Monday, July 7, 2014

Reviews for Week of July 7th, 2014 (a.k.a. WE'RE BACK!)

After a 4 month hiatus, THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW is back, and we're no longer monthly. Expect reviews at least weekly and possibly more. We've also dropped the "Smell Rating" feature as the majority of our review material comes via eBook. It was fun while it lasted, but, y'know, technology and all (I'm sure it will be snuck in due to habit at times so don't lose all hope).


Onto our latest reviews. Enjoy ...

FALLOW GROUND by Michael James Farland (2014 Blood Bound Books / 340 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know those posts you see going around the internet where someone’s baked a Reese’s peanut butter cup inside a brownie, or encased an Oreo in chocolate chip cookie dough, or added the words “deep-fried” and/or “bacon-wrapped” to something already delicious? 

That’s what this book is like. It’s a ghost story wrapped in a zombie story … it’s reanimator mad science stuffed with paranormal revenge … it’s good plot and fun characters wrapped in excellent writing, battered and on a stick. Bring your appetite, and a napkin, because the last few bites might get a little gooey. 

It starts with an old barn, finally being torn down before it falls down, and the discovery of a secret crime scene 20+ years old. Margaret Campbell, the widow currently living on the farm with her two kids, doesn’t know the history of the previous family. But the local sheriff, who worked the case back then, does. He always felt there’d been something unresolved about the fate of the Taylor twins, and now it’s finally coming to light. 

What even the sheriff doesn’t know, however, is the REAL story behind those twins … little Samuel and Caroline … where they came from, why they disappeared the way they did, and who was responsible. He doesn’t know about the deal Mr. Taylor made, the mysterious strangers, the big crate. He has no idea that, when Mrs. Campbell calls in to report harassment from some guy claiming to be a ghost hunter, things are about to get seriously, dangerously, fatally weird. 

The flashbacks and time-jumps between past and present are deftly handled. The twists are refreshing, clever and unexpected. Engaging from the first page, engrossing throughout, a skillful and believable blending of some diverse elements … really good stuff … and, Margaret is great!

-Christine Morgan

GREEN TSUNAMI by Laura Cooney and L.L. Soares (2014 Smart Rhino Publications / 160 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Cooney and Soares strike with this strange, incredibly bleak apocalyptic novella. After a mysterious tsunami destroys most of the world, scarce survivors contact each other over the Internet. This tale is told in corresponding emails between a husband and wife. Aaron was at home and Joy was at work when the world changed, and it keeps changing with each passing day. Adding to the growing darkness, Aaron discovers their young son is changing into a caterpillar-like creature that feeds off other children holed up in their school.

In GREEN TSUNAMI, not only are people changing in all kinds of ways due to whatever it is that has hit the planet, but inanimate objects as well. No one is safe, no one can be trusted, and the bizarro/SciFi imagination of the authors is on full freak-out display here.

Fans of apocalyptic stories will enjoy this fresh, truly unusual take on the End Times.

-Nick Cato

PLEBS by Jim Goforth (2014 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 600 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Any book purportedly influenced by the writings of Richard Laymon is a book I want to read. The man was a master of the nasty and inspired many of my current faves. So, seeing that tagline on Plebs, I grabbed it right up. 

I may, however, have to call mild shenanigans … just shy of 600 pages, and the word “rump” only  appears TWICE? And one of those is in reference to a GUY’S rump? Pff and you call this Laymonesque? (I kid, I kid; and rest assured – so to speak – that other terms for and admiration of the feminine posterior are quite well-represented!)

Laymonesque, however, in terms of sex, gore, nudity, violence, bloodspatter and subhuman atrocities? Okay, well then, this book has gotcha covered, in plenty of vivid up-close-and-personal detail!

It begins as a typical lad’s night out. The trio of Corey, Lee and Tim end up out by a lake, thinking to finish the evening in style with some weed and a little more booze and maybe a ride in a ‘borrowed’ rowboat. The only thing missing is hot chicks. 

Until a bunch of them appear. What follows is a perfect example of how male and female mindsets can differ. These women show up, dressed in black and leather, toting WEAPONS, and the guys experience only minor apprehension easily shrugged off because, well, HOT CHICKS. Try reversing the sexes in the same situation, or even a similar situation without the weapons and the alone-at-the-dark-lake, and the reactions would be rather different, to say the least. 

Things just get weirder and weirder from there. Amazonian village, feud with clan of neighboring freaks, murder, mayhem, mutilation, betrayal … and that’s just within the first third or so of the book. Right when a reprieve seems possible, there’s this creeper van and a dismembered corpse and vigilantes … then an arming montage right out of an action movie … culminating in total all-out video game body-count carnage. 

My only problem with this book is the title. Or, not so much the title itself, but the fact that the title is Plebs, and the Plebs themselves – being the clan of neighboring freaks with whom the hot chicks have their feud – don’t really seem to feature all that much in the story. They’re there, but sort of as a background obstacle/hazard in addition to the main conflicts. 

Aside from that minor quibble, however, I found it a very enjoyable read, fun and engaging, with some delightfully over-the-top moments. I’d be glad to see a sequel, or prequel, that concentrated more on the Plebs themselves, their origin, their culture, and their eventual fate.

-Christine Morgan

GRUNT LIFE: A TASK FORCE OMBRA NOVEL by Weston Ochse (2014 Solaris / 298 pp / mass market paperback and eBook)

I've been on a military SciFi kick the past few years, and Weston Ochse's GRUNT LIFE satisfied that hunger quite well.

This time a secret organization collects suicidal war veterans and turns them into soldiers for a coming alien invasion they somehow know about. The author's military background (as in his SEAL TEAM 666 series) once again shines here as we get to know several kick ass soldiers who begin to understand they may be the world's only hope for survival.

But the "Cray" are what make this one so addictive. They're an alien race sent here to inflict even more damage after most of the world's cities are destroyed. Horror fans will be thrilled with the amount of creature action going on here, and the action in general is nearly non-stop.

If you like alien invasion tales, you'll probably enjoy this, and there's a promise of more to come. Despite similarities to other tales in the subgenre, Ochse keeps things fresh, especially during the first phase of the soldiers' training.

-Nick Cato

Until Next Week ...