Sunday, April 26, 2015

Reviews for the Week of April 27, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you. And we really, really, really mean what's said in it so don't be sending further hate mail if you don't read the bottom of this page for submission info. Thank you again.

CHILDREN OF THE MARK by Michael W. Garza (2015 Severed Press / 196 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Checking back now, I see that the age of the characters is given right there in the second paragraph of the opening scene, so I guess I have nobody but myself to blame for my stumbling-block confusion. But dang, they seemed so much younger. I kept thinking these were KID-kids, as in, twelve-ish, so then, references to them as teens and high school would throw me.

Anyway! So! There’s these kids. A trio of them – AJ, Dougie, and their pal Clair, whose bright ideas often seem to get them in trouble. This particular trouble looks to exceed the previous ones. In fact, they’re way over their heads, though it takes them a while to realized it.

Sneaking into an old warehouse is one thing. Finding it occupied is another. Finding it occupied by a group of weirdo cultists smack in the middle of some strange summoning ritual … well, that’s a bit off the charts. And, of course, witnessing strange rituals is bad enough without accidentally interrupting things, alerting the cultists, and nearly getting caught.

They do manage to escape, but only to find that AJ has been quite literally marked by the encounter. One of his eyes has gone eerie-milky, and he soon realizes it sees magic sigils beyond the sight of the rest of the real world.

Naturally, he tries to keep it a secret. His parents somehow don’t notice, and after a brief hey-freak run in with a bully, everyone else at school soon gets used to it. But meanwhile, he’s discovering that not only can he see the sigils, he can manipulate them.

The only adult to whom AJ and his friends can turn is a peculiar lady who runs a bookshop. She’s able to tell them more than they wanted to know about the cult, and the danger they’re in. It doesn’t help that the cult leaders are trying to get close to AJ’s parents.

What follows is fairly typical “those meddling kids” fare, but livened up with really good description, fun use of magic, and some nifty clever twists. I admit that my earlier confusion may have interfered with bonding with the protagonists, and I found myself a lot more interested in what the cult was up to and what the bookstore lady’s backstory might be.

-Christine Morgan

NAZI HUNTER by Jonathan Moon (2015 Dynatox Ministries / 120 pp / limited edition trade paperback)

In an isolated section of Poland, the Nazis are running a concentration camp where vile experiments on human guinea pigs are conducted in a sub basement as mass amounts of Jewish prisoners are gassed to death on the main floor. But one large prisoner named Emil decides to fight back. He's up against a couple of the most brutal officers in the SS, and they're baffled to learn he has survived the gas chamber...

This second installment in Dynatox Ministries' "Nazisploitation" series is a violent, action-packed romp that reads like a more extreme version of Tarantino's INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. If you're a fan of this subgenre seek Moon's wild ride out. I'm loving this series.

-Nick Cato

THESE VAMPIRES DON'T SPARKLE edited by Carol Hightshoe (2014 Sky Warrior Books / 252 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m so old that I was tired of moody-broody smoldering sexy emo-angst vampires BEFORE they even sparkled … so you better believe I had no patience whatsoever for the latest take on the craze. And, clearly, I’m far from alone. The backlash against sparkly vampires may not be bigger than the love for them, but it’s certainly as vehement, if not more.

Here, for example, is a whole anthology (the first of two, even!) to prove it. Not ALL the stories are undisguised Twilight-bashing or revenge porn … but hey, if that’s your thing, rest assured they gotcha covered.

There are also plenty of vampire tales dedicated more toward taking back the night, re-fanging them into the monsters they used to be. Sometimes with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, sometimes with grim seriousness.

“Customer Service” by Kathrine Tomlinson has a fun premise, but ended too soon and was way too short; I wanted a lot more. Similar problems of adapting to modern life feature in Jeff Baker’s “Night Work If You Can Get It.”

Peggy McFarland’s “Charlie Makes His Way” is also short, but, wickedly clever and a very different twist on a beloved classic.

In the midst of so much humor, Margaret McGaffey Fisk takes us on a hard turn into strangely bleak but beautiful despair in “To Catch a Glimpse,” and “Two Fangs” by Jonathan D. Nichols is both haunting and creepy.

I confess a particular bias toward “The Longest Night” by Cynthia Ward, because Vikings! And Vikings done pretty darn well at that. I also enjoyed “Origins” by Rie Sheridan Rose, which goes about as historical as is humanly possible to go with some Neolithic horror.

With 27 selections in all, there’s something for every blood-type (speaking of which, “Drac’s Diet” by John Lance involves a concern not usually addressed in vamp-lit). Biblical, dark, grim, modern, near-future post-vampire-apocalypse, and more.

-Christine Morgan


NIGHTMARE IN GREASEPAINT by L.L. Soares and G. Daniel Gunn (to be released 5/5/2015 by Samhain Publishing / 95 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In an attempt to erase a violent childhood trauma, Will Pallasso brings his wife and son to the house he grew up in. He sends them out during the day so he can destroy a shrine his mother had erected in the basement to his late father. But it's also a shrine that has been a sentinel of sorts over a family heirloom that harbors wicked powers. And when Will starts to dismantle the shrine, he and his son begin having vivid nightmares and something far more sinister returns to stalk them.

Part of the "Childhood Fears" series of novellas, Samhain strikes with this quick but powerful tale that, while full of familiar horror tropes, manages to build some serious suspense and will easily freak out those who suffer from Coulrophobia. Clowns, dark basements, occult objects, dark family secrets and noises in the night may seem tiring to most horror fans, but Soares and Gunn take these classic elements and twist them into a satisfying, well done creep-fest.

-Nick Cato

WELCOME TO NECROPOLIS by Bryan Killian (2015 Deadite Press / 293 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I don’t know what happened here, what went wrong. I went into this book with anticipation and high expectations, and left it wondering if I’d been the victim of some kind of April Fool’s Day prank.

Hyped up by Brian Keene, published by Deadite, supposedly another fresh new take on zombies … but I’m just not seeing it.

Pretty much your bog-standard outbreak yarn, with scattered survivors and military and all the usual, with characters that didn’t grab my interest. Plus, way too many problems with the writing, not to mention the editing and proofreading.

I kept slogging, then skimming, then skim-slogging, in hopes that I’d suddenly discover the clever bit that turned it all on end. But, if it was there, I never found it.

I guess, if you want yet another ho-hum video game clone type zombie thing, here ya go. For me, it did nothing. D- at best, and maybe a red pencil note to the effect of “not working up to potential.” You guys, come on. You can do better.

-Christine Morgan


McLaughlin is a master of goofy horror comedy, and these three tales are perfect for some bathroom-time giggles (or for the proctologist's office waiting room). The title tale finds the milk fearing Whore of Babylon attempting to take over the world when Santa throws a monkey wrench into her plans. If you dig silly and apocalyptic you'll be howling.

In my favorite of the collection, 'The Inside-Outer,' a man finds a copy of The Book of Grokh in the library he works at and chaos ensues in this hilarious Lovecraftian romp. Then in 'Satan's School for Graphic Designers,' even the Devil himself gets annoyed at a new member of his underworld class.

Fun fun fun ... and a contender for best book title of the year!

-Nick Cato


BLACK STATIC (Issue #45)

I missed the past few issues, but am glad to get back on track with the latest edition that features 8 solid tales along with the usual in-depth book and film reviews (not to mention two great opening commentaries by Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker).

Among my favorites are Stephen Hargadon's 'The Visitors,' in which our narrator thinks back on his life and listens to those around him at a local pub. We're never sure if he's alive or dead, but Hardgadon's strange conclusion made this one stand out from the lot. Emily B. Cataneo's 'Hungry Ghosts' is a powerful little story about an awkward teenaged girl named Sally who lives with her mother in an isolated house. There are secrets in the basement and it's interesting to see how Sally relates to the outside world once the authorities insist her mother place her in school. Beautiful writing here. And finally "The Drop of Light and the Rise of Dark' by Cate Gardner deals with a young woman confined to her bed when she finds her entire world covered in darkness. Gardner amps the creep factor up to 11 in this claustrophobic fever dream that ends in a way I hadn't expected. Not a bad story in the entire issue, and fans of the great Steve Rasnic Tem are in for a treat with his 'The Fishing Hut,' a slow but intense chiller.

As always, I loved Tony Lee's film reviews (his snippets are always insightful and useful when planning a film viewing night) and Peter Tennant's book reviews continue to be among the best in the business (his interview with Canadian author Helen Marshall is a great introduction for those whose radar she may have flown under. I've already ordered her collection).

Get yourself a subscription ASAP right here: Black Static Subcriptions

-Nick Cato




  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Just caught your blog after discovering you on Facebook. I would love to have you review my first book, a collection of horror stories called "Brain Matter", that I just released on Kindle this month. It's coming to print next month. But I want to play by the rules and submit when the time is right, I just don't know what kind of a window is available for submissions and how hard it is to get one through to you. But I'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks.

  3. We're hoping to open again for submissions sometime this summer. Thanks for your interest.