Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May, 2012 Reviews

MAY, 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)


(We begin this issue with Nick & Christine's annual DUAL review of the latest Bentley Little novel...)




THE HAUNTED by Bentley Little (2012 Signet / 389 pp / mmp)

Julian and Claire Perry, along with their young son and teenage daughter, move to a better neighborhood in New Mexico.  They love the new house, although each one begins to have issues with it, stemming from similar nightmares they share as well as sightings of a creepy old man in the basement.

Each family member then becomes haunted in different ways: daughter Megan begins receiving perverted (and then deadly) messages on her cell phone with no return number; son James partakes in a game of Old Maid where the Maid becomes all to real...and threatening, and for some reason finds himself craving dirt as a snack (!).  Julian begins having unusual sexual desires for Claire, and starts seeing the man in the basement outside of the house (it's later learned he's a homeless man who had died in their basement).  And Claire--haunted by the death of a child--begins to research their house and community at a local library.  Of course what she finds is anything but positive.

The first half of THE HAUNTED ranks within the top five of Little's scariest novels: he gets the goosebumps going, and despite the familiarity of a haunted house tale, manages to get under the reader's skin and pull out a few surprises (especially when we learn what this thing is that's driving the Perry family crazy).  But it seems as if Little has held back here: readers expecting things to get as demented as in past novels may be a bit disappointed.  His macabre edge has taken a holiday this time out; things DO begin to head in that direction, but not to the extent of novels such as THE MAILMAN or THE RESORT.  

Little's 22nd novel blends the classic story line of his older novels with the emotion of his more recent experiments, resulting in a horror tale that--while satisfying--may leave some of the author's fans wanting more.

A slightly above average outing, worth it for the aforementioned first-half's chill factor.

Smell Rating: 4

-Nick Cato




THE HAUNTED by Bentley Little (2012 Signet / 389 pp / mmp)



You know how, in most of those haunted house stories, be they book or movie, the family who moves into the new place spends most of their time and energy on the denial treadmill? 

Insisting there’s no such thing as ghosts, haunting isn’t real, telling themselves they didn’t really experience that, looking for logical explanations? Not leaving, and not leaving, and not leaving? While the evidence piles up until you just want to scream at them to quit being idiots?

That’s one of the tropes Bentley Little decides to turn on its head in his latest book. Right from the get-go, the characters are up-front and accepting about the house being haunted (they each don’t want to be the first one to bring it up, obviously). There’s ghosts, it’s dangerous, they KNOW this, and still, they don’t leave. 

Why not? Well, for the real-world reasons most of us would hesitate. In this economy? After already going through the hassles of loans, mortgages, paperwork? Can we afford it? Could we even find a buyer? In any sort of good conscience, CAN we foist this place off on some other unsuspecting sap? And so on. 

Add in assorted family drama (in-laws, a past tragedy/mystery) and other issues (weird behavior from the neighbors), and you’ve got a tense, understandable, believable, frustrating mess that the Perrys have landed in. 

Then just add evil. Things inexplicably getting moved around. Creepy, nasty text and computer messages. Obsessions. Glimpses of a figure in the basement. Discoveries about the house’s history … not only the house, but the entire area … 

Overall, I didn’t find it as enjoyable as others of Little’s works – THE STORE, THE ASSOCIATION, THE IGNORED, or DOMINION, for instance – but a good read with solid characters. There were maybe a few elements left unresolved, but some fun touches and memorable chills.

-Christine Morgan




ANIMOSITY by James Newman (2011 Necessary Evil Press / 236 pp  /  limited edition hc and eBook)

Andy Holland is a successful horror writer, both for adults and with a Young Adult novel series.  He had a beautiful wife Karen until a recent divorce and has a young daughter Samantha, who is the most important person in Andy’s life.  Andy still lives in the same house in a neighborhood that he thought couldn’t be more perfect.  It was safe and his neighbors were friendly….until the day, while out walking his dog, Andy discovers the dead body of a little girl.

Andy is horrified by what he sees, but manages to wrangle the dog and get back home to call the police.  What Andy doesn’t realize is that his seemingly good life is about to slowly unravel.  It begins with the police questioning him as though he may be a suspect.  It seems something from Andy’s past is now coming back to haunt him.  As time passes, the neighbors are no longer friendly and the news reports focus more on a stupid mistake made when he was young instead of the girl and her rape and murder.  They stop speaking to him and begin to take out their suspicions on his property.  Initially Andy tries to rationalize their behavior, until they kill his dog.  It seems the once friendly neighbors now believe that Andy is a pedophile/murderer….all because he is a writer of horror fiction.  I mean, anyone who can dream up such horrible things must be an evil person, right?

What strikes me about ANIMOSITY is that these are normal and generally good people, but the mob mentality sets in with a vengeance, making for a potentially real scenario and a very scary final confrontation.  The writing is wonderful and flows without a hitch and Newman’s character development is perfect.  As shocking as the events in the story are, I could see something like this happening, especially in a small, tight-knit community.  With a revealing introduction by author Ray Garton and fantastic illustrations by Alex McVey, ANIMOSITY is definitely one to get your hands on.  And beware of the neighbors.

-Colleen Wanglund



THE TROUBLE WITH HAIRY by Hal Bodner (2012 CreateSpace / 442 pp / eBook and tp)

In this sequel to Bodner's 2005 novel BITE CLUB, a series of pet deaths hits West Hollywood,  and while the police take notice, they don't take action until human corpses start piling up.  Coroner Becky O'Brien notices a similarity with each victim, and not only by how they died: they each happened to be gay men, which reminds her of the vampire attacks of a few years earlier.

When two old women discover a naked man eating one of their pets in their backyard, he is arrested--and when Becky catches wind of this, she contacts gay vampire Chris to once again come in and help the police identify the suspect.  Chris arrives with his boyfriend Troy (much of their dialogue is hysterical) and it doesn't take long for Chris to realize the naked man in police custody is actually a werewolf, one of many living in the area.

Once Bodner gets things going, the laughs come fast and furious, as do several suspense scenes that'll have you tearing through the pages.  One chapter featuring City Manager Pamela Burman who--while "babysitting" the werewolf suspect--takes him out to a fancy restaurant and things (of course) go haywire.  This whole segment had me laughing out loud, and was just a taste of things to come in the second half of the novel.

This is a smart, finely-crafted horror comedy, its only flaw being a bit TOO much character background given when things start to take off: these several areas slow the pace down, but it's worth sifting through the info. overload to get to the goods.

If horror comedies are your thing, this should be right up your alley.




CONTAINMENT ROOM 7 by Bryan Hall (2011 Permuted Press / 240 pp / tp & eBook)



Sci-fi horror in space is something that we don’t seem to get nearly enough of, but CONTAINMENT ROOM 7 goes a ways toward making up for that lack. 

Welcome to DARC12, a Deep-space Atomic Research Craft, a ship so enormous and with such an extensive crew that it is to all intents and purposes its own starfaring small town. Living areas, entertainment and recreation facilities, shopping areas … everything to keep people occupied and less likely to crack under the psychological strain. 

Plus, there’s the science decks, where various research projects and experiments are conducted. Things not necessarily strictly legal on Earth, but, close enough in the space equivalent of international waters. On one of these science decks is Bio-lab 5, and in Bio-lab 5 is containment room 7, and that’s where it all starts going wrong. 

Well, technically, it starts going wrong a bit before then. It starts going wrong when, during the course of a mission observing a black hole, the ship’s scanners detect an object emerging. It appears to be organic material rather than mere rock. They bring it aboard for further study. The initial tests turn up nothing conclusive, but the object itself proves to have a disturbing effect on some of the crew. They’re hearing voices, having strange thoughts, becoming obsessed with the thing. Then the killing starts. 

And oh wow is there a lot of killing! Bad as it is to have a single murderer loose on board, what do you do when there’s several? What do you do when the madness spreads? What do you do when corpses start disappearing and lab animals escape? What CAN you do, when this is happening on a spaceship? When you’re the head of a dwindling security force and one of an even more dwindling group of survivors? It’s got intense remoteness, isolation and claustrophobia aspects – there’s no escape, nowhere to go, the surrounding environment is even deadlier than the threats on board, help is far beyond reach. 

The characters are memorable and strong, with believable relationships that enhance the story. The pace never lets up, the violence is gooshy and visceral, the technology is presented in natural and understandable ways even to the non-savvy like me, the writing is good. 

Really, my only complaint with the whole book is that it uses “alright,” and that’s just one of those that I know I have to get used to, language changes and evolves, etc. … but still gets under my skin. I’d love to see CONTAINMENT ROOM 7 done on film, or maybe as a video game; it’s got all the right elements.

-Christine Morgan



DEAD HUNGER II: THE GEM CARDOZA CHRONICLE by Eric A. Shelman (2012 Dolphin Moon Publishing / 350 pp / tp)

Flex, Hemp, Gem, Charlie and Trina are back in the sequel to DEAD HUNGER: THE FLEX SHERIDAN CHRONICLE and they have recently lost the safety of Flex’s home in the Georgia woods and are on the move.  They stop back at the CDC to get Max, Cynthia and Taylor, who are running out of power and in danger of being overrun by zombies.  The ragtag group of survivors decides to make their way into Alabama to a military facility where they might be able to get some help and give them any information Hemp has discovered through his experiments on the undead.

In the first DEAD HUNGER, the virus attacked the living with symptoms of severe headaches prior to turning.  Now they have discovered that after prolonged heavy rains, the previously dead are making their way out of the cemeteries.  The group finds an almost empty steel warehouse that proves to be perfect for their needs—a safe place to hide and where Hemp the scientist can continue his research.  While out on various supply runs, the group discovers something strange occurring to poison ivy plants.  They also discover something very odd in pools of standing water.  After Hemp makes some very good progress, the group decides it is time to move on and possibly find other survivors and maybe help end the zombie scourge ravaging civilization.

DEAD HUNGER II picks up right where the first novel left off, after Gem’s very brief description of her experiences with the outbreak before making her way to finding Flex (the story is told entirely from Gem’s point of view, like a journal).  The continuing story and character development are very good and as strong as in DEAD HUNGER.  I have some issues where certain scenarios seem too-good-to-be-true and some incidents a little too convenient, but there is plenty of gore and zombie action to make up for that.  These are so far the ultimate survivors who just might end up saving the world.  DEAD HUNGER II is a lot of fun and keeps a good pace.  I will say that you must read the first book before reading this one so you are up on all that is happening.  Overall I think the series is a good one and I look forward to more DEAD HUNGER CHRONICLES from Eric Shelman.

-Colleen Wanglund



AS I EMBRACE MY JAGGED EDGES by Lee Thompson (2011 Sideshow Digital / 28 pp / eBook-chapbook)

Thompson's brief tale gives a modern spin on the Golem story, and ads an interesting Jewish family-battling-ancient-evil spin on things.  With a twist ending and some truly disturbing ideas, this is a fine introduction to an author I'll definitely be reading more from.



THE LOON by Michaelbrent Collings (2011 CreateSpace / 372 pp / tp & eBook)

It’s always so nice to find one where hardcore asylum-crazy is done RIGHT! As opposed to, say, the Hollywood version. 

The Crane Institute – known as the Loon to anyone not within earshot of Dr. Crane, who doesn’t find it even slightly humorous – is not a place with therapy groups, crafts, or quirky patients who are well-groomed and really just misunderstood. 

It’s a scary place. A scary place of restraints, heavy medication, and staff who take the security measures very seriously. It’s a prison of the old school, a fortress, a hulking pile of thick walls, locked doors and bars. 

It’s where the worst of the worst are kept. Mentally ill offenders, in the legal parlance. Effin’ sick monsters, in other words. These guys aren’t here to be counseled, treated, rehabilitated or cured. They are here because since we can’t exactly put them down like rabid dogs, they’ve gotta be kept somewhere. 

So, yes, in terms of the setting and psychopathology, the author nails it. In terms of realistic characters who have reasons to be where they are, also nails it. In terms of writing, dialogue, action, everything. Nails it!

And in terms of the trope where your characters are someplace already isolated and dangerous, and you want to cut them off further from rescue/escape? Instead of the Total Coincidental Storm Of The Century popping up midway through out of nowhere, this time it’s established right from the beginning, taken into account, and plausible. 

Even the plot with the woman and her kid who show up makes sense. When you’re on the run from such a bad scenario that seeking refuge at the asylum seems safer, you know things have really hit the fan. 

All that, plus Dr. Crane turns out to be a mad scientist conducting heinous experiments? Something even deadlier than the inmates lurks in the hidden recesses of the Loon?  Something that gets OUT to go on a ravenous rampage? Awwww yeah! 

But, you know what? I was hooked long before any of that. I was hooked by the prologue, which presents the tragic anguish and agony of a parent facing the most terrible possible loss in a too-true and heartwrenching way. 

THE LOON is, hands down, an excellent book. I read it in the span of two days and would have finished it even quicker if there hadn’t been all these WHC panels and events that kept getting in the way!

-Christine Morgan


PARADIGMS OF SUFFERING: DIG THE KNIFE DEEPER by Greg Dixon (2011Visions Given Life Publishing  /  212 pp / tp)

In this fourth installment of the PARADIGMS OF SUFFERING series of books, Greg Dixon has managed to continue his stories of the macabre and extreme.

The first novella-length story is entitled “Worked to Death.”  Kevin has left his former employer and joined the internship program of the biggest and best property appraisal firm in Florida.  He soon discovers the program, as well as the company, is not what he bargained for.  Hours are ridiculously long, the workload never ceases to end, and the company seems to be using illegal and unethical tactics to maintain their status and earnings.  It is seriously stressed to the interns that they may not go to the second floor, where all of the real action takes place until they have completed their rigorous training.  The general consensus is that the firm will work their employees to death.  Unfortunately for Kevin, he is about to discover just how true that statement really is.

The second story is “The Family that Preys Together” and begins with a career criminal staking out a home for burglary while the owners are having a yard sale.  He plans to return later with an excuse to get into the house and see the layout.  Tim has decided that this will be the last job of his crew in the current town because the police are on to them.  What Tim doesn’t know is that his potential victim knows who he is.  When Tim returns to the house later in the evening he is invited in.  What Tim doesn’t realize until it’s too late is that his life of crime is about to come to an abrupt and painful end.

The third and final story is “Tracking Carrie (Next Day Delivery)” and tells the story of Carrie, a girl who just can’t seem to catch a break in her life.  She has a job delivering packages, and her father (whom she does not get along with) has recently moved in with her.  Carrie is not happy.  Carrie has been making regular deliveries to Jonathan, who has taken an interest in Carrie.  She thinks he’s creepy but he has convinced her that he’s giving some good advice—a form of therapy.  Carrie decides she’s going to leave her hometown and start over again in California, and she’s convinced that it was Jonathan’s therapy that has helped her.  Jonathan did not intend for Carrie to make her own changes to her life.  He expected to make those changes for her—through death and rebirth.  What’s truly horrifying about this one is discovering the people from Carrie’s life who are in collusion with Jonathan’s plans.

I have read Dixon’s previous PARADIGMS OF SUFFERING and this one lives up to all of my expectations.  The horror is extreme—just how I like it—and the people and circumstances are truly twisted.  Dixon’s writing is poetic and descriptive, allowing for the dark beauty of the gore to shine through.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the POS series of books are all self-published.  They are beautifully done and expertly edited.  I highly recommend all of the PARADIGMS OF SUFFERING.  I, for one, can’t wait to read more by Greg Dixon.

-Colleen Wanglund


PREVIEW:


WUFTOOM by Mary G. Thompson (to be released 5/8/12 by Clarion Books / 250 pp / hc)

For two years, Evan has been bedridden.  No doctor can explain what is wrong with him, but a worm-like creature who visits him in the night informs him he is becoming one of them.  Evan is also visited by a Vitfly, a winged creature who attempts to use him to locate the hideout of the Wuftoom, the name of the race of worms Evan is transforming into.  As a bribe, the Vitfly manages to let Evan "enter" some of the kids at his school, giving him a taste of what he's been missing since becoming ill.

Evan eventually turns into one of the Wuftoom, yet his mind remains mostly human: his memories of his human mother continually haunt him, something the elder Wuftoom tell him must stop if he is to survive in his new state.  But as Evan learns to live in his new body, and use Wuftoom-designed hunting weapons, the Vitflies get to him: Evan is faced with defending his new race, or selling them out so the Vitflies don't eat his mother.  An inevitable war between Wuftoom and Vitfly ensues, leading up to a heartbreaking but satisfying conclusion.

WUFTOOM is an inventive dark fantasy, loaded with creepy crawlers, savage battles, and a host of interesting characters (both human and non-human).  As a plus, it isn't afraid to hide the gruesomeness of what it must be like for a former human to live like an animal (some of the feeding scenes are quite grim, although written in a non-offensive manner).  But the novel's highlight is it's study of loyalty and the all-too human way Evan reacts to the new challenges he continually faces.

Yet another fine modern YA title that's equally as enjoyable for adults (not to mention the author's first novel).  Check it out.

Smell Rating: 1


A SUCCUBUS FOR HALLOWEEN by M.E. Hydra (2011 eXcessia publishing / 276 pp / tp)

Ooh, smut! 

Or, to be more precise, an entire collection of erotic horror with emphasis very much on the erotic. Some of the stories contained herein had appeared on Literotica, a site with which I’m more than passingly familiar – in fact, I discovered that I’d already enjoyed some of this author’s work!

The main theme here is monster-women. Demonic, mythic, alien, inhuman … but all of them beautiful, dangerous, powerful, strong, sexy, and ravenous. They prey on lusty men and drain them dry in more ways than one. 

And, wow … hot stuff here, more than a little disturbing HOW hot … if you like dominant females who use and discard men (I was going to put “chew them up and spit them out” but they don’t always spit them out!) … if you think all that schoolgirl-and-tentacle porn needs some equitable counterbalance … if “vore” doesn’t automatically send you screaming for the hills … this might be one for you. 

As the title suggests, the succubi are well-represented here, lots of sexbomb demonesses with wings and tails, stealers of semen and souls and life-essence. But there’s also a naga, and sirens, and crab-centaur girls, and fetishes-brought-to-life in ways that boggle the imagination. 

The writing is … vivid, to say the least! Lots of description in lots of detail, lots of action also in vivid detail. There isn’t the sort of violence, mutilation and gore you might find in other books (of which I’ve also reviewed more than a few); the victimization here is pretty much of the men and whether they deserve it or not varies but most of them love it right up until it’s too late. 

A SUCCUBUS FOR HALLOWEEN is kinky and depraved, a sensory feast of wicked sex-gluttony. I enjoyed it far more than is probably decent to admit!

-Christine Morgan


THE RETURN MAN by V.M. Zito (2012 Orbit Books / 448 pp / mmp)

The western half of the United States, from the Mississippi River has been devastated by a zombie outbreak.  Referred to as the Evacuated States, there is a permanent quarantine in place.  The eastern United States are over-crowded by millions, the economy is lousy, and food is at a premium because of the devastation done to the American farmland.  Marco never left the Evacuated States.  He lives in a compound in Arizona, with the hope of finding his wife, alive or zombie.  Along with his brother-in-law in the Safe States, Marco takes contracts from people to locate their loved ones and put them out of their undead misery.

In Marco’s previous life he was a neurologist who worked with friend and mentor Roger Ballard.  Ballard was close to finding the cause and a vaccine when the military prison in which he was doing his research became overrun.  Now the new government wants Marco to find Ballard and either bring him, or his research back before others find him.  Marco is in a race against time to find Ballard before a Chinese operative or a ruthless militia called The Horsemen can get to him.

I have read a ton of zombie lit….more books than I can count.  Some have been good, some great, and others not so great (and yes occasionally the truly awful).  THE RETURN MAN is one of the great ones.  Zito has written a solid story with plenty of zombie goodness and gore and his character development is perfect.  I really empathized with Marco and understood his reasons for staying in the infected part of the country.  What really stands out for me, though, is the explanation for what has caused the outbreak.  It’s based in legitimate science, which actually scares the crap out of me.  He has also brought out major political implications in the story, both at home and abroad.  This isn’t world-wide, but could the outbreak escape the quarantined area?  Is this a bio-weapon—or could it become one?  What did the government know and when did they know it?  THE RETURN MAN is an excellent addition to the zombie sub-genre and you should definitely add it to your library.

-Colleen Wanglund


PREVIEW:


THE FRENZY WAR by Gregory Lamberson (to be released 6/12 by Medallion Press / 392 pp / tp)

The second installment in Lamberson's "Frenzy Series" picks up two years after the events of THE FRENZY WAY.  With serial killer/werewolf Rodrigo Gomez behind bars, things have been quiet in New York City.  Mace--the hero cop who put Gomez away--is now taking it easy, working with a K-9 unit in Brooklyn as his wife Cheryl's local news career begins to take off.  But when a murder and kidnapping at a Manhattan occult book store shows signs of involvement from the Brotherhood of Turquemadans (a top secret, Vatican-sponsored werewolf exterminating squad), Mace is called back into the game to head a secret NYPD operation to weed them out.  And when the Brotherhood begin blowing up known wolf hideouts, Mace's team (as well as the FBI and National Guard) go after them as they would a terrorist cell.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood torture bookstore clerk Rhonda, she a werewolf, in an attempt to obtain info on her fellow wolves' wereabouts.  All hell breaks loose when--on the eve of a groundbreaking live TV interview with Rodrigo Gomez from prison--the Brotherhood manage to abduct Cheryl, throwing her in the same holding pen as Rhonda.

Mace is now forced to team-up with Gabriel, the head wolf of the greater New York Pack, to rescue both his wife and Rhonda.  During these happenings, future police lieutenant Willy learns a dark secret about his co-worker/girlfriend Karol, and the Brotherhood are on the verge of releasing a video that will finally convince the world werewolves are all too real.

THE FRENZY WAR is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of action, violence, and intrigue that builds suspense right up to the last page.  Lamberson employs a large cast, but the reader is never confused despite the ever-growing chaos.  While you won't be lost if you've missed the first novel, I'm betting this is essential reading before the third book, which can't arrive fast enough.

A total blast of shape-shifting mayhem that'll have you wondering just whose side you're on.  GREAT wrap-around cover art by Patrick Reilly, too.

Smell Rating: 1


GARGOYLE GIRLS OF SPIDER ISLAND by Cameron Pierce (2011 Eraserhead Press / 100 pp / tp & eBook)

Yes, the title sounds like a vintage schlock horror movie or a made-for-SyFy original … the kind of thing with hilariously bad special effects and actors nobody’s ever heard of or will ever be seen again. 

It may even start out that way, what with the college kids out on the boat for a weekend of surf, sun, beer, and bikinis. 

Sure, Allan’s an oaf and Jane’s a first-class bitch, but Oscar hopes this might be his big opportunity to get out of the friend-zone with Collette. 

But then there’s machete-waving pirates, and then there’s a shark … 

And then it takes a sharp left turn into sheer WTF, accelerates, and keeps on going. 

By the time you’re getting to the parts where multi-orificed vagina-dentata blob monsters are raping guys to death … or someone hiding a stick of dynamite where the sun doesn’t shine seems like a perfectly sensible strategy … 

You know those delirium nightmares you get when you’re running an off-the-charts fever, on epic doses of meds, and you wake up not sure what reality you’re in? This book is a lot like that. 

Really, once you begin reading, the best you can do is check your brain at the door, buckle up, and hold on.

-Christine Morgan


THE SILVER COAST AND OTHER STORIES by Daniel Powell (2012 Distillations Press / 225 pp / tp)

THE SILVER COAST AND OTHER STORIES is a collection of eleven stories that deal with the human condition in all its gory glory and the victims left in its wake.

One of my favorites is “Charts and Graphs” about a college professor who begins receiving harassing charts and graphs that seemed to document Emerson’s life spiraling out of control.  He becomes obsessed until he finds the person responsible, but he learns how to get his revenge and possibly get his life back.

Another favorite is “The Mermaids of Ichnipopka Springs” about a small town in Florida with thriving citrus crops year after year.  A group of researchers have learned about the odd phenomenon but are unwittingly thrown into a deadly ritual to ensure those annual bumper crops.

Other very good stories include “Permission” about a man who is told to ask for help so that something can be done about a bad person—but who is he asking, God or the Devil? “The Silver Coast” about a special boxing match to save the human race from murderous aliens; “Life on the Other Side” about a post-apocalyptic world that has been shaken by the Silence Virus and a man’s determination to get into the containment zone to find his wife; and “A Daughter Crosses the Desert” another post-apocalyptic tale set in a nuclear ravaged future where a couple hopes to find some help before the birth of their daughter.

All of the stories in this collection are good ones, although I found myself liking some much more than others.  Powell’s writing style is very good and does make even the few stories that I found less than stellar to at least still be entertaining.  It’s definitely worth a look.

-Colleen Wanglund



TORN by Lee Thomas (2011 Cemetery Dance Publications / 130 pp / limited edition hardcover)

Lee Thomas delivers the latest installment in Cemetery Dance's novella series, this time pitting a small town sheriff against a group of shape-shifting creatures.

Sheriff Bill Cranston's wife self-medicates in retaliation to an affair she's convinced he's having while their two young daughters are hardly looked after.  With his home life in turmoil, Cranston is called to investigate the disappearance of a young girl named Maggie.  They discover her in the woods, tied to stakes, yet unharmed; turns out she was used as bait by a werewolf-like creature to send a message.  The creature also savagely kills Arthur, a man who volunteered to search for Maggie, then seemingly vanishes despite being shot twice by Cranston.

The next day Cranston learns a suspect has been caught; in his jail's small cell is Douglas Sykes, a nutcase who answer questions in poetic riddles and has the same bullet wounds on him as the creature he had shot the previous evening.  Sykes then delivers a warning that a group of creatures are about to attack the small town of Luther's Bend, looking for him.  Cranston eventually believes Sykes is indeed a shape-shifting creature, and takes precautions in an attempt to protect his family and his town.  An exciting and gruesome battle soon plays out at the police station.

TORN is a top-notch novella that packs as much punch as most full-length novels.  Lee's creature feature also deals with Cranston's inner demons, and will leave the reader with much food for self-contemplation.  This is a smart, expertly-written graphic horror tale enhanced by some great interior artwork by Vincent Chong.

Smell Rating: 2


GENITAL GRINDER by Ryan Harding (2012 Deadite Press / 168 pp / tp & eBook)

When a prologue entitled “Enjoy the Gang-Rape” by Edward Lee warns you what you’re getting into, including the phrase even more fucked up in the head than ME, you might want to strongly consider the advice, and the source. You might want to reconsider the book in your hands. 

Of course, if you’re the type of person who’d pick up a book called GENITAL GRINDER in the first place, hey, it’s probably too late for you already. Even so, you might be in for some shocking, revolting, or nasty surprises along the way. 

Ryan Harding’s collection of cleverly interconnected tales is, well, it’s … gross. Really, really, seriously, sincerely gross. 

“Bottom Feeder,” the first story, involves a guy so desperate at last call that he goes home with a fat chick, and everyone knows how pathetically eager for any kind of attention THEY are … yuck. Sorry. That whole dynamic is one that offends and pisses me off. So! Movin’ on. 

“Damaged Goods” features Von and Greg, the Disgusting Duo, who possess between them just about any repulsive habit you’d be better off not imagining. Their idea of a lucky night is one in which they find a hit-and-run victim still fresh roadkill and bring her home for a good time. 

“Sharing Needles” is a creepy story in which the true identity of a serial killer hits too close to home, and plots of revenge, murder and alibis get all tangled up in an evil battle of wits and wills. 

“Genital Grinder: A Snuff Film in Five Acts” continues the sick adventures of Von and Greg, when the pair take it into their heads to create the world’s first actual genuine sex-murder movie. Suffice to say, there’s a lot more murder than sex, and it is by no means quick clean murder. This is where the mutilation factor ramps waaaaaaaay up, plus messy discharge and maggots and fun stuff like that. 

“Development” takes the form of a series of journal entries by a guy who learns a lot of local secrets and kinks courtesy of his job developing photographic film (back in our day, junior, cameras used FILM!), and this leads him to the acquaintance of a man with a basement full of kidnapped, shacked sex-slaves. 

“Emissary” involves films of yet another kind than snuff or photographic, though not too far removed from the latter … a video store employee with a thing for gruesome deaths caught on tape wonders if there’s a conspiracy going on when he starts seeing some of the ‘stars’ going around alive and well. 

Then it’s time for “Genital Grinder II: Dis-Membered,” in which Von and Greg return yet again with another brilliant money-making scheme to hold a dick for ransom (yes, it IS what you’re probably thinking), but it all goes terribly wrong. There’s more mutilation, there’s creative surgeries and more creative culinary efforts … Von and Greg have a friend named Sammy who makes even THEM look halfway tame … it’s so far beyond wrong you can’t even see ‘wrong’ from there. 

“Final Indication” is the last story, a surreal look at the Y2K hysteria combined with art and infection and suggestibility and more. I suspect it was more profound than I was able to give it credit for, mostly because my brain was (and is) still reeling from the preceding stories. 

Overall, the most positive thing I can think of to say about GENITAL GRINDER is “hey, at least there’s bad shit happening to the MALE characters, too, at least the mutilation and abuse is more equitable than most …” 

Okay, when THAT’S the most positive thing I can think of, and I have a sufficient range of comparison TO say it, I may need to reevaluate my reading habits … ahh, but who’m I kidding? 

But, yeah, Ed Lee may have been right!

-Christine Morgan


HARRY WALL'S MAN by John Leahy (2011 Malange Books, LLC  / 58 pp / eBook)

After famous architect Harry Wall dies of a drug overdose, his former wife contacts another architect, Ridley Case, to help her understand what was going through her ex-husband's head during his final days.

It turns out Harry's last creation--a 29-story building shaped like a man--is made of a most unusual steel, one that's known for moving on its own. Ridley, along with a website geek, manage to get a room in the building and try to help the current residents who are unknowingly fueling the building as it slowly begins to...come alive. But Ridley finds out too late the geek had other plans.

HARRY WALL'S MAN is an inventive dark fantasy, although it ends a bit too abruptly for my taste. I'll definitely be keeping my eye on Leahy.


BENJAMIN'S PARASITE by Jeff Strand (2009 Delirium Books / 232 pp / hc, tp, & eBook)

If Janet Evanovich decided to collaborate with Ed Lee to write wacky whacked-out body horror, the results would be something like this. 

BENJAMIN'S PARASITE is laugh-out-loud hilarity even as it’s shriek-and-flinch grotesque. It sustains both, at full throttle, from start to finish, with the manic glee that only someone like Jeff Strand can pull off. 

The story begins with a teenager attacking his mom with a meat cleaver, and that’s just the opening scene. Naturally, they’d like to blame it on those violent video games, but little does anyone know what really made the kid go berserk. 

Until, that is, his high school English teacher gets too close at the funeral and picks up a very special passenger. Benjamin Wilson can hardly believe one of his students would do such a thing. Then again, he’ll also be hardly able to believe what’s happening to him. 

The parasite takes up residence in his intestines and amplifies his urges to the point of obsession. A weakness for chocolate becomes a gluttonous binge, the libido dial gets turned to eleven, a fondness for gambling quicky leads to addiction, temper flares, and so on. 

The bigger the parasite gets, the stronger the impulses, but once the tummyache kicks in, Benjamin has much more to worry about. Ache becomes pain becomes razor-sharp gut-shredding torment. A trip to the emergency room later, he gets a look at what’s in there, and the horror goes into overdrive. 

But wait, that’s not all! See, certain factions and outside agencies KNOW about the parasite. They want it, for one reason or another. Before Benjamin can even fully adjust to the prospect of surgery, he’s abducted from the hospital and dragged into a whirlwind collision of plots involving bounty hunters, mercenaries, scientists and crime bosses. 

It’s road trip time, cross-country chase, the fun story of a guy and the parasite who really just wants to be his friend. And it would be The Awesomest Summer Movie EVER. 

One way or another, I guarantee, your stomach will hurt by the time you’re done reading!

-Christine Morgan


THE FLESH OF FALLEN ANGELS by Roy C. Booth and R. Thomas Riley (2012 Grand Mal Press / 178 pp / eBook)

Booth and Riley have saddled up a wild cast for this pulpy blast that's a cross between a spaghetti western and Tales from the Crypt's DEMON KNIGHT film.

Gibson Blount travels from town to town, attempting to protect citizens from the fallen angels who are bent on destroying everything in their path.  Told in a Now/Then format, the authors slowly reveal why Blount does what he does, culminating in a gory, action-packed finale that had me on the edge of my seat.

While demon-themed horror stories get tiring with the appearance of "Legion" in almost every one dating as far back as Blatty's THE EXORCIST, this time we're treated to a new take on demons and even hell itself.  Blount's allies--from a priest to a prostitute to the legendary confederate guerilla William Quantril--are all as interesting as he is, as are the several fallen angels attempting to take down the town and then the world.

Read after you roll a cigarillo and throw on your cowboy boots for maximum effect...


TENTACLE DEATH TRIP by Jordan Krall (2012 Eraserhead Press / 223 pp / tp and eBook)

It's 2035, ten years after World War III unleashed nuclear, chemical, and bio terrors across the globe.  America is now a neon wasteland populated by mutated people, animals, and con-artists who still know how to capitalize on any situation.

Mr. SIlver is one such shady character.  He organizes an anything-goes car race from Jersey City down to Atlantic City after hand-picking five of the country's best racers.  The winner is promised plenty of food and provisions, as well as residency on R'lyeh, a sparkling new city that has recently emerged from the depths off the Jersey coast.

The contestants are Samson, a man bent on finding the gang who raped his wife and kidnapped his son; Junko, a former slave who's adrenaline is pumped to be in his first race by himself; Gabby Peppermint, a spoiled rotten girl who murdered her family on her sweet sixteenth birthday; Mama Hell, a foul-mouthed holy roller; and Drac Dunwich, whose gasoline-filled crystal skull is almost as eerie to behold as his tentacle-jacked hot rod.  Each driver has a car rigged with various weapons, Mama Hell's saw-blade equipped mini-van being one of the coolest.

During the race, the drivers come across mutants, religious cults, strange animals, weird roadways, and endless, violent confrontations with each other.  Samson also rescues a young boy who becomes a pivotal part of the story.  Each character's background is colorful and is revealed at a nice pace.

The first half of TENTACLE DEATH TRIP reads like a stranger version of DEATH RACE 2000, and for a while I wondered if this would be nothing more than a bizarro version of the classic cult film.  But Krall kicks it into high gear during the second half, making his story so much more.  There's double crosses, plenty of well-placed humor, non-stop action, and during the psychadelic thrill-ride of a finale, we even get a father/son moment of (literal) bonding that's all heart.

With even more surprises not mentioned here, TENTACLE DEATH TRIP is easily one of Krall's finest--and funnest--offerings.  Buckle up...


NEXT MONTH:
We're catching up on a recent influx of review material, so submitters PLEASE continue to be patient.  We appreciate the time and money spent to send us your books and will get to each one in the order they're received.

We've just received Cemetery Dance's limited edition hardcover of the Bentley Little classic THE MAILMAN, and will have a full report...

NOTE: PLEASE avoid asking us to review your short story UNLESS it has been published in a physical chapbook form.  It is difficult to write a review for a 15-paged tale!

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