Tuesday, January 31, 2012

FEBRUARY, 2012 REVIEWS

FEBRUARY, 2012 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)


PREVIEW

CARNAGE ROAD by Gregory Lamberson (to be released April 3, 2012 by Print is Dead / 86 pp / tp and eBook)


Every time I say I’m tired of zombie stories, I seem to read one that proves the subgenre is simply here to stay.  CARNAGE ROAD is a fine example of why: part EASY RIDER, part DAWN OF THE DEAD, this quick novella features two biker buddies, Boone and Walker, who decide to take a cross-country trek when the rest of their gang, the Floating Dragons, abandon their Buffalo, NY compound when a gang of rogue cops kill half their members.  Boone always wanted to see Hollywood, and convinces Walker to go with him—Walker had recommended trying Canada, but the cold weather didn’t appeal to Boone.


The story wastes NO time getting to the undead action.  Along the way our anti-heroes encounter both sane and insane religious zealots, manage to take in a movie at an abandoned Indiana theater, are arrested in Kansas by racist political extremists, all the while battling hordes of cannibalistic cadavers and burning rubber on their hogs.  The boys also come across the most imaginative group of zombies I’ve read in some time at the foot of a twelve-story building.  When they finally reach Hollywood there’s a hysterical scene where undead celebrities are spotted.  When they realizing there’s just too many zombies around, they decide to head to Texas, where they join a group of survivors at the Alamo.


CARNAGE ROAD may be brief but it’s packed to the gills with brain-splattering zombie goodness, social commentary, a bleak apocalyptic ending, and good old-fashioned b-movie-style fun.  Zombie fans will love it.
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THE FALL by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (2011 Harper Collins / 448 pp / mmp)

This second in the series definitely requires the reading familiarity of the first, but, given how rip-roaring a series it is, that shouldn’t be any sort of a hardship. 

THE FALL picks up right after THE STRAIN, in a New York plunged into plague, riots, and chaos. The vampire virus has also begun overwhelming several other cities and the world is well on its way to total pandemic. 

By now, the truth is hard to deny, but vindication isn’t a whole lot of comfort to those who’d been trying to warn the authorities since the beginning. The changed hosts of the deadly blood-worms are driven by their hunger, obedience to their vampiric lord known as the Master, and the intense urge to find and bind their loved ones into the same hideous fate. 

One small group is led by an aged pawnbroker/scholar who’s dedicated his life to tracking the Master, and by a discredited CDC expert who’s lost his wife and must now protect their son from the hungry fate worse than death. Another is made up of former gangers turned resistance fighters (plus one retired luchadore, my personal favorite character in these books, edging out the exterminator), assisted by a lefthanded alliance of other vampires who oppose the Master’s goals. 

On the other side, of course, is the Master himself, and his ever-growing legions. He’s also got the support of a very old, very sick, very rich man whose intention is to barter his financial and political power in exchange for the bite, the transformation, and eternal life. 

The writing is as tight and top-notch as ever. There’s no mid-trilogy slump, but the quivering suspense of being in the middle of a long scary bridge … too far to turn back, so you’ve got to keep going. 

What I do know is I’m very glad I got this one so soon after reading the first, and that I got the third at the same time so it is coming up next in line.

-Christine Morgan
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LOST HOMICIDAL MANIAC (ANSWERS TO "SHIRLEY") by Jeff Strand (2011 / 175 pp / eBook)

The long-awaited 4th novel in Strand's Andrew Mayhem series finds Mayhem and his wife receiving news that they're about to become parents for the third time...only with triplets!  His partner Roger is finally thinking of proposing to his girlfriend on the day the bumbling duo open their own business, 'A/R Tasks & Investigations.'  That's right folks: Andrew and Roger have now gone legit in the attempt to officially try to help people who need their unusual problems solved.

The first day in the new office is slow, so the boys reluctantly take on an unrelated odd job to get the cash flow started. Tired, and just before they close for the day, a woman comes in seeking their help.  She claims that she might be a serial killer, and convinces Andrew and Roger to take her case.  They follow her to an abandoned house where she thinks--in her blacked-out states--she has killed people and buried their body parts.  Not wanting to run away if she snaps, she also convinces Andrew to handcuff himself to her as Roger begins digging under the floor boards.

From this point, it doesn't take long for the mayhem to get going..  LOST HOMICIDAL MANIAC then goes into a relentless, slapstick pace full of goons, killers, over-the-top violence, Strand's trademark sarcasm, and plenty of laughs.  One scene involving an old woman, a car chase, and hundreds of bullets had me in stitches (anyone who has read a Strand novel knows he has a way of making you laugh at the sickest, most insane things imaginable).  There's also a cameo that hardcore Mayhem fans will get a real kick out of.

Fans of the series will love seeing the boys back in action, as well as an old foe return for revenge.  Here's hoping we don't have to wait seven more years until the fifth adventure...

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DEAD IN THE TRUNK by Craig Saunders (2011 Amazon Digital Services / eBook)

DEAD IN THE TRUNK is a collection of sixteen short stories by Craig Saunders.  I discovered the author when I read his story “The Scarecrow” in the double novella The Scarecrow and The Madness (written by Robert Essig).  I was very impressed with “The Scarecrow” so I was pleased when I found out he had a collection out.

The first story, “Mudman,” leads you to believe you know the ending of the story, but instead shocks you.  It’s a great tale of love and betrayal that will creep you out as you read.

“Grass Can Be Weeds, Too” gently leads you through the story, making you uneasy as you read.  A big storm is the perfect backdrop for the horror that is eventually shown to us.  And while the ending is a little telegraphed, you will still enjoy it and maybe even think it’s perfect.

After reading “The Monkey’s Sandwich,” you might not want to eat biscuits again, just like Bill, who tells the story.  It reminded me a bit of the recent “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” and was just as exciting.  I’ve always had an aversion to monkeys, and thanks to both this story and the movie, I now have a bit of a fear of them as well.

“Fake Plastic” is a fun revenge story, but it’s not an ordinary revenge story.  A doctor pays for his malpractice with something other than money.  A patient’s sister isn’t happy with the care the good doctor provided for the sister, so she does something about it.  A little gruesome, but still fun to read.

Each story in this collection is just as good as the one before it.  Craig Saunders has proven himself a writer to watch.

-Sheri White
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MANGLED MEAT and CARNAL SURGERY by Edward Lee (both titles 2011 Deadite Press / tp)

I’m not sure how many times or how many ways I can say that Ed Lee stories are the squickety-squickest of the Squicky McSquickerson squickfests, but … well, they ARE! 

Just so nasty, so gross, so disturbing, so eew with a capital EEW!!! Nothing is sacred, nothing is safe, there’s no far that’s too far! If you can imagine an atrocity, he’s probably already written it. If you can’t, he’s probably written that, too. In excruciating, vivid, unforgettable detail. 

And oh, I do love it!

The latest two of Lee’s gory goodies from Deadite to land in my lap,MANGLED MEAT and CARNAL SURGERY, do not disappoint in living up to reputation and expectations. 

MANGLED MEAT contains three short works. The first, and least squicktastic, of the bunch is “The Decortication Technician.” It’s a sci-fi piece that admirably showcases the author’s genius and vocabulary, loading up the futuristic jargon in ways that still come across as clear and understandable even to the non-tech-savvy reader such as myself. Decortication, by the way, is the process of cutting the shell, carapace, or exoskeleton off of something. Like an insect. Or a big chitinous alien bug. This particular technician of it is part of the science team on an exploration vessel, and when their explorations turn up a mysterious, sealed spacecraft, the job defaults to him of getting the thing open to see what’s inside. 

The second story’s word-for-the-day features in “The Cyesolagniac,” which is a term having to do with the fetishization of pregnant women. You might think you can guess where this one’s going, and, you’re on the right track … a man with that obsession finds and hires a very pregnant hooker … only to find the tables getting turned on him in some especially nasty ways. Does he deserve it? I’m still not sure.

It’s the last, and innocuously-titled “Room 415” that most reduced my psyche to a gibbering ball curled up in the corner of my skull. If I did kind of want to feel sorry for the guy in the last story, I had no such sympathies for the guys in this one. An electronics rep in town for a convention, struggling with sexual dysfunction after a bitter divorce, happens to witness a scene of violence and brutality from his hotel room window … and discovers that it turns him on. After that, it gets really appalling. 

CARNAL SURGERY consists of eleven tales … it starts off with “The Seeker,” in which ultimate truth turns out to not be a good thing to go looking for after all. “Please Let Me Out” is disturbingly sexy or sexily disturbing, depending on your POV. I enjoyed the ugly pressure-cooker microcosm social dynamics of “The Order of Nature,” and the creepy bigger-picture themes of “Goddess of the New Dark Age.”

“Hands,” the longest piece in the book, is a nifty psych thriller that was my favorite of the bunch, and is followed by the wafer-thin mint of the four-page “The Table” as a very tasty little aperitif. “Death, She Said” revisits the dark, creepy, haunty and ultimate truth issues touched on in a couple of the earlier stories. “Gut-Shot” is a gritty and effecctively done second-person cop drama. 

“The Piece of Paper” and “Make A Wish” are more of Lee’s set-in-Seattle homeless yarns that, given where I work and the population I work with, totally hit the verisimilitude nerve dead on. And “The Blurred Room,” (a version of which appeared as “I.C.U.” in another anthology) is vindictively satisfying. 

All in all, good stuff, lots of good good stuff in a bad bad way … just how I like it!

-Christine Morgan
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A HOLLOW CUBE IS A LONELY SPACE by S.D. Foster (2011 Eraserhead Press / 91 pp / tp)

Yet another offering from Eraserhead's 'New Bizarro Author Series,' this time introducing the world to UK writer S.D. Foster with 23 short-short stories, most having a fairy tale feel. 

Among my favorites are 'Matilda Goes Shopping,' about a robe-wearing woman who takes care of her obese brother. Her life is drastically changed when she's raped by a supermarket (yes...a supermarket); 'Slothra,' the sad tale of a has-been Kaiju star; 'Silk Flower,' a bizarro take on Pinocchio with an oddly touching conclusion, and finally, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Chip,' where we meet a singing primate who learns he can't pay the rent in bananas. 

While a couple of stories are truly head-scratching, most of A HOLLOW CUBE is accessible without sacrificing the bizarro element. 

A decent and imaginative first collection. I'd like to see a novella or novel from Foster.

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DESIREE by Ken Goldman (2010 Damnation Books / 101 pp / tp and eBook)


Beautiful Desiree has an odd problem: whenever she kisses someone, they become infatuated with her and eventually commit suicide.  Her first victim is a young boy named Tommy who killed himself shortly after kissing her during a game of spin the bottle at a party.  Tommy's sister, Tamara, keeps her eye on Desiree over the years, discovering other men have met the same fate as her brother.


Goldman's novella bounces around time-wise and can easily be read in one sitting.  Although the author never clearly explains exactly WHY Desiree's mother's breast milk has given her this strange ability, it gives the story a nice mystery as we're never sure if Desiree is completely aware of what she's doing.  And despite the nifty ending, I found myself confused on a few occassions, but not to the point I was lost.


DESIREE is an interesting erotic thriller with a latent supernatural leaning that's definitely worth a look.


Smell Rating: 1

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DEVIL BAT DIARY by Peter H. Brothers (2011 / 221 pp / tp)

This mock journal tells the "true" story of what happened in a small American town during the summer of 1939.  The 1940 Bela Lugosi film THE DEVIL BAT was a watered-down version of these events, giving this book a "found footage" type of feel.

Chicago newspaper reporter Johnny Layton is sent to the small town of Heathville to get the scoop on the death of Ray Heath, an heir to a multi-million dollar cosmetics company.  Johnny is partnered with ace photographer "One Shot" McGuire, a "big-mouthed weasel" who Johnny can't stand.

It turns out someone is trying to kill off the Heath and Morton families with large killer bats.  The two clans are co-owners of the company, and Johnny Layton eventually discovers the bats attack those who wear a particular new brand of the companies' skin lotion.

Lugosi's character from the film, Mr. Carruthers, is here portrayed in a similar fashion, but some revelations on the "real" nature of other DEVIL BAT characters are quite funny.

DEVIL BAT DIARY is interesting for fans of the classic Lugosi film, but those not familiar with the source material might be put off by some of the goofy-sounding dialogue and an abundance of distracting slang (McGuire, Carruthers, and a local sheriff speak in heavy accents which the author spells out phonetically, which at times makes the prose a chore to sift through).

Flawed, but fun stuff for fans of classic monster movie fiction.

Smell Rating: 1
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PLEASE DON'T GO by Eric Dimbleby (2011 Pill Hill Press / 277 pp / tp)

Zephyr is a young grocery store clerk, dealing with the typical ups and downs of college life.  He's also planning on proposing to his girlfriend Jackie, both of them English majors.  One day he is assigned to deliver groceries to an old man who lives in an isolated house.  Charles Rattup turns out to be a writer who was once published in a classic anthology, quickly earning Zephyr's respect.  Charlie invites him to come back again, and the two develop a friendship built around literature and movies.

But Charlie begins to act strange, talking to an unseen presence, causing Zephyr to doubt the man's sanity.  But by the time he finds out Charlie isn't crazy, it's too late for Zephyr, as he is now held hostage by a sexually-charged entity that may or may not be the legendary Lillth, a demon common to many culture's folklore.

PLEASE DON'T GO is a clever take on ghosts, possession, and succubbi.  Dimbleby gives this one a truly unique flavor, along with a cast you'll care about and plenty of scenes filled with tension and dread.  The spirit controling Zephyr's life is as cunning as it is evil, slick as it is violent.  I was reminded of the film THE ENTITY only with a more brutal demon at play, as the torture she puts Zephyr through will get anyone's skin crawling.

This study of a man's desire to survive in the face of total hopelessness is also a genuine genre spook-fest, delivering the goods and concluding with a bit of a twist (and increasingly dreadful) finale.  Great stuff.

Smell Rating: 2
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HISSERS by Ryan C. Thomas (2011 Permuted Press / 254 pp / tp)

Four troubled teens … two girls and two boys … on the eve of beginning their high-school years … each with their own troubles and fears about the future, bullies and peer pressure, parents and growing up … the trashy chick and the fat video game geek, the all-around good guy and the shy one with the dark secret … it’s the perfect setup for a classic coming-of-age tale …

And BLAM, a plane crashes smack into the middle of town, spraying debris and burning jet fuel everywhere! It’s disaster, it’s carnage, but that is still only the beginning because the mangled ruins of charred and bloodied corpses GET UP and go running around on a contagious chompy RAMPAGE!!! Infection and horrific mutations ensue!

Basically, things start off kind of slow and normal, and then there’s a high-speed plunge into nonstop action and terror, with no reprieve and no turning back. Very much the rollercoaster … chugga-chugga up the slope, reach the crest, and AAAAAHHH screaming dives and hard cranking turns and violent bumps all the way to the end. 

Glorious chaos and gore engulf everything as the four teens scramble to survive, to search for their families, and to try and figure out what in the hell happened. I’ve noticed how a lot of authors seem to have trouble writing kid and teen characters; these all rung to me very genuine (speaking as the parent of a teen). Their dialogue, their side-concerns and distractions, their behaviors … excellently handed, quite well done. 

Un-put-down-able, exciting, gruesome, tragic and thrilling. Thumbs up!  Whole clusters of undead mutant thumbs!

-Christine Morgan
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THE CRUD MASTERS by Justin Grimbol (2011 Eraserhead Press / 81 pp / tp)

Eraserhead Press continues their 'New Author Bizarro Series' with this ode to gang novels and giant monster movies. 

Boogers is a member of the Crud Masters, a group of outcasts who live on Shelter Island. Among their colorful members are Snuggles (a beefy guy who likes to hug people) and Pussy Bear, a rich woman who spent all her money to make herself look like a bear. With boobs. 

Shelter Island also has a heavy army presence: it seems giant sea monsters (called Dagoons) keep coming ashore and causing trouble, the military doing what they can to control them. Rival gang 'NOLA' (comprised of the island's rich kids) becomes unstoppable when one of their members reveals his van can turn into 'Swagatron,' a giant robot. The Crud Masters plan a way to compete, and manage to trap and train one of the Dagoons, leading to a showdown between robot and monster. 

With cyborg threesomes, rampaging monsters, animal attacks, and plenty of laughs, THE CRUD MASTERS is a wickedly fun novella, featuring simplistic prose that reads like a YA author on crack.
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SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE HOMOPHOBES by Robert Devereux (2011 Deadite Press / 316 pp / tp)

If I had to name one downside to SANTA STEPS OUT (the previous book in this series), it’d be that the polyamory message maybe sometimes seemed a little heavy-handed and condescending, a bit pushy and preachy. Not so much a “to each their own, mutual respect and understanding” as a “poly’s THE only right and natural way to be and anyone else is pathetic!” Which seems kind of meta-contrary. 

In this one, there’s no maybe-sometimes about it … the message clubs you over the head right from the title and keeps on clubbing all the way through. This is a “homophobia is BAD!” lecture, and as such, it suffers from a fairly basic problem: the people who most need to get clubbed over the head with that message aren’t the ones who’d be reading the book, while the ones who already KNOW that are liable to find it both frustrating and tedious to be clubbed over the head with it that much. I was reminded of, for example, panels on sexism and harassment at gaming cons, where the creeps who could benefit aren’t going to attend, or even think they need to attend. And whoever does go to such a panel is already going to be aware and conscientious of the issue.

SANTA CONQUERS THE HOMOPHOBES picks up shortly after SANTA STEPS OUT, where domestic harmony at the North Pole is disturbed when Santa’s little stepdaughter and assistant Wendy – whose task is to select a few good children each year and give them encouraging visions of their future – gets upset by what her premonitions show. One of her chosen few is destined to commit suicide after growing up tormented by intolerant parents, preachers, and bullies. Wendy asks Santa to fix it, and Santa, who dotes on her, agrees. 

He soon realizes he’s in way over his head, not to mention that he’s stepped outside the bounds of his office, and has to request help from higher in the heavenly heirarchy (the further exploration of the reinvented myths here made even me a smidge uncomfortable and I don’t consider myself religious … I’m not at all sure how it’d go over with someone who does). 

So, permission is granted to try and change the hearts/minds of four people most pivotal in the child’s life, and Santa’s sleigh ride becomes a Fantasy Island guilt trip in the best Ghost-of-Christmas-Future sense. 

Or maybe I just don’t “get” it and am being cynical because I was hoping for another gore-slathered sexromp …

The gore-slathered sexromps are, sadly, not to be found here. More like gore-slathered gore, especially because once the Tooth Fairy finds out what Santa’s up to, she’s more determined than ever to punish the jolly ol’ elf and his happy family. She’s lost her Easter ally but has a brood of nasty imps to do her bidding. 

Meanwhile, at Santa’s workshop, there’s a parallel example of intolerance and hypocrisy in action, when one of the elves goes on an anti-nosepicking crusade. Anyone who starts their own personal inner countdown clock whenever some politician, celebrity, evangelist or other public figure mounts the outspoken moral high horse  will know how that’s gonna go. “Cue humongous scandal exposee in 3, 2, 1 …”

I also couldn’t help finding this one fairly heavily USA-centric in terms of the calendar … the whole world doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but when one of the landmark dates set for Santa’s goal involves Thanksgiving, well …

All in all, I guess I found this one a considerable letdown after its predecessor. But the characters are fun, the imagination remains nicely twisted, and I’d certainly be eager to read a third volume!

-Christine Morgan
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STEAMY SCREAMS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF EROTIC HORROR edited by Jack Burton (2011 Blood Bound Books / 166 pp / tp)

Woohoo! Smut! Twenty-one quickie short stories of it, a surprise goodie grab bag with enough assortment and variety to have something for almost everyone. Provided you like smut, surprises, and having your goodies grabbed. 

Be it people, places, or things … living or dead … natural and supernatural … solos, pairings, groups, combos … happy endings, tragic endings, gruesome endings … romance and raunch, kindness and kink … temptation, tradition and taboo … there are of course countless ways to get busy, and plenty of them are featured in this book. 

Among those I liked the best were Tonia Brown’s “Dirty Little Fish Story” (the one that got away? you should BE so lucky!), “The Libidonomicon” by Gregory L. Norris (quite lives up to the promise of the title!), M.P. Johnson’s “Killer Nails” (giving whole new meanings to the term ‘hand job’), “The Club” by Brad Hunter (a cautionary tale of the lines between fantasy and reality), Larissa Alloway’s “Phantom Deposit” (short and sweet paranormal romance), and “A Witch to Live” by James Beamon (decidedly wicked!)

If some of the others didn’t do much for me in either the scary or sexy department, well, that’s the great thing about anthologies like this … another story will be along in just a couple pages. 

You’ll also find fairy tales retold, revenge tales that would be right at home in the horror comics, some werewolves and vampires and creatures beyond classification, and more. A little bit of everything adds up to a satisfying bundle. If horrorsmut is your thing, this one’s worth a look.

-Christine Morgan
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D.O.A: EXTREME HORROR ANTHOLOGY edited by David C. Hayes and Jack Burton (2011 Blood Bound Books / 321 pp / tp)

D.O.A: EXTREME HORROR ANTHOLOGY is a collection of twenty-nine short stories and they are extreme and disturbing.

Among my favorites are the very disturbing “The Boogieman’s Key” by Calie Voorhis about a man using a special key to enter the dreams of his foster daughter to sexually abuse her, however Melissa learns from therapy that she is stronger than he is; “Digital Media” by Michael Cieslak about a man who is tortured and murdered because he won a contest on a website frequented by sexual deviants, and this one has a creepy twist; “Sickened” by Tonia Brown about a town’s sin eater who is made extremely sick by the sins he consumed of a pedophile; and “Cold Air” by Edward R. Rosick about a couple going through medical school when one discovers that she can capture the essence of life and the soul through necrophilia.

Other fantastic stories include “Plague Hulk” by Glynn Barrass about a plague ship boarded by thieves in the hopes of robbing the dead but the thieves don’t make it very far; “Go to Your Room” by Shane McKenzie about what happens to three thugs who try to rob an old man rumored to practice voodoo; “Sisters” by Chris Reed about a very odd sexual experience between a man and a woman with two very strange sisters; and one that really horrified me, “Cena” by Chad McKee about a young man who inadvertently gets caught up in a dog fighting ring.

With most anthologies and collections the stories can run the gamut from great, to good, to not so good.  That’s not the case with D.O.A.  Some stories I liked better than others but I liked every story in the anthology.  I love extreme horror and this collection is definitely extreme.  D.O.A. would make a nice addition to any horror fan’s bookshelf.

-Colleen Wanglund
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DYING DAYS by Armand Rosamilia (2011 Rymfire Books / eBook)

Darlene is trying to survive in a world ravaged by zombies.  She has made her way to northern Florida in the hopes of finding other survivors.  What she finds is an outpost of survivors, a kind of early warning system for the city of St. Augustine, which is alive and well.  

While with this group of survivors, Darlene learns that there are cities all over the country—the world—that have managed to rebuild in the wake of the apocalypse, including her hometown, which she left after losing everything.  Now she is helping to locate a large group of refugees from Orlando, which has not fared so well.  Unfortunately when Darlene and her fellow guides find the refugees, they get a lot more than they bargained for.

With an apocalyptic story that began in HIGHWAY TO HELL and the short story “Rear Guard”, Armand Rosamilia continues the trials of his characters in a world overrun with zombies that are not only hungry, but horny too.  Rosamilia’s take on zombies is definitely unique and that makes his stories stand out from the rest of the pack.  Well-rounded characters and fast-paced action are abundant here.  There is also a bonus short story called “Sons of the New Patriots” which gives a clue to what happened to the refugees making their way from Orlando to St. Augustine.  I love the way Rosamilia’s zombie apocalypse novellas and short stories weave together.  You don’t necessarily have to read HIGHWAY TO HELL before reading DYING DAYS, but I strongly recommend it.  They really are more fun that way.

-Colleen Wanglund
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THE DAILY DEATH: HOW I KILLED MY CO-WORKERS ON 30 DAYS by Thomas Scopel (2012 CreateSpace / 118 pp / tp and eBook)

This is a collection of short stories, but with a bit of a twist - it’s a themed collection.  The author had the audacity to kill his coworkers, using no weapons except his pen.   There are no peaceful deaths here; each person leaves this world in gruesome and strange ways.  The author narrates the beginning of each story, becoming kind of a twisted Rod Serling foreshadowing the events to follow.

This is a “Faces of Death,” literary style instead of on the screen.  Which might be worse, because what we imagine in our minds is usually far worse than what is being portrayed by actors and fake blood.  Most of the stories aren’t supernatural, either - they can accidentally happen.  Some of the deaths are a little exaggerated; similar to the crazy deaths in the “Final Destination” series.  In other words, gross and squishy, but lots of fun.

Since the stories are so short, and each death is very specific, I will just let a few of the ways people are killed off rather than review each story.

You’ve got the badass who refuses to wear a helmet and pays the price.  If you’re afraid of the ocean, your fears will be confirmed in this book.  Nothing is sacred, not even the Great American Pastime.  Stephen King knew that machines could be scary.  And so does Thomas Scopel, who gleefully describes an unfortunate accident.  Carnivals and circuses are a little on the creepy side anyway, made more so throughout the book.  Even reading isn’t safe.

This book isn’t for anybody who takes such stories seriously.  I mean, if the first story offends you, there’s no need to go on.  Death wins every time and in deliciously twisted ways.  But if you have that little something inside you that gleefully reads the “Darwin Awards,” you will absolutely love this collection.

-Sheri White
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FIRST CUT: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FAST-PACED FICTION edited by Heather Wildman (2011 Paper Cut Publishing . 100 pp / tp)

FIRST CUT: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FAST-PACED FICTION is a collection of eight short stories that cover a range of subjects, including aliens, vampires, fate, and insanity.

My favorite story is “Unknown Number” by Mark Allan Gunnells about some weird text messages Ethan receives while waiting to meet his partner Roger.  The sadist sending the texts seems to be watching Ethan and knows that Roger is late…and why.  Ethan disappears and six months later Roger begins getting text messages from a stranger.  This is a very creepy story and a good reason for why you should never answer a call or text from an unknown number.

Other good stories include “Suicide Mission” by David Perlmutter about a very odd seven-year-old terrorist who may have built the perfect bomb; “Throwing Darts” by Gary J. Beharry about how fate intervenes in the life of a man who suddenly finds his life spiraling out of control; and “Station Six” by David Martinez about a man who meets his ideal woman through an internet dating site.

All of the stories were pretty good but I found the book as a whole was average.  However, don’t write it off.  They are all well-written and Ms. Wildman’s editing is top notch.  I personally prefer something a bit more extreme but if that’s not your bag then FIRST CUT is a good book to pick up.

-Colleen Wanglund
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REVIVE by Thomas James Brown (2011 Lulu Publishers / 200 pp / tp)

It is Christmas time and the holiday rush is on.  Phil lost his construction job and is trying to support his wife and kids as a department store Santa.  He is miserable and worried his wife will find out.  Looking for a quiet place to relax and have some coffee, Phil has stumbled upon an out-of-the-way coffee shop called Revive.  Phil has also recently been spooked by some very scary hallucinations while at work—those of an emaciated young girl.

Tammy is hoping to help support her sick mother and two younger brothers as well as try to make a nice Christmas for them.  Getting a job at Revive, she is surprised the place can make any money.  It seems as though the only people ever in the coffee shop are a handful of withered old regulars.  What Tammy doesn’t know is that in an attempt to save the family business, Norman has changed his coffee supplier to someone cheaper.  Rhonda seems to be the only one who can sense that something isn’t quite right, although Tammy has begun to see things that shouldn’t be there.

Christmas Eve and just hours before midnight the regulars have gathered at Revive for their usual coffees and snacks.  Something was not right with the newer coffee beans and tonight Tammy, Phil and the regulars of Revive will find out too late what drinking the coffee has done.

At its core REVIVE is a zombie story with a very unique means of infection.  It is deliberately paced and subtle in its delivery but when the story reaches its climax it hits quick and hard.  Both Tammy and Phil are good people down on their luck and just trying to get through the holiday season.  They each have their issues but in the grand scheme of things, it all really just comes down to survival.  All of the characters are well developed and most are likeable and sympathetic.  I loved how the story kept me reading and wondering what was going to finally happen.  In the end Revive delivers the goods with while not a totally unexpected ending, certainly an interesting one.  Thomas James Brown has added a subtlety to zombies that I really enjoyed.

-Colleen Wanglund
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UNDEAD NOCTURNE: EVEN DEAD MEN DIE by William Todd Rose (2011 Smashwords 2011 / 26 pp / eBook)

Maxwell Lazlow is a private investigator in the corrupt town of Beat City.  He is looking for a missing woman named Ginger, who also happens to be his sister.  He has followed Demetrius Sloan, the man Ginger worked for, to the docks late one night.  Sloan, the biggest crime lord in the city is waiting for a cargo ship from Thailand.

Sloan’s men discover Max and just when it looks like Max’s life is going to end, the cargo ship crashes into the docks and the crew leap overboard, attacking Sloan’s men.  Max gets away and with the help of a good cop finds Sloan’s warehouse.  Max discovers the cargo and is horrified by what he sees. What does Sloan have planned for his unique and deadly cargo?  Will Max survive long enough to find out?

The first in a planned series, UNDEAD NOCTURNE is a well-written novella with engaging characters and a nicely paced story.  Max Lazlow is a likeable character and Sloan is a real bastard who you will love to hate.  Even though UNDEAD NOCTURNE is about the zombie apocalypse, it has a great noir feel to it.  It’s a quick read, mostly because I couldn’t put it down.  I love zombies and William Todd Rose always writes them very well.

-Colleen Wanglund
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EVE HALLOWS AND THE BOOK OF SHRIEKS by Robert Gray (2011 CreateSpace / 252 pp / tp & eBook)

Not only is this one of THE best-looking self-published books I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing – excellent cover, excellent layout, clean and crisp appearance, professional; I had a hard time believing it WAS a self-pub, had to check and re-check to make sure I wasn’t just missing the company logo somehow – it’s also one of THE most enjoyable reads of what’s been an enjoyable-reads month!

In a very, very different way, of course … in a TBR pile of hardcore horror, gore, and porn, suddenly I’m reading a delightful and quirky YA/kid’s book! One that is as fun, engaging, spooky-charming and all-around awesome as can be. 

Eve Hallows is an ordinary fourteen-year-old girl, or, as ordinary as a fourteen-year-old girl can be when you’re the only human in Gravesville, the dark monster-world where horrible means wonderful, and adorable means awful beyond belief. With a shapeshifter dad, a vampire grandma and werewolf grandpa, a snake-haired Gorgon for a mom and a ghoul for a little brother, and a creepy haunted castle to call home. Sure, Eve often feels disappointed and left out by being so un-monster-y, but she’s happy with her horrible, horrible life. 

Then it all goes wrong. The inhabitants of Gravesville are in danger, threatened by a mysterious organization known as The Source. Someone needs to go undercover and try to find out what’s going on, and Eve’s dad is the monster for the job. 

Any teenager could tell you how much they hate having to move, to leave their friends, and start over at a new school with a bunch of strangers … but Eve and her family are relocating to the human world! It’s a definite fate worse than death, undeath, or anything else. They’ll have a normal human house, interact daily (DAILY, as in, when there’s SUNSHINE) with normal humans, operate a normal human pizza parlor, and Eve will have to go to normal human high school! 

Of course, that’s just the beginning of Eve’s troubles. Not only does she have mocking mean girls and a cute boy crush to deal with, not only is the principal a Halloween-hating grump, she soon finds herself caught in the middle of The Source’s plot. It could be up to Eve and her handful of misfit friends to save the day for humans and monsters alike!

So, move over, Neil Gaiman’sCORALINE and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK … make room, Lemony Snicket’s A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS … you’ve got company and competition for shelf space!

-Christine Morgan
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THE MILL by Mark West (2011 Greyhart Press / 39 pp / eBook chapbook)

West's chapbook deals with a group of people who meet to counsel each other over the recent loss of a loved ones.  When Michael's wife Nicola succumbs to breast cancer, he begins having strange dreams that a counselor had warned him about.  He soon discovers that Saskia (another recent widow) has been having similar dreams about a local place where an old mill once stood.

THE MILL is a depressing yet eerie ghost story featuring some sharp writing and a dark yet comforting ending.  Fans of Gary A. Braunbeck will eat this up.

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NEXT MONTH:

Jessie Shimmer returns in Lucy A. Snyder's SWITCHBLADE GODDESS, Linda Addison's HOW TO RECOGNIZE A DEMON HAS BECOME YOUR FRIEND, William Ollie's PITCH, and many more...

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