine gooshy tales, two of which were familiar to me from previous anthologies (“Mr. Torso” and “Grub Girl,” though the version of the latter in this book appears to be the expanded director’s cut). Many of the stories are interconnected within the same depraved universe of imagination, with recurring characters and locales. “The Dritphilist” hit me particularly close to home, being set in Seattle and involving psychiatry, though that is one specialty I think I’ll pass on ever getting involved with thanks! The other stories range from the alien to the supernatural, with some mad science thrown in that manages to make even THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE look kind of tame, and atrocities that’d make the SAW franchise people twitch. 

BULLET THROUGH YOUR FACE is similar, except in the form of three novellas that revolve around the central premise that, basically, men are slime. Objectifying, deceitful, rotten sexist slime. And women are no better. “Ever Nat” involves a guy who finds out the hard way that taking advantage of a pretty young thing can have disastrous consequences. “The Salt-Diviner” shows the folly of being willing to go too far for the sake of greed. The final story, well, when the title of it is “The Refrigerator Full Of Sperm,” you may as well rest assured it is what it says on the tin. I didn’t care for that last one so much, mostly because one of the characters didn’t get what I thought he deserved. 

If there’s one problem with these books, it’s in terms of final layout and proofreading. I spotted way too many typos and other teensy errors, which interfered with my overall enjoyment. I’ve noticed similar flaws in the other Deadite Press books I’ve read, and it really is too bad. They’ve got awesome authors and great stories, eye-catching covers. An extra once-over before going to print would do so much good!

-Christine Morgan

WITCHES OF EAST END by Melissa de la Cruz (to be released June 21, 2011 by Hyperion Books / 288 pp / tp)

Joanna Beauchamp, and her daughters, Ingrid and Freya, are witches living in modern-day America in the town of North Hampton, located by the ocean.  Forbidden to use their magic centuries before, the women chafe at having to behave like regular people, and begin to slip.  Joanna has the power to bring back the dead and heal the very sick, Ingrid can read auras and cast spells that bring people their most heartfelt desires, and Freya creates potions that help the lovelorn.

After using their magic a few times and realizing they are helping, not hurting the townspeople, the women begin to use their powers more often.  But then awful things begin to happen - two of their neighbors are attacked, and a young girl disappears after drinking one of Freya’s cocktails.  These incidents bring unwanted attention to the women, and now they must find out what evil is stalking them and their town.

Witches of East End is a fun book, a romantic comedy with the added bonuses of magic and mayhem.  The characters are well-developed and interesting; you root for them when their magic works wonders for those in need.  There are several romances at play; the main one is Freya and her fiance Bran Gardiner.  But then she meets Bran’s brother Killian and realizes they share a dangerous attraction to one another.  Will she choose Killian over Bran?

There are also mysteries throughout the novel - who attacked the Beauchamps’ neighbors? Why are dead birds suddenly appearing on the beach in front of their house?  And is the women’s magic really helping the people they care about or causing more trouble instead?

WITCHES OF EAST END is the first in a series.  If the rest of the series is as good as the first, then I can’t wait to read them.

-Sherri White

THE BLACK CAT AND THE GHOUL by Edgar Allan Poe & Keith Gouveia (2011 Coscom Entertainment / 114 pgs / tp)

When I was asked to review THE BLACK CAT AND THE GHOUL, a mash-up by Edgar Allan Poe and Keith Gouveia, I was a little leery.  I’ve never really been interested in mash-ups so I had never read one before.  How do you really improve on the original?  Especially when we’re talking Poe’s “The Black Cat”?  That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with Keith Gouveia’s treatment of the story.  Gouveia makes it clear in his intro that he’s a huge fan of Poe and his writing shows his respect for the author as well.

Gouveia begins his story by keeping Poe’s “The Black Cat” completely intact, beginning to end.  What Gouveia does is continue the story from the perspective of the man, John, as he sits in a cell waiting for his execution for the murder of his wife.  The night before he is visited by Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld and a bargain is struck.  John will continue to walk the earth delivering souls to Pluto in hell.  The deal turns out to be not quite what John thought and he is guided by the very same cat that he blames for his current predicament.

Included in the novella is the poem “Cemetery” an original work by Keith Gouveia, as well as its inspiration, Poe’s “The City in the Sea”.  The book also contains Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” and an original short story by Gouveia entitled “Broken” about what happens to a man after he loses his wife in a tragic accident.

I thoroughly enjoyed THE BLACK CAT AND THE GHOUL.  Edgar Allan Poe’s stories and poems are very dark and depressing in their mood and tone and Keith Gouveia manages to capture those same dark qualities perfectly and quite seamlessly.  And he does so without altering the original character of John or his self-absorbed nature.  The original works “Cemetery” and “Broken” are wonderful homages to a brilliant artist and Gouveia’s respect and admiration are apparent.  This is a definite get, even if you’ve been iffy about the mash-ups.

-Colleen Wanglund

BLOOD OF MY WORLD TRILOGY by A.P. Fuchs (2011 Coscom Entertainment / tp and ebook)

I’m not the biggest fan of paranormal romance, especially with the release of books such as THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and the TWILIGHT series (which I do not consider horror).  However I was intrigued by a YA novella trilogy by A.P. Fuchs who is perhaps best known for writing about zombies.
BLOOD OF MY WORLD consists of three novellas—DISCOVERY OF DEATH, MEMORIES OF DEATH, and LIFE OF DEATH—that tell the story of high school sweethearts Zach and Rose.  Zach has unexpectedly disappeared, leaving Rose in a state of confusion and worry.  Zach has become a vampire and has no memory of his former life, including Rose.  One fateful night Zach is taken out to feed by his vampire mother Mira and kills Rose’s mother.  Experiencing his victim’s memories, Zach is confused by the people he sees and what his connection to them may be.  In the meantime, in the wake of her mother’s death, Rose discovers that she comes from a long line of vampire slayers.

While dealing with the funeral and her training Rose sees Zach and knows what he has become.  Rose’s father Marcus also knows what Zach has become and instructs his daughter to stay away from the cemetery.  Marcus explains that vampires have no feelings or emotions for anyone in their former lives, which is what makes them such effective killers.  Zach tries to understand what is happening to him and what Rose meant to him.  Zach’s vampire family seems ready to accept Rose, even though she’s a human.  Ultimately Zach will be forced to choose between his vampire family and Rose, and truths will come out that help Zach determine where his loyalties lie.

Fuchs has written a very good story in BLOOD OF MY WORLD.  The characters are well-developed and his vampires’ characteristics are quite interesting.  I enjoyed the Shakespeare-esque story of the young lovers from different and clashing worlds—vampire and slayer.  What I also liked about this trilogy is that it doesn’t have the creepiness that most other vampire romances targeting young girls have.  Zach is only a vampire for a few weeks when he and Rose meet again, he’s not a hundred-plus year old vampire “in love” with a teen girl.  In other words, Zach isn’t a dirty old man, he’s still just a kid.  The horror elements are really good, too.  The vampires have ulterior motives that ultimately drive the story—they aren’t an afterthought.  The romance aspect is a bit intense at times, so if paranormal romance isn’t your thing, then this is not the trilogy for you.  Overall BLOOD OF MY WORLD is a really good read for its target audience.

-Colleen Wanglund

THE GREEN MAN by Lee Mather (2010 Damnation Books / 26 pgs tb)

In this short novella we are told about an experience had by Pete, which he is writing in a journal eight years after the event that he says changed his life.  Pete grew up with his mother’s stories about a mysterious Green Man who would appear to her whenever someone close to her was going to die.  She was convinced it was her great-grandfather but Pete didn’t believe her stories, at one point thinking his mother crazy.

Pete receives a phone call from his mother the night before he was scheduled to fly that the Green Man had appeared to her again.  She warned Pete not to get on the plane, but this only angered Pete.  Pete boarded the plane with his friend Seb, but his mother’s possible premonition had him spooked.  Ultimately the plane does crash, proving his mother right.  What Pete discovers, though is that the Green man’s appearance was not necessarily a warning of his own impending accident.

THE GREEN MAN is not just a creepy supernatural story, but it is a story of faith….in something, anything.  The writing is well done and Lee Mather manages to get across how life-changing an event Pete lived through.  At just 26 pages, THE GREEN MAN is a quick but powerful read.

-Colleen Wanglund

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