Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reviews for the Week of September 14, 2015

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




INFLICTIONS by John McIlveen (2015 Macabre Ink / 286 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

To echo Chris Golden's introduction, several stories in McIlveen's collection knocked me for a loop, mainly because I just didn't expect such dark, desolate stuff from a guy I considered to be one of the most laid back people I've ever met. So if you ever run into John at a convention, don't let his happy, upbeat personality fool you. When not making you laugh your ass off, INFLICTIONS offers some seriously disturbed horror that had me racing through its 23 offerings like a junkie who couldn't get enough.

The goosebumps come right away with opening tale 'Paint it Black,' where a widowed man attempts to understand the unusual final painting of his late artist wife, then the family horror continues in the title tale, 'Inflictions,' where a man discovers his own depraved past.

One of my favorites here is the lengthy 'Jerks,' about a woman named Kelly who is tired of being judged (and picked on) for her looks, and has enough when she finds her man cheating on her. She soon befriends a most strange alien, and things get even weirder--and funnier--as her life does a complete turn around. A truly hilarious romp.

And just when you think more humor is coming, we're hit with 'Make a Choice,' about a vacationing family who get tied up and are forced to play a nasty game at the hands of a lunatic: brutal and terrifying. I had read 'A Mother's Love' in the 21st CENTURY DEAD anthology, and enjoyed revisiting this heartbreaking tale of a mother trying to keep her zombie child well fed during the zombie apocalypse.

'Smokey' is another heart breaker dealing with a cat's supernatural way of helping an abused child. 'Roundabout' begins with a man murdering his family, then quickly turns into one of the more different occult horror tales I've read in a while. 'Succumb' finds a preacher battling an extremely horny entity, while a vampire hunter gets sweet revenge on the one responsible for killing her family in 'Portraits.'

'Nina' tells the tale of the ghost of an abused child, then more ghostly goodness runs rampant in 'The Confession of a Confirmed Has Been,' as a ghost befriends the daughter of a new family living in his old house; I found this one particularly eerie.

The laughs come back full force in the redneck rib-tickler 'Signs,' then the short 'Simon Says' delivers the beginning of the end at the hands of a snarky scientist. More apocalyptic mayhem continues in 'Desolation,' a nuclear war tale that more than lives up to its title.

A man deals with his wife's funeral in the uplifting 'Hope,' and while it may seem a bit out of place here, McIlveen keeps it strange enough to hold your interest.

I can't say enough good things about 'Saddled Vengeance,' a hysterical weird western where crab-infested outlaw Lucas McAdams meets his fate at the hands of an Indian tribe and a very pissed off horse. Did I mention this one is hysterical?

'Finding Forever' is another occult-themed entry with a wickedly dark conclusion, then the flash-length 'Hell to Pay' serves as a quick little follow up.

'What if...' like the aforementioned 'Hope,' is a positive and beautiful tale that brings a little light to the collection, then 'Devotion' delivers the Twilight Zone-like willies.

One of the standouts here is 'The Bore,' about an average guy getting revenge on his cheating wife at a high school reunion. It's as darkly comic as you can get. The dark humor continues in 'A Perfect Man,' where a loser wins the lottery and attempts to find a good plastic surgeon to improve his looks. But he falls victim to a voodoo queen and the results are quite funny.

'In Defense of...' is a short but sweet werewolf (or is it?) tale, then the collection concludes with 'Playing the Huddys,' about a computer company's softball team finding themselves forced to play against a family of inbred rednecks. It's matter-of-fact ending adds to the sheer absurdity.

23 stories, 6 presented here for the first time (although I had only read one of them beforehand).

INFLICTIONS delivers the horror and the humor, sometimes together, sometimes apart. McIlveen's prose is slick and will keep readers glued to the pages, even during the more light hearted fare (but know there isn't much of it here!). This is a fine introduction to a writer who is well worth checking out, and one I'm looking forward to following.

-Nick Cato




THE HUNGRY DARKNESS by Gabino Iglesias (2015 Severed Press / 140 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Caving is scary. Diving is scary. Put them together, and what do you get? Exponentially scary claustrophobic hostile-environment ways to die. And that’s BEFORE somebody gets greedy.

The greed is understandable enough. Nick Ayres wants to make a name for himself, get into the record books for cave-diving explorations, and being able to film it all with NatGeo footing the bills only makes it better. If he has to do a little damage to widen a passage no one’s ever seen before, well, can’t make an omelet etc. etc.

The trouble, of course, with sneaking in explosives to blast open part of an underwater cave is not just because it’s all illegal and stuff. It’s because who knows what might be living in there? Safe from other predators, but also sealed away … until you gotta come along and let it out.

Needless to say, let the crushing and chomping begin! So much for that NatGeo special, too. So much for some local fishermen … and kids … so much for the highly vital tourism industry, if the little problem isn’t dealt with on the quick and quiet.

That’s where Gabe Robles comes in. A loner with a boat, who takes tourists on fishing and diving expeditions, he’s always on the edge of going broke. So, when he’s offered a lot of money to find and kill the critter, he can’t exactly refuse.

Action-packed and intense, it does suffer from some editing issues (I feel like I’m griping about that a lot lately; are people getting sloppier or am I turning into a judgmental old fussbudget? Or both?). The dialogue tends toward that thing where characters address each other by name a lot to make sure the reader doesn’t forget who’s speaking.

The ending’s also very abrupt, a “wait what it’s over?” doorslam kind of thing; I wanted a little more wrap-up and wind-down. All in all though, another decent addition to the list of books to read while you’re NOT on vacation.

-Christine Morgan




DEATH SONGS FROM THE NAKED MAN by  by James Newman and Donn Gash (2015 Cemetery Dance Publications / 91 pp / eBook)

A naked man with a gun picks off customers in a convenience store, singing songs and yelling absurdities to the terrified clientele.  A lonely man in a truck stop hooks up with a beautiful woman that will end up a night he will always remember and always regret. A couple receiving marriage counseling from their church minister work out their differences in a horrific and violent way. And an aspiring writer gets the desperately-hoped-for break of his career that turns out to be a nightmare not only for him, but his wife and brother as well.

James Newman and Donn Gash have put together a collection of twisted, but hilarious stories of people caught up in completely insane situations. There is a lot of brutality and graphic violence, but while you’re cringing, you will also be laughing.

I hope Newman and Gash work together again soon, because they make a fantastic writing team.


-Sheri White




I LIKE TURTLES by G. Arthur Brown (2014 Strange Edge Publications / 133 pp / eBook)

You know those weird little toys from cereal boxes, vending machines, and the I-didn’t-cry drawer at the dentist’s office? I’m talking the stuff of which Archie McPhees, that venerable Seattle quirk-emporium, is made … novelties on the far end of the WTF scale … you know?

This collection of flash fiction from G. Arthur Brown is like that. One little piece of weirdness after another, each stranger than the last, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes the wackiest one yet. The simultaneous mental sense of “but but but WHY,” and immediate perfect rightness, was the feeling I kept getting struck with all throughout the book.

I’m not even sure how to begin to describe any particular story. They’re each in their own ways fascinating nuggets of absurdity and brilliance. The sort of thing you might think at first glance a kid on cough syrup might have done, bizarre imagery, random thoughts, streams of consciousness, word-salad … except it goes deeper than that. There’s more to it than that, a structure and system. Sometimes it’s right up front, sometimes it hits you midway or at the end, but it’s there.

They range from grim to hilarious, from possibly offensive to poignant. “Poor November” is a poignant one, haunting and beautiful in its despair. But then there’s “Sweat Bees,” which leans more toward an Edward Lee kind of thing … and the sheer goofiness of “James Franco vs. Shia LaBeouf” … yet as wildly different as they all are, those are the three I liked the best. Go figure.

Really, all I can say is, I’m not surprised in the least to see I LIKE TURTLES on the ballot for this year’s Wonderland awards. No matter who takes home the prize, everyone wins.


-Christine Morgan




DECEMBER PARK by Ronald Malfi (2014 Medallion Media Group / 756 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

It’s the early 90s, and the small town of Harting Farms – usually a very safe place where the worst crimes are those of the mischievous kind – is in terror of a child killer called “The Piper.” A teenage boy named Angelo, along with his best friends, decide to try and solve the mystery, not realizing just how deeply in danger they’re going to find themselves.

This is a coming-of-age story, and will be compared to King’s short story “The Body.” While there are a few similarities, DECEMBER PARK blows it out of the water with the character development and emotional depth of the story. This is Angelo’s story, and he keeps the reader right by his side every moment. 

There is nothing supernatural here, but it is very creepy and suspenseful.  I had my suspicions about who “The Piper” would turn out to be, but I was way off. It worked, though. And I’m glad the story followed Angelo and his friends in the aftermath, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

The book is long, over 700 pages, but it doesn’t feel bloated, nor did I have to push myself to get through any of it. The time flew by when I was reading it, and I picked it up whenever I had a spare minute. Another cool thing for me is that I live in Maryland, where the story takes place, and could picture a lot of the scenes by the water. DECEMBER PARK is a fantastic book. I can’t wait to read more by Ronald Malfi.


-Sheri White




LET'S TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT...


WICKED TALES: THE JOURNAL OF THE NEW ENGLAND HORROR WRITERS, VOLUME 3 edited by Scott T. Goudsward, Daniel G. Keohane, and David Price (2015 NEHW Press / 248 pp. / trade paperback & eBook)

With a fun cover like something off a classic issue of EC Comics, featuring a bunch of icky-squishy eldritch horrors pickaxing their way into a cartoon Lovecraft’s grave … yeah, okay, we’re off to a good start … and the introduction by Chet Williamson, “The Old Scribe and the Mysterious Codex,” does a nice job setting up a display case for the assortment of artistic oddities to follow.

'Somebody’s Darling,' by Kristin Dearborn, is first up and also one of my favorites, a historical behind-the-battlefield war story where death isn’t the worst fate in store for the wounded, and a young nurse is faced with a troubling dilemma.

Among my other top picks would have to be Sam Gafford’s 'My Brother’s Keeper' – no spoilers, but, it’s a clever and refreshing take on a familiar tale, from the point of view of a usually neglected character.

'The Hiss of Escaping Air' by Christopher Golden, is a satisfyingly twisted revenge yarn in which a movie mogul’s trophy wife goes after the most prized item in his collection, only to realize too late that she may have gone too far.

And speaking of satisfyingly twisted revenge yarns, Holly Newstein’s 'Live With It' is another winner, in which a chance meeting between former childhood friends leads to a grim reunion with an abusive parent.

Many people don’t read or appreciate poetry enough … I’m trying to get better about it myself, and therefore it’s always nice when I happen across a treat like Tricia J. Woolridge’s 'The Crocodile Below.' A poem about mean little kids and crocodiles in the sewer? Yes please!

Of course, I’m also a sucker for some good Viking stuff, so 'Odd Grimsson, Called Half-Troll' by John Goodrich was quick to catch my interest. But then, a good gripping saga of visions, curses, and man-vs.-monster will do that!

There are several more stories filling out the table of contents, and I enjoyed most of them. Definitely worth a look!

-Christine Morgan




MAGAZINES:



BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 47, Jul/Aug 2015)

After the usual interesting commentary (this time Stephen Volk on the Hitchcock/Frenzy/Jack the Ripper connection and Lynda E. Rucker muses on fear itself), the latest issue of everyone's favorite horror magazine kicks off its fiction with James Van Pelt's 'On the Road with the American Dead,' where we find a copy machine deliveryman encountering ghosts as he drives across the United States. It's more whimsical than eerie, but gives a fresh take on how the departed may carry on.

In 'All the Day You Will Have Good Luck,' Kate Jonez introduces us to a high school stud from Oklahoma who runs afoul of an unusual carnival worker ... and latently, her family. It reminded me, somewhat, of Tim Lebbon's excellent 2005 novel DESOLATION, yet Jonez gives the killer twist her own flavor.

John Connolly strikes with 'Razorshins,' where prohibition-era moonshine runners face a legendary creature when a snowstorm changes their plans. The cast  and suspense level are fantastic. In the hands of a lesser writer this could've been a ho-hum monster mash, but Connolly makes it the highlight of the issue.

'The Devil's Hands' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam features a girl from a hippie family (who may or may not be bisexual) finding herself after a drug-fueled demonic encounter. Despite the brief occult element, this one feels more like a Lifetime Channel movie of the week than a horror story. Well written, but out of place.

Ray Cluley gets things back on track with 'When the Devil Drives.' After a disturbed goth girl acts on her murderous impulses, Old Scratch himself helps her live out her hellbent fantasies in this lurid, fast paced thriller. You can almost hear SPECIMEN playing in the background as you read this one...

Capping off the issue's fiction offerings is Eric J. Guignard's 'A Case Study in Natural Selection and How it Applies to Love,' an apocalyptic tale of global warming causing people to spontaneously combust. A no-nonsense young man living with survivors in California comes of age through it all in this "mini-epic" that could surely be lengthened into a novella, or even a novel. Good stuff with some great artwork by Jim Burns.

Peter Tennant interviews featured author Ray Cluley and reviews another heaping pile of books (seriously...he must read 23/7 when he's not writing!). Among the several anthologies reviewed, I'm looking forward to checking out 'The Spectral Book of Horror Stories' edited by Mark Morris, which sounds like the promising start of a new series.

Finally, the always informative Tony Lee brings us plenty of DVD and bluray reviews, although I think he went too easy on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3. Otherwise, I have yet another batch of films added to my growing must-see list, and for film buffs Lee's section is essential reading.


Subscribe or check out a sample issue here: TTA Press / Black Static

-Nick Cato


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2 comments:

  1. December Park is maybe my favorite book of the last 20 years. Loved it so much.

    ReplyDelete
  2. That's an incredible endorsement!

    ReplyDelete