Monday, April 25, 2016

Reviews for the Week of April 25, 2016

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

THE SADIST'S BIBLE by Nicole Cushing (2016 01 Publishing / 87 pp / eBook)

Cushing (author of MR. SUICIDE, my favorite novel last year) returns with an equally as disturbing novella dealing with suppressed feelings, suicide, and a cosmic deity (themes she has and continues to handle quite well).

Ellie is tired of her religious lifestyle, which includes her devout husband. She's basically a closet lesbian who meets a younger woman in an Internet chat room. That'd be Lori, a slightly off-balanced bisexual who is looking to get away from both her mother and the demanding God who wants more than any human could ever give it.

They decide to meet up at a hotel for a night of wild sex before killing themselves. With this suicide pact to drive them, they travel to an isolated hotel, but their separate journeys are littered with different types of obstacles, and it's during this section of the story where Cushing puts her dark imagination into overdrive.

THE SADIST'S BIBLE spotlights two women who have been abused by religion and faith to different degrees, and places them on a course that's as chilling as it is mind-bending. Ellie and Lori believe suicide will end their troubles, but the God they're running from has plans far beyond either of their expectations.

Whether it's a novel or a shorter work such as this, Cushing has quickly become one of my favorite authors and THE SADIST'S BIBLE is another intense example why. Deep, intelligent, and genuinely horrific.

-Nick Cato

WIND CHILL by Patrick Rutigliano (2016 Crystal Lake Publishing / 206 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Among my many other vices, I’m always a sucker for extreme weather survival stories. Especially cold. Cold is fascinating. Nature at its most violent might be earthquakes or volcanoes or hurricanes. Cold, though, cold is different. So, you’d better believe I wasn’t going to pass up something with a freezing blue-white cover and a title like WIND CHILL.

And when said aforementioned extreme weather survival story also involves monsters or some other sort of peril? Even better! A howling, bitter, deadly terror to go along with an already precarious situation!

For teenager Emma, going on a sudden trip with her dad is far less surprise vacation and far more emergency bug-out; Dad’s been getting weirder and weirder since Mom died. Paranoid. Buying into conspiracy stuff, end-of-days societal collapse. The guns, she knew about, if perhaps not the extent of the arsenal. The cabin-turned-bunker way out in the middle of the wintry wooded nowhere, she didn’t.

Only once they’re there does she realize how truly isolated the place is. No internet, no phones, no contact with the outside world at all, and even if she could sneak the car keys, they’re snowed in and she wouldn’t know where to drive. Not fun. It’d be a bad scene even if there wasn’t something evil in the woods.

It’s an intense read, with plenty of that claustrophobic no-way-out trapped sense, Emma’s anxiety both tangible and sympathetic. I wasn’t ready for it to end as soon as it did, but that was because the rest of the book consists of bonus short stories, eight of them in all.

They are no slouches either, touching on some classic monster lore, some dark-fairy-tale-feeling pieces, some weirdness defying categorization, and what may just perhaps be a slightly discernible hint of commentary on practical effects vs. CGI.

-Christine Morgan

KRAKEN by Eric S. Brown (2016 Severed Press / 136 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

As you can tell by the cover (and in case you're not familiar with the author), KRAKEN is a classic-styled monster mash, written in a fast-paced style that won't bore those who can't deal with similar fare found on the SyFy channel.

The Desron 22 is on maneuvers with a few other military vessels when they come across a drifting cruise liner. They find only one survivor aboard, a man who claims everyone else had been attacked and killed by man-sized, squid-like creatures. And by the looks of the ship, they have no reason to doubt him.

Before long, it's a Navy vs. squid creatures action adventure, complete with some gleefully graphic kill scenes, and just when our boys think things are under control, they come ship-to-humungous-tentacles with the mythical title beast.

Brown has a knack for banging out pulp monster fiction like no one else, and here I felt like a high school student in the back of the classroom sneaking a read of something like John Halkin's SLIME (Google it!) or any number of paperback monster romps from the early 80s.

Fun stuff if a bit generic, but what else are you expecting from a novel titled KRAKEN? Get 'yer tentacles on!...

-Nick Cato

EVERY TIME WE MEET AT THE DAIRY QUEEN YOUR WHOLE FUCKING FACE EXPLODES by Carlton Mellick III (2016 Eraserhead Press / 122 pp / trade paperback)

The master of titles that make you go “okay, this I gotta see!” may have outdone himself this time … if nothing else, it’s almost twice as long as any of the Harry Potter book titles! Take that, J.K. Rowling. *And* it’s about a bullied school kid with special powers!

There, however, any resemblance to YA adventures and boy wizards comes pretty much to a screeching halt. Nobody at Hogwarts ever had a face that exploded when they got excited. And I do mean, physically exploded, in a sticky ker-splatter of blood and skin-shrapnel.

Which is what happens to Ethan’s girlfriend, Spiderweb, on their first date at Dairy Queen. He already knew she was different from other girls, what with the spiders and stuff, but the face exploding seems kind of bizarre. It’s okay, though; she’s on the bus the next day with a patchwork repair job. So they keep going out, despite the name-calling and cruel teasing of their classmates.

It’s only when their first kiss blows off part of Ethan’s face too that he starts having doubts. But by then, he’s meeting her parents, he’s at their huge fancy mansion-ish house, and her father’s patch-working ETHAN’S face back together while telling him the secrets of their family history.

After what happens with one of the bullies at school, Ethan has a drastic and immediate decision to make. Does he want to stay with Spiderweb? As in, forever, as in starting right now, leaving his whole life behind? Or does he want to break up with her, which would have its own dire consequences?

A charming tale of teenage romance with all kinds of disfigurements, malformations, blood, bugs, and gore … one of Mellick’s most bizarre yet, and also one of his best … he just keeps getting better, with no slowing down.

I find it extra cool that this book was written at a beach house writer’s retreat last year, and as I was reading it, the author was at a beach house writer’s retreat THIS year, where he no doubt wrote another complete book we can look forward to seeing soon!

-Christine Morgan

ALTAR by Phillip Fracassi (2016 Dunhams Manor Press / 54 pp / chapbook)

Phillip Fracassi’s Altar is an absolutely great and fantastic character driven tale of impending doom. Although the overall book is rather short, it is crafted and written so well it still manages to deliver an unexpected depth. The characters are just as believable as they’re realistic to the point you can feel their own thoughts and emotions as they push the subtle story further into the deep end.

We as the reader are instantly drawn into the lives of a family’s summer getaway to a community swimming pool located in the middle of a suburban hell, an aside from throwing on a blood red sheer terror soaked bikini that’s so dark it’s black. You may want to think twice before taking a dip and getting wet while having a little too much fun in the sun, because there is something much deeper, much darker lingering beneath the surface of it all.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE DEATH HOUSE by Sarah Pinborough (2015 Titan Books / 286 pp / hardcover, trade paperback & eBook)

There’s a whole generation of kids right now growing up on a steady diet of YA dystopia, and when they are ready to move on to more solid grown-up fare, here is the book to get them there.

Here is a dystopia we-the-reader don’t even see, don’t have explained to us beyond the barest of bare-bones basics. There’s no scrappy rebellion against the system, no Team ThisGuy and Team ThatGuy ‘ship wars.

In this world, kids are routinely blood-tested for some never-named disease / genetic anomaly. The ones whose results come back as ‘Defective’ are, with no warning, picked up by agents in vans and whisked away to a boarding school on an island. There, they just … wait. Every now and then, kids get sick and are taken upstairs to the sanatorium, never to be seen again.

So many questions! The symptoms of the disease seem to vary, the kids share rumors about its effects and history, but none of them know, so neither do we. The nurses and teachers, overseen by Matron, are cool and detached. Lessons are perfunctory. Socialization is pretty much left to fend for itself.

Both Narnia and Lord of the Flies are frequently mentioned by the characters throughout the course of the story, and perfectly so because elements of each figure as prominent under- and over-tones to their own situation. The various dorms are their tribes, they have their own outcasts and troublemakers and weirdos.

The protagonist, Toby, likes to skip his bedtime ‘vitamin’ to roam the big old house alone while everyone else sleeps​. But that changes for him when a new girl, Clara, has the same habit, and he has to share his private night world.

Sarah Pinborough’s writing is flawless, and in this one she’s got a mastery of mood that wraps around the psyche with dark little tendrils to burrow in and squeeze. Brilliant work, truly top-notch.

-Christine Morgan



'A Devil Inside' by Gerard Houarner is an intense study of a man dealing with a (literal) personal demon. Fans of Houarner's "Max" stories know few write psychological horror on this level, and herethe author not only shines but sets the bar quite high for this issue's fiction.

Keith Minnion's 'Down There' finds a man working with the Navy on a mission that requires the ultimate sacrifice to keep the apocalypse at bay. A creepy-as-hell thriller.

Michael Wehunt goes deep in 'The Inconsolable,' as a suicide-attempt survivor wrestles with faith and his deteriorating family. As a fan of religious-themed horror this one blew me away.

Nik Houser's 'Citizen Flame' has one of the best opening lines in recent memory: "When I told the GPS in my dashboard to go to hell, I didn't expect it to take me seriously." Ha! We're then on an insane road trip with a father racing to deliver justice to his daughter's sleazy ex-boyfriend, only to find himself in a town that just may be hell itself. A wild time that brings the late great Richard Laymon to mind.

'Voices Without Voices, Words With No Words' by Amanda C. Davis deals with Jeremy, who receives mysterious messages and delivers them to various people through what those around him believe are crank phone calls. But just as his ex is about to have him taken to the Loony Bin, she learns he's not so crazy in this slick, haunting chiller.

Among the non-fiction treats are the usual heaping of Stephen King news and reviews from Bev Vincent, Michael Marano's always insightful film reviews, another great (and very personal) M.A.F.I.A. column from Thomas F. Monteleone, and two interesting columns on the rise of horror fiction (by Christopher Fulbright) and why "extreme" horror may be just a tad played out (by Mark Sieber).

There's also an informative interview with author Ray Garton and plenty of book reviews.
An all-around great issue (especially with the fiction), although Sarah X. Dylan's cover art--while a neat concept--just didn't do it for me.

Grab a copy (or subscription) here: CEMETERY DANCE No. 73

-Nick Cato


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