Monday, November 23, 2015

Reviews for the Week of November 23, 2015

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

DOMINOES IN TIME by Matthew Warner (2015 Cemetery Dance Publications / 298 pp / eBook / also available as a limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Books)

Warner's latest collection features 18 horror and science fiction stories covering a wide range of topics (and time periods). The book is divided into 5 sections, and each one features a genuine gem or two.

After the author's foreword, the first 6 tales fall under the "Ain't it Romantic?" heading, and include 'Picture Perfect,' where a model's life is altered by a slick photographer and his unusual camera, then a father (who is on the brink of divorce) meets his fate at a children's library in 'Muralistic,' while an undertaker deals with the death of his wife in the spooky 'At Death We'll Not Part.' My favorite of this section was 'Springs Eternal,' about a man searching for the Fountain of Youth (but gets a ghastly surprise), then a son helps his father cope with his late wife at a ghostly party in 'Cocktail Party of the Dead.' Capping things off is 'Life Insurance,' where a family recovers from hurricane Katrina in a most unique way.

The book then shifts into "The Joys of Parenthood," an area where the author shines. In 'Cat's Cradle,' a man must deal with a strange feline as well as his newborn son, then in 'Second Wind' a man locates his ex-wife to help birth his son in a nasty post-nuked world, where on top of everything else a "were-virus" has infected the population. A man with "The Peering" develops a disease from eyeing his son in 'With the Eyes of God,' then a step mother sees a premonition on a baby's video monitor in 'Maybe Monitored.' Warner ratchets the suspense up high in 'It's Just Business,' as a father worries about his young son at a playground when a shady looking character arrives. Make sure to read the author's introduction to 'The Three Golden Eggs,' which is a prequel to Jack & the Beanstalk. Fun stuff.

It's "Intermission" time, and along with it comes my favorite story of the lot titled 'And That's When the Bathroom Exploded,' as a worker describes how an airport bathroom blew up on his watch. A wonderfully bizarre tale that's as darkly comic as it is strange.

Three historical tales arise in "Looking Back" starting with 'Backwards Man,' where the old saying "Everything happens for a reason" is played out between a newly homeless man and a Causer of events. In 'Bummers,' a woman sneak-joins the army during the Civil War after her lesbian lover leaves for a man, and in 'Monarch of the Mountains,' two silver miners in the old West encounter a freaky creature in one of the collection's more memorable offerings.

Both stories in "Looking Ahead" are simply fantastic: 'Noah's Temple' takes place in the distant future and looks at religion and science through the eyes of a female pope; one of the better religion-themed horror stories I've read in a while. And finally, 'Die Not in Vain' is a novella about Joe Merrill, an aerophobic man flying to the East Coast to make plans for his Alzheimer-stricken mother. But Joe is having "death trips" and continually sees himself dying. He thinks he's going crazy, as does his wife, and when he learns his mother has been dealing with the same issue, Joe's world becomes even more surreal.

DOMINOES IN TIME showcases Warner's ability to pen authentic paranoia from many different angles (his 2006 novel EYES EVERYWHERE will be of interest to those interested in the subject) and his blending of the macabre with some finely placed humor makes this collection sing. At times reminiscent of classic Twilight Zone episodes, Warner's stories are engaging and more often than not will take you places you didn't see coming.

-Nick Cato

SLUSH by Glenn Rolfe (2014 Alien Agenda Publishing / 110 pages / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

This 12-pack collection draws inevitable comparisons to the short stories of Stephen King, and hey, that’s fair … it fits, and there certainly are worse writers to be compared to!

Elements of small towns, youthful characters coming of age or discovering dark truths, cultural references (and nods to King himself, always fun!), and simple home-style horrors lend them a simple but encompassing appeal.

'Ballad of the Best-Selling Author' gives voice to the eternal frustration many of us feel when something we don’t deem worthy becomes a popular or even mainstream phenom; in this one, the culprit is the zombie craze, as a true horror fan fights a lonely uphill battle to try and explain why famous hotshots don’t deserve the attention.

I particularly admired (I can’t say ‘liked,’ because it gave me SUCH uncomfy chills) the short but viciously effective 'I’m In Here”'… 'Jackie Boy' is a nicely nasty piece of work for sure, and 'Henry' will squick anybody right the heck out.

Some of the stories have been published before, others make their debut in these pages, and each of them stands strong. My biggest complaint with the book was that I could have done with another dozen more stories. So, Mr. Rolfe, hop to it!

-Christine Morgan


A PENNY SAVED by Sephera Giron (to be released 12/1/15 by Samhain Publishing / 107 pp / eBook)

Cora is an office worker, confined to her cubicle and dealing with her low place on the totem pole as she sees others around her advance. An avid penny collector, she finds a particularly shiny one in the street and is instantly transported to another dimension. She learns the penny is owned by a demon, and it doesn't take long for her life to change.

First her superior asks her to dinner, and she learns they both share the same unusual sexual interests. She willingly becomes his sex slave, and before long rises to the top of her company. Her co-workers stop talking to her, but she's not bothered as the money and promotions keep coming.

Despite being sexually abused by her two bosses, Cora eventually becomes the demon's right hand man, as well as a slave of an otherwordly kind.

Giron's sexually-charged novella is her take on the "deal with the devil" subgenre, this time employing underground goth culture and a heavy dose of fantasy-laced underworld mayhem to give things a fresh feel. A couple of scenes of Cora being transported to hell and back are quite creepy, and fans of kinky sex should be warned this makes 50 SHADES OF GREY look like a weak Sunday school lesson.

Enter at your own risk!

-Nick Cato

ROCK AND ROLL REFORM SCHOOL ZOMBIES by Bryan Smith (2010 Deadite Press / 124 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Ahhh, the 80s … when the various satanic panics about rock-and-roll and other teen pastimes really hit their stride. D&D for the nerdy kids, punk and metal for the cool ones. Parents whose own parents probably flipped out about the Beatles were all set to do anything to re-educate and de-metal their wild child.

The focus of this fun homage to that era is at a special school-slash-treatment-center designed to ‘cure’ teenagers. Of course, such programs are all too often not what they seem. At their best, it’s brainwashing in an attempt to make good little drones. At their worst, it’s rampant abuse of countless kinds.

The Southern Illinois Music Reeducation Center is not one of the good ones. Teachers and guards get away with anything short of murder under the auspices of a sadistic headmistress, and SHE, well, she gets away with more.

Until, that is the night a weird meteor lights the sky, and certain secret shallow graves disgorge their rotting occupants. The students and faculty, as well as a couple of guys on a mission to rescue one’s girlfriend, soon find themselves up to their necks in hungry flesh-chomping zombies.

A cheesy popcorn horror-comedy in book form, it’s pretty much everything you’d expect in all the right ways.

-Christine Morgan

DEAD RINGERS by Christopher Golden (2015 St. Martin's Press / 320 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

Nick and his ex-wife Tess are doing their best to raise daughter Maddie together. Nick is now with a younger girlfriend and is considering moving to England with her, which would put a strain on his already shaky relationship with his ex. Tess spots Nick in Boston one day and he snubs her, but she later finds out he was actually in New Hampshire at the same time.

Tess' friend Lili helps her look into things, and in the process discovers she has a doppleganger of her own.

It turns out Nick, Tess, Lili, and a couple of their aquaintainces have become targets of malevolent spirits who had been trapped in a mirror-filled spiritualist contraption called a psychomantuem. The spirits have managed to latch onto our protagonists and become flesh and blood versions with no physical imperfections, and the more they become human, the more Nick and co. begin to...fade away.

Golden gets major kudos here for taking a couple of tired tropes (demons, dopplegangers, ghosts) and giving them a fresh spin. For the first section of the novel I was expecting some kind of scifi/clone story, but was happy to see things come from an occult angle, which adds to the novel's relentless sense of dread. A side story dealing with a struggling alcoholic held captive in his basement adds depth to an already intense tale.

DEAD RINGERS is a wicked good time, complete with a horrifying conclusion reminiscent of the 1975 cult classic THE DEVIL'S RAIN. Check it out.

-Nick Cato


No comments:

Post a Comment