Monday, August 25, 2014

Reviews for the Week of August 25, 2014

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

OPERATION ICE BAT edited by Brian Keene (2014 Amazon Digital  / 201 pp / eBook)

OPERATION ICE BAT is, as you probably already know, an anthology put together by Horror Grandmaster Brian Keene to help a member of our own extensive online community, Dave “Meteornotes” Thomas. 

That in and of itself is reason enough to buy this book, but wait, there’s more! Because you get serious bang for your buck here. Keene’s assembled some of the genre’s best to lend their talents, and it certainly shows. 

A glance at the Table of Contents reveals a namedrop lineup of high order. Christopher Golden, James Moore, Kelli Owen, Keene himself, J.F. Gonzalez, Mary SanGiovanni … it’s a cavalcade of awesome before you even begin reading the actual stories. Once you do that, well … 

I beta-read Mandy DeGeit’s contribution, “Inviolable,” a while back under a slightly different title. I’ve been flinching ever since. Not something that the mind easily forgets, and believe me, I tried. So, when I saw it again, I confess I skimmed … once again flinching the whole way. Ouchie ouchie ouchie. Traumatic, to say the least. 

If “Inviolable” has a counterpart in this volume, it’d be “Arrearages” by Wesley Southard, for sheer hideously imagined wince factors. The protagonists of both stories, now, that would make for one weird meeting. 

“Mouth” by Nate Southard was another I’d also seen before, but is no less effective on the re-read. If anything, it was even more so, because I remembered just enough to get that delightful frisson of anticipation without OMG SPOILERS. 

Robert Swartwood’s “Noogle Knock” was new to me and probably my favorite of the batch, hard though it is to pick just one. “Pretty, Pretty Shiny” by Alyn Day was a close enough second that maybe I should have ‘em fight it out. 

There’s crushing claustrophobia, plenty of odd family secrets, a strange turn in the Holmes mythos, dark pacts and deals with the devil, and much much more. A great book for a great cause, so, don’t miss out.

-Christine Morgan

DYSTOPIA by Richard Christian Matheson (2011 Macabre Ink / 448 pp / hardcover & eBook)

One of the things I like to do is spend nearly all of my time reading, writing, searching for books. Books. Books. Books! To the point where I make those around me sick to their stomachs. Now! To do this, I usually go to the bookstore, the library, search various places online, etc. But usually if I’m in the mood to pick up something quick, I go to amazon and see what is available on the kindle RIGHT NOW! Because, let’s face it, when I get time to sit down and read, that’s what I want to do. Call me impatient or crazy, I don’t care… that’s my thing. So when looking through the kindle shop I stumbled across this. And only for .99c right now, this thing packs a mean punch for not even a dollar you might have had tucked neatly away in your dirty sock or gently underneath your sweaty brazier. I missed this one a couple years back, and, perhaps, maybe you did too. I didn’t even know this thing existed. So, if you missed this one (like I did) perhaps maybe you’re missing more than you expected!

Richard Christian Matheson’s DYSTOPIA is the ULTIMATE short story collection, written by the son of the famous Richard Matheson. Now, having a legend for a father could work in a number of different ways, the first thing that comes to mind is pressure following in such great footsteps. But, however, in this case, we can see the influence and sheer genius behind yet another master in the horror genre (and he even wrote the introduction). Like father, like son, his words are powerful and thought-provoking, haunting and psychological, and, at times, just plain beautiful and gruesome. DYSTOPIA is an omnibus of some of the best stories available from Matheson Jr. But, this isn’t just a collection that reads like a reprint (Let’s face it, nine out of ten times we hate those). No, this thing is packed with a handful of new stories as well. With over 50 stories of some truly amazing and brilliant Horror Fiction, there is sure to be a little bit of something for everyone here.

My personal favorites were, “City of Dreams,” a fascinating tale about love at first sight, but, maybe what you thought you saw wasn’t really there after all, completely blinded by loneliness and desperation on levels so high that it messes with your current state of reality and perception. This is what happens to the protagonist when the cops show up at the door over a stolen movie poster wrapped up and sealed in a gold frame, which sends him head first into a world of madness, psychological horror, and a quest for a film titled City of Dreams and a woman named Aubrey. What happens next is a smack in the face when our favorite movie collector realizes he’s lost it all, aside from his obsession for films, memorabilia, and the likes. Looking for something more gruesome like in “The Film,” a story centered around a military controlled theatre. The floors open up and dump the seating into an acid bath near the end of the flicks, leaving the viewer’s literally dead in their seats (so to speak). The owner of the theatre teams up with the nation’s finest to make a quick buck and helps take out the “Damaged ones”. I also really enjoyed the short, sweet, straight to the point structure found in “Vampire”, “Manifesto”, and “Shutterbugs”. Three brilliant stories crafted out of minimalistic sentences, sometimes even just a word or two, or a piece of well-crafted dialogue. But, don’t let the short writing fool you. Matheson Jr. is a wordsmith like his father and makes them count every time, leaving these short sentences hitting harder than some paragraphs written by others.

Like father, like son… Richard Christian Matheson leaves us with an omnibus of brilliantly crafted Horror Fiction for years to come.

-Jon R. Meyers


JACKPOT by David Bernstein, Adam Cesare, Shane McKenzie, and Kristopher Rufty (to be released 9/23/14 by Sinister Grin Press / 142 pp / trade paperback)

You hear of so many heart-warming lottery stories – the family on the brink of homelessness who wins just in time, the cancer survivor happy for a second chance at life, the generous winners who share their new assets with those less fortunate.

And those winners usually pick their numbers based on their children’s birthdays, anniversary dates, or just let the machine pick and let the numbers fall where they may.

Then there’s Booker.

He’s a serial killer who has been trying to win the lottery for years, using a very unorthodox number system – he abducts people off the street and finds out their ages after brutally torturing them. Booker uses the ages as his lucky numbers. To his amazement and utter joy, he finally hits the jackpot, becoming richer by millions. But although able to visualize the torture house of his dreams, and actually gifting a car to the cashier who sold him the ticket, Booker’s life doesn’t completely improve. 

A shifty lawyer wants to piggy-back on Booker’s success, and Booker is also hunted by a backwoods family who think they were tricked out of the money. All Booker wants to do is have a good time, but nobody will leave him alone.

Now, I’m no stranger to extreme horror fiction and not easily shocked, but I admit, the first few pages got to me a bit. I’ve read each of the authors’ separate works. They are all great writers, but put them together, and you’ve got one hell of a gruesome and perverse story.

There is a promise of a sequel to come, and I hope that’s true. I’d love to see the further adventures of Booker, and what these four writers can shock me with next time.

-Sheri White

CROOKED HOUSE by Joe McKinney (2013 Dark Regions Press / 162 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

Is there anything more classic in the genre than the haunted house story? In some ways, that IS the genre. Whether it’s a cabin in the woods, a Winchester-sized mansion, an ordinary suburb, even a hotel … just something about the haunted house touches on our deepest yet most everyday fears. 

And why not? A house is a home, it’s supposed to be refuge and safety. Where we relax, where we undress and shower, where we sleep, where we raise our children. The idea that hideous, insidious evils might be THERE, inexorably linked to our ultimate safe zone, is the nerve strike none of us can escape. 

The best part is how people can be just so plain DUMB about it and it’s still believable. We should know better. Really. Yet we keep moving into these places with weird histories of horror, murder, suicide and death. And then we have the nerve to be surprised when bad stuff happens. 

In CROOKED HOUSE, Joe McKinney takes on the trope with a deft and referential sense of humor. The characters even joke about it. A house like this, for such a price? Too good to be true, what’s the catch, is it haunted or what? Ha ha ha.

Yeah. Ha ha ha. Let’s ignore or laugh off the effect this place seems to have. Let’s overlook (har har) how WRONG it seems from the get-go. Let’s look into the history of it but still fiddle-dee-dee doesn’t mean anything and besides, what choice have we got? Family in desperate straits and all, last chance to start over, godsend, etc. 

This book is like a tribute to all those that have come before, sometimes subtly, sometimes right out there in your face. I think there was only one of the characters I ended up not wanting to smack upside the head, and that was the kid, because it’s hardly her fault if her parents don’t want to acknowledge reality. 

With the time span condensed into a mere couple of weeks, this is a short and sweet, fast and furious spin into total madness and destruction. Secrets are exposed, relationships are twisted inside out. A fun homage and a nice take on the thanks-Captain-Obvious angle, while also engaging on its own.

-Christine Morgan


  1. Nick,

    Please contact me if you're interested in doing a quick survey about the horror industry. My email is .