Friday, November 1, 2013

November, 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.)
STORM DEMON by Gregory Lamberson (2013 Medallion Press / 406 pp / tp and eBook)

Private Eye Jake Helman returns in his fifth epic adventure and the series shows NO signs of losing steam. This time we pick up fresh off the violent revolution that went down on Pavot Island in TORTURED SPIRITS, with a now hand-less Jake and detective Maria bringing Edgar back to New York (in human form, now cured of a shape-shifting curse).

But of course things quickly go downhill (despite Jake and Maria taking their relationship to the next level): it seems someone has their eye on Laurel, Jake's clairvoyant neighbor, and that someone turns out to be an ancient demon who is able to control the weather ... and she's bringing a massive hurricane to the Big Apple in an attempt to get Laurel and finally rid the world of Jake Helman.

STORM DEMON features plenty of action (a staple of the series), plenty of occult happenings, an apocalyptic rat attack, some wild monsters, and all manner of obstacles for our favorite anti-hero to grapple with; but there's also a side story involving a rising in the drug underworld and Maria's attempt to protect an innocent child from it. Like the others in the series, it's pretty much a perfect blend of occult horror and gritty street-crime goodness. And the ending this time is total edge-of-your-seat fun ...

The Jake Helman series has been very consistent; each installment is hard to put down (no easy feat considering the high standard set with the first book, PERSONAL DEMONS), and STORM DEMON does not disappoint. Those new to the series are urged to read what came before, yet first timers might not be too lost despite many references to what came beforehand. I'm chomping at the bit waiting for the sixth and final novel ...

-Nick Cato

Smell Rating: 2


PREY DRIVE by Wrath James White (2013 Sinister Grin Press / 239 pp / hc)

Some guys appreciate ladies with a little meat on their bones … but not usually like this, not the way cannibalistic serial killer Joseph Miles does. For him, full-figured is like super-sizing, and the line between BBW and BBQ is on the hazy side.

This sequel to SUCCULENT PREY picks up with Joe being sent to prison for his previous crimes, as well as being studied by a psychiatrist. Joe still believes his urges come from some affliction or curse, that it’s only a matter of finding a remedy. Maybe treatment, maybe drugs, maybe hunting down and killing whoever’s responsible.

In the meantime, he’s the most infamous inmate in supermax. The guards are nervous around him, with good reason, but that doesn’t stop them pitting Joe against other convicts in illegal after-hours fights. He gets piles of letters, some hate mail but mostly quite the opposite, fan mail from admirers, would-be emulators, and even would-be entrees.

The newest guard on the cellblock, Cindy Addison, is far from immune to Joe’s mix of magnetism, danger, charm, and vulnerability. He’s the ultimate bad-boy, and she – overweight, lonely, unhappy – is easy prey. Joe’s soon got her wrapped around his little finger and his big something else.

He also has the love-struck Selene on the outside, doing her best to get his sentence reduced so that they can find ways to be together. She believes that Joe holds the secret to unlocking her own pent-up cravings.

Nobody else writes hunger for the flesh the way Wrath James White does. Lust, gluttony, sheer physicality, the sensory, the tactile, the raw primal power … it’s all there.

And really, there’s something about cannibalism, isn’t there? You kind of have to wonder, sometimes, don’t you? People eat some pretty weird stuff already. Why not each other? We used to. We tell ourselves we’re above that, we’re DIFFERENT from animals somehow, but are we? Are we really?

I saw a comic online just the other day, about STAR TREK type replicators and a crew member ordering human flesh. Wouldn’t you try? Aren’t we all thinking it? Haven’t we considered it, at least once? What YOU would do, in a Donner Party situation?

Maybe you wouldn’t rip chunks out of someone with your teeth, but, if the meat was prepared … this book even features a selection of recipes … don’t they seem at least a little bit tantalizing? Aren’t you … curious? Just a taste, just a bite, just to see what it’s like?

PREY DRIVE is the kind of book that will make you ask yourself those sorts of uncomfortable questions. Or make you shy away and avoid them as hard as you can.

It’s also packed with sex. Hot sexy wild sex that might at any moment tip over into deadly carnivorous sex. Just, y’know, to add some extra spice. You’ll need plenty of stamina and constitution to get through this feasting orgy, which will probably leave you queasy, groaning, and over-sated later … but well worth it!

-Christine Morgan


OUT OF STONE by John G. Rees (2013 Black Water Books / 388 pp / tp & eBook)

Twenty years after the revolution in Romania, an ancient evil is trying to come back into the world through sculptures commemorating the horrors committed against the gypsies. Sechra was so traumatized by what she witnessed that she embraced the darkness and channeled the damage to her psyche into stone. On the opening night of her art show a riot breaks out and some are killed. Tensions continue to rise across the country. As Sechra’s sculptures tour Europe, they are taking on a life of their own with new horrors being mysteriously added to the pieces. Sechra rides into the mountains to find the source of the country’s impending troubles but is captured and forced to sculpt the piece of her life out of the stone brought to her by the evil entity. Her guardian Karuna, meanwhile, attempts to help Sechra and Romania by delving into the past through some magical tile mosaics, but Karuna’s vampire nature is beginning to surface after years of being kept hidden and in control. Can Sechra save her country and herself from the impending darkness? Can Karuna do anything to help?

Taking place twenty years after the events of HALOCLINE, the final novel in a trilogy of vampires, Megacorp, and the survival of a country and its’ people, OUT OF STONE follows up with Sechra a little girl saved by Jake, Johnny and Karuna in their war against Vlad Tepes. Another well-written and meticulously researched story, OUT OF STONE is rich with history, combining the horrors of war with the supernatural. One of the aspects I enjoyed is that the vampires are in the background, kept just under the surface but still important to the story. Character development is excellent, especially with Ahmed whose loyalties and motives change unexpectedly—I felt a real disappointment in Ahmed as an individual. I was very fond of Sechra and wanted her to succeed in the noble quest she takes on. Karuna’s trip into the past was compelling and ended with a most interesting and unforeseen twist. OUT OF STONE is a fantastic stand-alone novel, but I encourage you to read the trilogy that inspired it.
-Colleen Wanglund


THE WALLS OF THE CASTLE by Tom Piccirilli (2013 Dark Regions Press / 124 pp / deluxe limited edition, limited edition, & eBook)

The "castle" of the title is a humongous hospital that employs over 9,000 people and has a long history dating back before the American Revolution. We learn about the place through the eyes of Kasteel, a haunted man who spends his time helping others there in the wake of his son's death. No one writes hurting heros like Piccirilli, and Kasteel is no exception.

In his quest to come to terms with the loss of his young son, Kasteel finds himself at the center of a mystery: it seems someone called Abaddon has been visiting certain patients late at night, and when it's finally revealed who this is the tale takes on an even darker tone.

Part mystery, part horror, part mind-bending thriller, this is everything fans of the author have come to expect. Classic Piccirilli at his finest.

The limited edition hardcover reviewed here (and pictured above) also contains the bonus short titled 'Face Blindness,' about an older detective dating a teenage celebrity and trying to solve a thirty-year old murder case despite being a part of his rich young girlfriend's family's reality TV show (trust me, it works). The ending will have you standing up and cheering, and makes for a great double-feature with the title tale.

-Nick Cato

Smell Rating: 4



THE SEVENTH EQUINOX by Matthew Warner (to be released 11/6/13 by Raw Dog Screaming Press / 208 pp / hc & tp)

Don’t be fooled by the name "Robin Goodfellow" into thinking this will be a quirky, Puck-ish merry trickster Shakespearean type of urban fantasy … it goes back further, delving into the older, primal, pagan type of mythology and folklore for its inspiration.

And I like the results very much. It’s earthy. It’s dark. It’s THE SEVENTH EQUINOX, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance as an age-old cycle comes around again.

Not that anybody in the friendly town of Augusta, Virginia, knows much about that. They go about their lives with no idea of the ancient force that slumbers nearby, or that their own jovial mayor is not what he seems. That he hasn’t been what he seems for … well … several successive mayors now.

He’s determined to keep his secret, and his powers, at any cost. Even if it means getting rid of anyone who might be getting suspicious. He’s certainly not pleased when a drifter calling himself Robin Goodfellow turns up, looking to fulfill his own part in the ritual.

Meanwhile, the freshly-divorced Bessie has been looking for a place to start her life over, and Augusta might just be that place. Something about the town appeals to her. She rents a great house, befriends the sweet old neighbor lady (an odd but charming mix of spiritualist and Southern belle), and …

… and then she finds this hot, handsome, wounded, mysterious, half-naked stranger hiding in her basement. Hello! He needs her help, and the healing energies only attraction can provide.

With a cast of amusing, well-rounded characters to bring the rest of the story to life, THE SEVENTH EQUINOX is a lively and entertaining read, clever, sexy, and fun.

-Christine Morgan

THE FRIENDLY HORROR & OTHER WEIRD TALES by Jessica Burke and Anthony Burdge (2013 Myth Ink Books / 146 pp / tp)

A heavily Lovecraftian influenced collection, the title THE FRIENDLY HORROR is deceptive but appropriate. What also impressed me was all of the stories were written in tandem except for the two opening poems. "The Odor" by Anthony Burdge is a beautifully dark poem about how scent affects us; especially the scent of death and decay. "Pockets" by Jessica Burke is a fun fantasy with nods to Mary Poppins, Alice in Wonderland and Doctor Who.

Among the stories are "A Daddy and Me Day" about a father taking his son to work, with a twist; "Keepsakes" tells about a serial killer’s strange collection from his victims; and "Concerning the Storm" about Mr. Pink’s questioning of Cassie about the role her parents may have played in Superstorm Sandy. Taking center stage is the novella "The Friendly Horror", a quiet and deliberate story of the Old One’s descendants using something as innocuous as ice cream to transform humans and bring Y’ha-nthlei back from the ocean depths. The story contains some wonderful histories of Rhode Island, Staten Island in NYC and H.P. Lovecraft, himself.

THE FRIENDLY HORROR is a very well-written collection and as I’ve said, I was impressed that the stories were written in tandem. Burke and Burdge’s writing styles are so in sync that the stories are seamless. If you like Lovecraft and the strangely fantastic, you will love this collection.

-Colleen Wanglund


DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King (2013 Scribner / 528 pp / hc, audiobook, eBook)

King's sequel to his 1977 classic THE SHINING picks up shortly after the destruction of the Overlook Hotel, then flashes forward a couple of decades to find Danny Torrance working in a hospice in New Hamsphire and dealing with his alcoholism through AA meetings. He still has the ability to "shine," but not as strongly as when he was younger. His unusual skills do help the dying at his new job to pass over to the other side in peace and feeling redeemed, hence earning him the nickname 'Doctor Sleep.'

Dan is contacted (spiritually/psychically) by a thirteen year-old girl named Abra, who happens to have the shine, too, and much stronger at that. It seems a group known as the True Knot are after her; they feed off children who have the shine to stay young and healthy, torturing them to death as they absorb their life's essence (or "steam" as the novel puts it). The True Knot look like your average vacationers, roaming the country in RV's, but they're no longer human. Their leader, Rose, has been around a long, long time, and her beautiful features are merely a mask for an ancient creature. And when they learn of Abra's intense power, they'll stop at nothing to find her ... especially after feeding off a young boy who has infected their ranks with the measles.

Fans will love the many references to THE SHINING here (my favorite being Danny learning how to deal with the female ghost from Room 237), and there's also some interesting cross-references to Joe Hill's latest novel N0S4A2. I like that the True Knot have made their home base on the grounds where the Overlook once stood, as it provides a great place for the inevitable final confrontation. But, when Dan, Abra, and Dan's senior friend Billy finally confront Rose and co., their plans go off a little to easily, and what could have been an epic battle winds up being awfully short. But this is only a minor flaw in what I feel is one of King's better novels in quite some time.

I don't think anyone will find DOCTOR SLEEP scary, but I found myself engrossed in Danny Torrance's struggle with the bottle as well as his mentoring of the young shiner, Abra. There's also a great scene where Dan speaks with the Overlook's now deceased chef Richard Halloran through the body of a dying French woman, and the True Knot's feeding of a young little league player was quite disturbing.

This has the feel of some of King's older works, and while not perfect, is one of his more satisfying recent novels.

-Nick Cato

Smell Rating: 5

THE SHINING was one of those pivotal books for me. I still even have that same ratty old paperback with the peeling silvery film cover that I found in Boompa's garage, on the shelf out there where Grandma made him keep those awful horror novels he liked. I was ten years old. An aunt told my parents it'd warp me for life, letting me read that stuff. Happily, she was right.

Like many of us for whom that book was a major influence, I had mixed feelings of trepidation and joy about the prospect at long last of a sequel.

My biggest worry was that, love most of King's work though I do, he'd turn it into yet another Dark Tower tie-in and I'd be sad because I've tried many times but just can't get into those. But a single "there are other worlds than these" reference was all I caught. In every other way, I found DOCTOR SLEEP to be a very satisfying follow-up, beautifully connected back to the first one.

For everyone who ever wondered, "what ever happened to Danny Torrance and his mom after the Overlook burned down?" … here at last is the answer and then some. Unlike many King characters, Danny hasn’t forgotten all about the uncanny events of his past. I’m glad, because that trope has gotten kinda old and annoys the crap out of me now.

He hasn’t lost his shine, either. It may have dimmed somewhat over the years, and he hasn’t had the best life – in some ways, despite his best intentions, he can’t escape his father’s legacies. We join Danny as he’s struggling back up from rock-bottom, starting over with AA, a new job, new friends, and new purpose at a hospice, where he can help the dying make their last crossing with painlessness and peace.
Meanwhile, he’s also developed a strange bond with a little girl named Abra. If Danny was a searchlight shine to the flashlight of his mentor, Dick Hallorann, Abra makes Danny look like a flashlight. Abra’s also being hunted by the True Knot, a group of psychic vampires who live on what they call "steam," an energy given off by suffering … particularly that caused by the torture and death of children with the shining.

DOCTOR SLEEP is not "classic" King, but it is awesome King, it is his best in years. It brings a feeling of completion, a sense of come-full-circle … while also opening up new doors. Is it an official passing of the torch, what with the ties to Joe Hill’s NOS4A2? Maybe, maybe not.

Is it a wonderful read? Definitely. I expect that I will soon re-read THE SHINING and DOCTOR SLEEP again, back to back, the better to appreciate the experience of both. Awesome stuff.

-Christine Morgan


VILLAGE OF THE MERMAIDS by Carlton Mellick III (2013 Eraserhead Press / 136 pp / tp)

Don’t let the deceptively sane and mild title fool you. This is a Carlton Mellick III book, and that means these are NOT your Disney mermaids. Not even the creepy ones from the 2003 version of Peter Pan, or Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

They ARE seductive, but don’t be fooled. Those beautiful feminine torsos amd intoxicating pheromones are a predator’s adaptations. Even the term "mermaid" is misleading; the males and females of the species are indistinguishable to humans.

Guess what they eat? Yep. They’re highly specialized to lure and kill their prey, particularly those young healthy men.

And guess what happens when well-meaning environmentalism and animal rights activism goes a little too far? When the Endangered Species Act doesn’t just protect them, but prioritizes them to the point that it’s not only illegal to kill them even in self-defense, but punishable by death? When Food People have been genetically created to provide for the mermaids’ dietary needs?
Makes for a kind of creepy slippery slope, doesn’t it? Thing is, a slippery slope is never enough for Carlton Mellick III. Only a greased-up flume ride into bizarroland  will do the trick.
Because, in the aptly-named Siren’s Cove, the mermaids have stopped eating the proffered Food People … they only want the real thing … worse, there seems to be a new kind of mermaid moving into the local waters, even more deadly and dangerous … worse still, something’s up with the Food People themselves …

Needless to say, the inhabitants of Siren’s Cove are in a bad spot. They can’t fight back without facing execution, but they can’t just let themselves and their families be slaughtered. Their leader has gone strange. The expert sent to investigate has his own problems.

Flume ride. Into a bizarroland of hybrids, disease, mutations, freaky sea monsters, fish nookie, and feeding frenzy. This IS a splash zone. You WILL get wet.

-Christine Morgan


DAMAGED SOULS by David Bernstein (2013 Samhain Publishing / 232 pp / tp)

John’s daughter is killed by a drunk driver, after John let that same driver go earlier in the night after a fender bender. In his grief—and blaming himself for his daughter’s death—John shoots himself in the head, but doesn’t die. His body in a coma, John’s soul is in Purgatory. John is then given a chance to redeem himself when he is sent back to stop a demon from opening a portal to Hell and bringing on Armageddon. The demon has taken over the body of has-been artist Guy Duvall whose skills are needed by the demon to open the portal.
Upon his initial return, John believes his time in Purgatory was just a dream. Events prove to John that his experience was very real. With the support of his wife Carla, John—using the powers given to him while in Purgatory—races to find Guy/the demon and kill it. The demon has gone on a killing spree and is already being hunted by police. John doesn’t have much time.

DAMAGED SOULS is an impressive and entertaining read. I found the concept of Purgatory without necessarily having to die very interesting, and I really empathized with John. John’s wife Carla was sympathetic to a point, where I then found her to be grating in her push for John to kill the man who killed their daughter. After an impressive and brutal twist in the story, Carla comes back down to earth, so to speak. DAMAGED SOULS is a fascinating read that I found difficult to put down. Bernstein has written a fresh take on demons while turning an insignificant decision by an ordinary man on its head. I highly recommend it.

-Colleen Wanglund

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE DARKNESS by Monica O’Rourke (2013 Sinister Grin Press / 265 pp / limited edition hc)

Bombs fall, but not everybody dies. That’s one of those things about war, one of those taking-it-from-bad-to-worse things. Usually, the survivors forget caring about politics real quick, and just focus on the business of food, shelter, and staying alive.

Usually, but in Monica O’Rourke’s version of the aftermath, the bombs are followed by invading ground troops … and the nation’s last line of defense turns out to be something that nobody ever expected.

We’re talking vampires, here, people. A secret installation where the military’s been holding a small group of the bloodsuckers captive for decades … only to unleash them now with the objective of destroying the enemy. Remember those statistics showing how more people believe in government cover-ups of alien contact than actually believe in aliens? Kind of like that … maybe you don’t believe in vampires, but if there WERE such things, you KNOW some faction would be wanting to use them for their own ends.

And while you’re at it, remember the one about the little old lady who swallowed a fly? Then a spider to catch the fly, and so on and so on, each cure being more dangerous than the problem it was meant to solve? Or the matter of trying to get the genie back in the bottle? Wellllllll … that’s what happens here.

After all, even a small group of vampires won’t be enough to take on an army. They’ll need recruits. Who will then need to be fed, and who might object to being rendered obsolete once they’ve done their job.

That’s one half of this story, on a big sweeping scale of alliances, betrayals, human-against-vampire, human-against-human, vampire-against-vampire. But there’s the other half of the story, in which one tough and scrappy twelve-year-old girl makes her way through the devastation.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE DARKNESS starts off a little slow but picks up steady speed until it races along to a surprising finish. I’m thinking action-packed A&E mini-series. Janelle could kick that Carl kid’s sociopathic little butt any day.

-Christine Morgan


WITCHES, STITCHES, AND BITCHES edited by Shannon Page (2013 Evil Girlfriend Media/ 282 pp / tp and eBook)

Fair warning, this is another anthology I’m biased about, because I’m lucky enough to have a story in it – how could I resist a publisher called Evil Girlfriend Media? I always wanted to be an evil girlfriend! – and the entire experience has been nothing but awesome!

Look at this book. This is a damn gorgeous book. In all ways. The layout, the cover art, the fonts, everything. The stories are none too shabby, either! It’s one of the company’s "Three Little Words" projects … the words in this case being witch, stitch and bitch … with tales revolving around the three.

Of course, each of the words has various interpretations, so the resulting stories come from various creative and clever places. They’re also words with strong associations to the feminine, so, it’s no wonder the book features a lot of women authors and a lot of strong, powerful female characters.

There’s witches of the old crones-with-warts school, there’s the Wicca-esque type, the fairy tale type … stitches in fabric, stitches in flesh … bitches who are called that by insult and bitches who reclaim the term in a proud, ferocious way.

There’s also a fair amount of revenge stories here, abused and mistreated women escaping or getting back at those who hurt them (usually men), which may make for uncomfortable reading. Or cathartic. Or deeply satisfying. Or any combination thereof.

My personal faves include "Forgetting Tomorrow" by Bob Brown, which puts a wicked twist on the idea of the fairy godmother, and Rebecca Fung’s delightful and darkly comic take-THAT-Hogwarts "Dresses of Fur and Fangs."

The overall result is a very satisfying read, perfect for this witching-season time of year. I look forward to reading (and submitting to!) many more fine projects from the Evil Girlfriends in the future.

-Christine Morgan

For submission info, please see note at the bottom of this blog page. Thank you. See you next month...


  1. Thanks for the nod, Nick, much appreciated.

  2. Thank you very much for the fantastic review of our book The Friendly Horror and Other Weird Tales. We have reblogged the news on our geek blog & the website for Myth Ink Books