Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reviews for the Week of September 28, 2015

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

SUPERGHOST by Scott Cole (2015 Eraserhead Press / 112 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The mysterious Dr. Rains offers Darren and Michelle (and a host of others) an experimental cure for their irritating phantom limb syndromes. By placing their arm or leg stubs into his machine, they are temporarily cured of their pain. But of course Dr. Rains has plans none of his patients could've ever guessed.

It seems Dr. Rains has invented a way to "steal" phantom limbs, and has invented an adhesive that can connect them together, a paranormal glue if you will. And to get back at the scientists who mocked him, he has created a fifty-foot tall "Superghost" comprised of the torso and head of a body builder with multiple legs and arms.

At a science convention, the Superghost goes on a rampage that begins to flatten the city (it's able to both walk through walls and become a solid killing machine at will). Thankfully, Darren and Michelle have come into contact with the equally as mysterious Dr. Franck, who has come up with a way to battle the Superghost. And it will require Darren and Michelle becoming part of an even stranger monstrosity.

SUPERGHOST is Cole's debut, a riff on mad scientists and ghost stories that's quite entertaining. I'll definitely be checking out whatever goodies this New Bizarro Author has up his translucent sleeve.

-Nick Cato

GOBLINS by David Bernstein (2015 Samhain Publishing / 210 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Roanoke Island in Virginia is usually a quiet town, a nice place to live and raise children. Until one afternoon when Jacob Brown disappears in the woods while chasing a baseball after a championship game. Shortly after, his parents are brutally murdered in their home. And soon, more children disappear, their families slaughtered.

Police Chief Marcus Hale begins to suspect that what is terrorizing Roanoke Island is not human. He resists the idea, but town drunk Jed Brewster knows about such things, and together they try to stop the creatures stalking the children.

GOBLINS was kind of a strange reading experience for me. I enjoyed the story very much; David Bernstein is a great writer who just keeps getting better with each book. But he described the children’s terror and pain so well that it broke my heart thinking of the horror they endured – even though they are fictional characters. 

But if you prefer your horror more visceral than emotional, there is something for you as well. Splatterpunk describes this story very well. The goblins spend a lot of time masticating eyeballs, disemboweling victims, and generally feasting on humans, and the author lovingly describes these actions. I cringed a lot.

If you’re looking for a good, creepy story for the Halloween season, GOBLINS is a perfect choice.

-Sheri White

ANDERSONVILLE by Ed Erdelac (2015 Hydra / 340 pp / eBook)

I love historical fiction when the language and feel of the era is spot-on, and from the very first page, this one nails it. The era in question is Civil War, the particular setting a train on the way to a hellish prisoner-of-war camp in Georgia.

It isn’t the sort of train anybody would want to be on, let alone deliberately sneak onto … and even less so for a black man dressed in Union blue. Yet that’s exactly what Bradley Lourdes does, to the point of taking on the identity of a less (or maybe more) fortunate deceased soldier.

Living or dead, black or white, none of them are going to find their situation improved by arriving at their destination. Inside the stockade is a mass of mud, filth, lice, brutality and despair. Shabby tents and ramshackle shelters crowd together in every available inch of space, and those who can’t manage such lodging find themselves scrounging out a place to sleep on the bare ground. Rations are few and far between. Clean water is a treasure beyond price.

Life is cheap, and the threat of violence is everywhere. Maybe from the sentries up on the walls of the stockade, rewarded for shooting anyone crossing the line. Maybe from the sadistic guards and their packs of vicious dogs. Maybe from the commander, always ready to order a lashing. Maybe from fellow prisoners; the tough prey on the weak, various factions maneuver for status, and there’s always the odd lone lunatic or two.

Yet, as horrible as the place appears … the truth is worse. Much, much worse. I’d been so caught up in the story already, the characters and their struggles, the atrocities, the grim and appalling and all-too-believable conditions, that it almost came as a surprise to discover there was an even more sinister, inhuman secret lurking behind the already inhumane facade.

So, you get the grittiness and horror of a Civil War prison camp, loaded with racism ranging from casual to monstrous, and you also get a hefty dose of the paranormal. Biblical, native, vodoun, occultism, a little of this, a little of that, mixing together to mean serious bad news.
It’s a great read, bringing together history and mystery, descriptions almost too vivid, plenty of compelling characters, and an expertly handled sense of time and place.

-Christine Morgan

THERE'S A BLUEBIRD IN MY HEART by Gary McMahon (to be released 10/14/2015 by White Noise Press / 26 pp / limited edition chapbook)

After losing his family to some kind of monster plague, Bill finds comfort in the bottle, even if it only leads to fistfights and more despair. And after a one night stand with his elderly landlady, he finds his way to another bar where he discovers he's able to see auras of sorts--strange blue glows coming from the other patron's chests--that leads him to an encounter with a strange beast that then leads to what is perhaps the ultimate kind of self-discovery.

While McMahon's tale only takes up 18 pages, its scope is epic; the hint that something worldwide is happening hides in the background of Bill's closed world, which is as depressing as it is exciting. BLUEBIRD is an incredibly satisfying read, although I could easily see it being expanded into a much longer piece.

If you've never seen a White Noise Press chapbook, this one's as beautiful as ever, complete with Keith Minnion's interior illustrations and packaging collectors will want on their shelf.

Another all-around excellent release from WNP. (This is limited to only 150 copies so grab one now at White Noise Press)

-Nick Cato

THE REBORN by Bryan Smith (2015 CreateSpace / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Wow. I mean, just … wow. Serves me right for assuming this was going to be yet another zombie story. This is anything BUT yet another zombie story. This is a one-way ticket to a spiraling weirdness, becoming more impossible to put down with each passing page. I recommend setting aside enough time to read at a single sitting, because it has one of the highest what-happens-NEXT?! factors I’ve seen in a good while.

So, there’s this guy named Josh, who’s always sort of known that sooner or later, he’d kill someone. Probably several someones. He’s been fighting the urge since he was a kid and recognizes himself as definite serial killer material. Finally, he can’t resist any longer, and sets his sights on a woman he’s known since they were kids.

Mia. Beautiful Mia, not quite the girl next door but the girl whose mom still lives across the street from his grandfather (who’s his own barrel of fun; a mean, spiteful, bitter, abusive old bastard Josh can’t seem to escape).

It works. He gets her. He does the vile things he’s always wanted to do. He kills her. Even brings home a special souvenir, at least, as long as it lasts and he keeps it on ice. Josh is feeling pretty smug, pretty pleased with himself.

Except then, Mia comes back. Incredibly, impossibly, there she is. Back from the dead, with no memory of her own murder, and with a new, inexplicable fondness for Josh.

Fondness? Obsession, more like. It may seem like any guy’s dream, having a gorgeous woman utterly devoted to him, but it’s actually more than a little creepy. He can’t get rid of her. He doesn’t know what to do. It certainly promises to cramp his style for any future killings, too. Or does it? Mia really only wants to be there for him, take care of him. No matter what. If that means helping, well ...

Josh isn’t exactly your Dexter-style antihero, adhering to his own twisted kind of code. Josh is, honestly, kind of a jerk. Not to mention, a dangerous and depraved sociopath. And yet, in a peculiar sort of way, I found myself feeling sorry for him as he gets deeper and deeper into a mess of his own making, if beyond his understanding.

THE REBORN is part gory thriller with a supernatural twist, part hilarious screwball rom-com, and all awesome.

-Christine Morgan

A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS by Garrett Cook (2015 Deadite Press / 164 pp / trade paperback)

Trust modern-day Renaissance genius Garrett Cook to not only reinvent the haunted house book, but discover it anew in whole hitherto unexpected dimensions.

I can’t help but be reminded of the immortal opening words by Shirley Jackson – Hill House, not sane, etc. I always thought those lines had such intriguing potential, and wanted more. How could a house be not sane? Aside, of course, from architectural wackadoo business like Winchester? But, in all my years of reading, I’d never found a satisfying answer.

Until now. This house is not sane, not by any human definition. And it isn’t anything so simple as “from the house’s POV.” Like in his stunning story in GIALLO FANTASTIQUE, this really is an imagining, an immersion of perspective, far beyond anthropomorphizing.

The house is fascinating in its alienness, its observation and manipulation of those within its area of influence. Some of them live there. Some of them, well, ‘live’ may not be the right term. There are those who currently rent rooms – Micah and Cythera with their turbulent relationship, troubled keep-to-herself Leah, feisty Kaz, and Brian-the-new-guy – and there are others. Those whose memories linger on in strangely vital ways. Antonia. Clarence and Maddy, and the shameful things they do to her.

The house knows their secrets. The house can put images into their minds, thoughts into their heads, urges into their bodies. Through therapy sessions with Doctorpuppet, and torture sessions in the basement, with subtle whispers and suggestions or outright physical manifestations, the house affects them, plays with them, uses them at its whim.

The house might as well be a god, but even gods sometimes have their devils. What IS the Closetsong? How is it exerting its own power, interfering, taking what should only belong to the house?

I can’t really give a synopsis because I think this is the kind of book that will resonate differently with each reader; it’s marvelously self-contained and inward-looking, it explains nothing but doesn’t leave a sense of unfulfilled un-explanation. As things begin to fall apart, the distress and confusion, the disintegration, are almost painfully empathic.

Masterful stuff. By no means a casual read; so much is going on, and on so many levels, it will require full concentration … and even then, probably several re-reads will be required, with new impact and new sinking-ins each time.

-Christine Morgan


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