MARCH, 2013 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)
ROCK 'N' ROLL by L.L. Soares (2013 Gallows Press / 250 pp / tp)
Lash is a good looking guy who every woman wants ... but not just because he's handsome. He has a strange talent that enables those around him to experience super-enhanced sexual pleasure without him laying a finger on them. He makes a lot of money from his share of wealthy clients, and his ex-wife Lizzie is still obsessed with him, constantly sneaking into his house and begging for just one more roll in the hay ... because when Lash gets down on the floor and rolls around, he enters a trance-like state that has the aforementioned affect on people. Lizzie is the only one he has touched during this trance, and he's determined not to make that mistake again.
Lash is now trying to live a normal life with his new live-in girflriend, Miranda. He only gives her a small taste of his abilities, as he doesn't want to get her addicted like his ex-wife. And just when things begin to get on a semi-normal path, Lash goes to visit his best client and discovers him dead. The shock causes Lash to go into an uncontrollable roll-session that leads to his ability having much darker side effects.
ROCK 'N' ROLL is like an off-the-wall late night supernatural erotic thriller as directed by David Cronenberg. Soares blends several genres to deliver an original and quite difficult to put down tale (I read it in two sittings). There's wall-to-wall sex, but unlike a typical exploitation story it's key to the constantly-unfolding plot. This is a real wild ride that's highly recommended to those looking for something truly different.
BROKEN: STORIES OF DAMAGED PSYCHES by Weldon Burge (2-13 Smart Rhino Publications / 72 pp / tp & eBook)
This collection contains five dark and disturbing looks at five different kinds of madness, with tight writing and vivid characters.
“Sizzle” is a fun, nasty little tale about an unpleasant jerk of a doctor, whose even less pleasant new patient wants something cut out of his head before the evil little voices take control of his brain.
“Another Highway Fatality” brings the all-too-familiar paranoia of a woman alone late at night … or is it paranoia when the dangers are all too commonplace and real? … how do you know, and what do you do?
Whether you live in a part of the world that flips out at the first hint of snow, or whether you’re routinely digging out from roof-high drifts, “White Hell, Wisconsin” finds a way to make your winter driving even worse and more chilling.
“Permanent Detention” opens with three simple words that strike sympathetic terror into many, many souls: “I hate needles.” Yeesh. With a beginning like that, moving on to a story about a mean (and possibly monstrous) teacher is almost a relief. Until, of course, the end …
“Blue Eye Burn” is the saddest of the bunch, taking the familiar theme of the memory-haunted veteran and giving it a poignant twist of loss and even nostalgia. I finished it both wishing it had been longer and being glad it wasn’t, an uneasy state that means it was probably just right.
Young couple Chris and Ellie has moved more than halfway across the country to move into a house left to Chris by his favorite Aunt Lillith. The house and the land it sits on have been the subject of rumors for decades since the death of Lillith and her lover Gerald Destragis—rumors involving cult-like activity, child sacrifices, and demon worship.
Not long after Chris and Ellie arrive, strange things begin happening, including alarming changes in Chris’ behavior. Ellie believes she is a virtual prisoner of the house and property, but for what purpose? She has no cell phone service, the car was totaled in an accident, the bridge has washed out, and it seems as though the forest surrounding is physically keeping Ellie from leaving on foot. Meantime, Chris has met a strange woman in the woods and Ellie was attacked by a man in the basement of their home. Things get decidedly worse when from out of the blue, Ellie’s estranged sister Kat arrives for a visit and tells Ellie of the frightening meeting between herself and Lillith a few years before her death. There are also some very disturbing discoveries that Ellie makes about Lillith, Destragis, and Chris.
At first I was a bit disappointed when reading THE DARKEST LULLABY. I thought it was going to be predictable. I was so wrong. This is a well-written novel with many grim twists and turns. I was three-quarters of the way through the book before I realized what was really going on—and that made me happy. Character development is excellent. There were times I liked and then hated both Chris and Ellie at varying times in the story. They were truly fleshed-out individuals that I never ceased to react to. Do yourself a favor and pick up this creepy and chilling book. For a publishing company that started out doing romance titles, Samhain has been putting out some fantastic horror fiction.
HELLFIGHTER by David T. Wilbanks (2012 Acid Grave Press / 62 pp / eBook)
When the Conan-like Caddoc falls for a beautiful barmaid, she agrees to be with him IF he can manage to retrieve a rare green gem that's currently in the possession of a powerful wizard. Caddoc agrees (this woman must REALLY be good looking!) and begins his quest with the unlikely help of a slick demon and a strong priest. Along the way they encounter all kinds of strange monsters, fall into other dimensions, and even travel to hell itself.
With a wicked race of creatues known as Drakuli, non-stop bone-crushing violence, and even some humor thrown in, HELLFIGHTER is a fun read that can be consumed in one sitting...just like a good ale. Even if sword & sorcery isn't your thing, give this a try.
WOLF HUNTER by J.L. Benet (2012 Belfire Press / 200 pp / tp & eBook)
No full-moon madness, no contagious bites, no pack dynamics, no brooding-eyed pouty boys ready to rip off their shirts at a moment’s notice, and no tramp-stamp paranormal romance cover? Are you SURE this is a werewolf book?
Actually, it is; it just takes a look at several diverse and less-traditional approaches. From the opening scene when some chosen recruits undergo a Nazi experiment to create lycanthropic super-soldiers, to skinwalker spirit-mysticism and wanna-be Wiccans, there’s many paths the characters in WOLF HUNTER can follow in pursuit of their obsession. And none of them – the characters, that is, not the paths – are necessarily nice.
In fact, they’re pretty much a bunch of despicable, maladjusted losers. The guys are mostly bastards and abusive jerks; the girls are mostly needy and pathetic. Really, when the old Nazi is the most likeable and sympathetic? Eek.
Of course, what this boils down to is that it’s fun to see everybody getting the maulings and maimings they so richly deserve. It’s action-movie without the whole secret-hidden-society angles of the UNDERWORLD movie franchise or the White Wolf gaming line.
Despite some seeming inconsistencies, plot gaps and logic leaps that tripped me up a few times, I found it an entertaining read with good gore, vivid description, a smattering of perversity, and a neat blending of folklore and (mad) SCIENCE!!!
BLACK FEATHERS: THE BLACK DAWN VOLUME ONE by Joseph D'Lacey (to be released April, 2013 by Angry Robot Books / 377 pp / mmp & eBook)
This first installment of D'Lacey's Duology is part eco-terror, part dark fantasy, and parts pre and post apocalyptic horror.
The tale takes place in two times; one is the Black Dawn (close to our current time), where we follow the travels of fourteen year-old Gordon as the planet is in ecological collapse and his family have been taken by a growing, sinister new government. The second is in the future (known as the Bright Day), which deals with a young girl named Megan dealing with the aftermath of the Black Dawn. In both times, our young characters are on a quest to discover the meaning of the legendary Crowman, who may be the saviour of the world, or its curse ... or a bit of both.
D'Lacey fills this tale with a memorable cast (I particularly liked Megan's mentor, known only as Mr. Keeper), an aged mystic who leads her on her journey. Likewise, Gordon meets a small resistence group known as the Green Men, and becomes a member, but not all of them are of the same mindset.
Members of the new world goverment (known as The Ward) are deliciously wicked, especially their leader, Skelton, who uses nazi-like techniques to get information from turncoats and keeps his men in line with an iron fist.
The story plays out like a fantastical version of bible prophecy, and while it gets a tad preachy on ecological matters, it's quick, doesn't get annoying, and actually adds to the novel's overall chilling theme. With plenty of material to satisfy fans of multi genres, BLACK FEATHERS is a well-written (if at times familiar) epic tale that'll have you waiting impatiently for the second book.
DIEGESES by D. HARLAN WILSON (2013 Anti-Oedipus Press / 106 pp / eBook)
Wilson's latest is comprised of two novellas, each a bizarre trip through the eyes of a curious gent named Curd.
In 'The Bureau of Me,' a mysterious group attempt to get Curd to join their organization through the author's always mind-warping narrative. We're in some kind of futuristic society where cannibalism may or may not be symbolic and our anti-hero likes to drink profusely to try and figure things out. Curd eventually discovers the Bureau may be run by mothmen and deals with his constant dream-like state with more booze and having sex with his assistant known as Mz Hennington.
Curd returns in 'The Idaho Reality' as a soap opera star who goes by the name Seneca Beaulac. He attempts to deal with the unusual circumstances and technology he finds himself around. Told in short vignettes, this tale is like reading several mini-bizarro stories, one stranger (and more entertaining) than the next. We're constantly told Curd is a "shining example of unbridled assholery" and his assholism increases as the novella unfolds. The world here seems more chaotic than in the first novella, and Wilson dares the reader to even try to attempt to figure out his often sarcastic (and humorous) messages on society, fame, and accepting one's fate.
DIEGESES should delight fans of the author or anyone with a thirst for bizarro with a literary twist. This is a quick read, but one that's better off being read slow; you'll want to go back a few times in several sections just to make sure what you just read meant what you thought it meant. This is as challenging as it is entertaining...and not for a single second dull.
THE INFLUENCE by Ramsey Campbell (to be released May 7, 2013 by Samhain Publishing / 248 pp / tp & eBook)
I confess, it’s been far too long since I’ve read any of Ramsey Campbell’s novels, and I somehow missed this one in the first place. As a result, it wasn’t until I sat down to write this review that I realized it was originally published in 1988.
Now, usually, that’s the sort of thing that might give itself away; the technology gap if nothing else. But I had no idea. I’m reading along, thinking how he’d taken what really should have been a played-out theme and given it a fresh new feel.
So, for those of you out there who might be remiss in your reading, like me, the story is that of a secrets- and history-laden family dominated by a mean, spiteful, evil, controlling old lady. Her death comes as more of a relief than they’re willing to admit, but of course Aunt Queenie isn’t the sort to let her hold over them be broken by anything so mundane as DYING. Not when she can exert the power of her forceful personality even from beyond the grave.
Best of all, right about when I was thinking I had a pretty good idea where the story was going to go, it took some surprising turns. I was anxious and spellbound right to the very end. Good stuff, really good stuff. While on the one hand, I’m sorry I missed it all those years ago, on the other I was glad to have the experience now.
Class always tells, quality always holds up, and a stylish spooky story will always withstand the test of time. THE INFLUENCE is as engrossing and affecting a read now as it must have been twenty-some years ago. That’s one way to know when you’re dealing with a true master of the craft.
FROM MURKY DEPTHS by Brett Williams (2012 Gallows Press / 95 pp / tp)
The people of Southeast Missouri are suffering some of the most catastrophic flooding of the Mississippi River they’ve ever seen. David sent his wife Missy and their two children to her mother’s house in St. Louis while he tries to save the family home. Deciding to head out to one of the smaller communities to offer help, David comes across the small town of Clayton. Clayton is built on stilts, as though expecting the floods and its residents are very unfriendly. He meets Maggie at a local hardware store and helps her bring a large load of supplies back to the home she shares with Roger. David stays and helps the couple repair their roof and they tell him about the strange cult of Mauz-Gurloth and the human-reptile hybrids that roam Clayton and its surrounding area. Roger and Maggie allow David to help them attack a ceremony to this “god”, but the raid doesn’t go smoothly. What exactly did David get himself into and can he survive long enough to get out of Clayton?
This novella by Brett Williams about strange goings-on in the backwoods of Missouri farm country gets down and dirty pretty quickly and moves at a quick pace. Character development is short and to the point but very well done. David is a likeable character and a decent guy who just wanted to help some people who may have been worse off than he was after the floods. It’s his good-guy mentality that gets him deeply involved with Maggie and Roger, even though he cannot initially believe what they tell him about this cult. Maggie and Roger are good people who do what they can to stop the spread of evil from beyond the borders of their small town. FROM MURKY DEPTHS is a great read and I recommend it to fans of the weird and monstrous.
THE KLINIK by Eric Dimbleby (2012 Damnation Books / 265 pp / tp & eBook)
After injuring his ankle playing football, Ken's pregnant wife Jenny insists he see a doctor. They locate the closest hospital and find themselves at a new place called The Demetrius Klinik, where they're not only treated like garbage, but where Ken almost dies when an x-ray machine malfuctions.
The Klinik then has the audacity to charge them an insane fee, which keeps going up with each day they don't pay it. When the Klinik's bill collector, Dean, stops by their house, he performs a perverse act after threatening Jenny. Ken comes home shortly after and calls the police but they're no help; it seems they've been bought off by this place. With nowhere else to turn, they hire a lawyer to set things straight, but things grow bleaker after he goes missing.
Dimbleby's third novel reminded me of old-school Bentley Little: a couple is up against a seemingly all-powerful evil entity, this time in the guise of a health care facility. Creepy characters abound and there are a couple of truly unsettling scenes. It's a satisfying read despite its familiarity, and whose only problem is a lazy edit (a common complaint with many Damnation Books titles). But don't let that stop you from enjoying the author's gruesome rant against the greediness of America's health care system.
And if you ever find yourself at The Klinik, don't forget to PAY YOUR DAMN BILL!
WALKING WOUNDED by Robert Deveraux (2011 Deadite Press / 208 pp / tp & eBook)
New book arrives at the house. I say, “Ooh goodie, the Robert Deveraux I ordered!” Hubby asks, “Who’s that one again?” And I say, “The Santa guy.” Hubby gets that careful look and goes, “Oh yeah right okay,” and the subject is swiftly changed.
But, yes, it’s true, my gleeful, giddy, ghoulish reactions of delighted outrage and horrified hilarity to those books probably means that Mr. Deveraux will for now and for always be known around our house as “the Santa guy.”
It also means I’ll snap up as many of his other books as I can get my grabby little hands on, Santa or otherwise. So far, I’ve yet to be disappointed, and WALKING WOUNDED continues that streak.
This one is more serious and sobering than the Santa romps, a powerfully effective nerve-punch that hits right where anybody who’s ever pondered the “would I use it for good or evil?” question. (the answer to which is YES, btw)
Katt Galloway has made a lot of life-changes and self-discoveries in the past few months. Among them are the realization that she’s unhappy in her marriage to the philandering Marcus, even as she’s developing her own steamy secret relationship with one of his lovers. But divorce isn’t an option; according to a longstanding line of tradition, the women in her family do NOT “do the D-thing.”
Kate’s also found, in her new side-job doing massage therapy, that she has a very potent gift for healing, for sensing injuries and abnormalities, and affecting them with her touch … to cure them … or accelerate and exacerbate them … to heal or to kill.
Marcus, meanwhile, has a predisposition to Huntington’s Disease. And, well, murder’s not the D-thing, after all.
Just in case that’s not conflict enough, there’s their son to consider, and their lover. Oh, and there’s a serial killer on the loose, who’s just set his sights on the wrong target.
WAKING WOUNDED is dark, disturbing, and maybe a little troubling for anybody given to wondering just what he or she would be capable of if the opportunity arose.
Jessica is a nineteen-year-old paranormal investigator whose life was tragically altered by an incident that occurred thirteen years prior while in Alaska with her father. She has studied the paranormal most of her life and using that knowledge, combined with a power that she doesn’t fully understand, she helps people who have nowhere else to turn.
Eddie is a third generation psychic who can see and speak to ghosts, among other things. He has spent the last few years being studied at a prestigious paranormal research center but was recently contacted by a ghost seeking his help. This ghost has steered Eddie to Jessica because she is going to need his help, at some point.
Selena Leigh and her family have seen Selena’s doppelganger on more than one occasion, but are confused and frightened. Selena can’t sleep in her own bedroom; or sleep, period. She goes to her two closest friends for help and they find Jessica’s website.
After working together on an investigation, and sending the ghost away, Jessica and Eddie make the trip to New Hampshire to try and help Selena and her family. What they find is far worse than they expected and it’s going to take everything the young ghost hunters have within them to protect the teen and her family.
I’m usually not one for straight-up ghost stories, but I liked the premise of this one. I found it interesting how Jessica and Eddie meet and how they both are a product of their family ties—one through her father’s obsession and the other through genetics. All of the characters are well-rounded individuals. I did have an issue with the fact that Jessica was independently wealthy because her father had won the lottery not long before his death, but it didn’t make me enjoy the story any less (Shea pretty much keeps that in the background). It’s quite a frightening story when they realize who is haunting Selena and why. If you like ghost and paranormal stories then SINISTER ENTITY is right up your alley.
A quick note—Hunter Shea’s 2011 book FOREST OF SHADOWS, which is excerpted at the end of the book, is actually the story of what happened to Jessica and her family when they were in Alaska, but SINISTER ENTITY is a great stand-alone read, not necessarily a sequel. I did not read FOREST OF SHADOWS, but I think I’m going to look for it.