Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviews for the Week of June 20, 2016

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





THE SANGUINATIAN ID by L.M. Labat (2016 Night to Dawn / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

From a brooding manor of ancestral evil … to an asylum where fiendish doctors carry out cruel experiments … to a cottage in the woods … to the blackest corrupted heart of Nazi Germany … an unusual young woman pursues a deadly adversary, who in turn would do anything to get his hands on her.

In the earlier chapters, there’s a major heaviness on ‘tell’ rather than ‘show,’ the informative author narration coming on pretty strong, and that thing where it really would be okay to just use ‘said’ instead of other dialogue tags. It smooths out as the book progresses and becomes more confident and comfortable further along.

I did find myself questioning certain elements and inconsistencies at times, particularly in regards to how the heightened olfactory senses were depicted/utilized. Or how, in the first part of the book, the vampire aspect is hinted at but not really specified … then, later, the various types with their various abilities are as classified and understood as if statted in a gaming sourcebook.

The story itself has a linear progression, but the genre and tone jump around a lot. Starts off sinister Victorian-gothic, morphs into something more dark-fairytale, then it’s a wartime supernatural action-thriller; again, I was reminded of roleplaying games and the way long-running campaigns tend to veer on and off their rails. And it definitely ends on a left-hanging note, plenty of build-up to some expected confrontations and resolutions that – ha ha gotcha – will have to wait until next time.

The illustrations throughout add a nice disturbing touch; the ones presented as pages of notes and sketches from the doctors’ journals are utterly fantastic, really capturing that old-school Dracula/Frankenstein ambiance.

-Christine Morgan



BABYLON TERMINAL (2016 DarkFuse / trade paperback, eBook, & limited edition hardcover)

I received an e-ARC so forgive me for not being able to find the page numbers anywhere online (not even a listing on Amazon), which is kind of fitting for this mysterious neo-noir thriller that's packed with violence and some very trippy scenes.

Monk is a "Dreamcatcher," a ruthless government agent assigned to track down those who attempt to run away from their dark city. There are legends of an ocean and a paradise far beyond a vast wasteland from which no one has returned. When Monk's wife Julia decides to see if the legends are true, Monk goes against his sworn oath to follow and bring her back. Some think he is now a runner, too.

Outside the city, Monk encounters all kinds of lurid characters on his quest, including a gang of savage children and cannibalistic road warrior-type marauders. My favorite scene is an edge-of-your-seat brawl with another Dreamcatcher who is the best there is.

In the final act, we're left to ponder events as the ending takes on a surreal/nightmare-ish tone. Has Monk been dreaming everything? Has he really found his wife or has he become the victim of one of the goons he has met on the road? It's best to keep your imagination running here, but even if the conclusion isn't your cup of tea, there's plenty of hard hitting action beforehand, and some truly tense moments.

BABYLON TERMINAL reminded me of a violent version of LOGAN'S RUN with some BLADERUNNER thrown in, but Gifune's own flavor is felt from the first page and this fine novel moves at a breakneck pace. An interesting change up for Gifune fans.


-Nick Cato



RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt (2015 Grindhouse Press / 205 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

You know how some medications and carnival rides have cautionary advisories for pregnant ladies? This is a book that could use one of those. Though, I suppose, the pentagram/coathanger sigil on the cover ought to be enough of a warning …

It’s a nasty story. Just nasty throughout. Nasty sex, nasty gore, revenge porn, nasty people, cultists, cruelty, nasty nasty nasty. And, what can I say, I enjoyed it start to finish.
The main character, Nick, is a real love-to-hate-him despicable piece of work. The sympathetic ways in which he’s fastidious and germophobic are more than outweighed by him being a grade-A bastard, the kind of guy you sort of can’t help rooting for, until you then kind of can’t help waiting for him to get what he deserves, and either way it’s viciously satisfying.

See, right when he’s about to call it quits with his wife, Eve, she springs a surprise pregnancy on him. He can’t leave her without looking like a jerk, so, he devises another plan to pay her back. In ways that, to outside appearances, seem positively generous. Buy a big house, move to the country, she can quit her job, he’ll work from home? To some, hey, that might sound ideal.

Except, of course, for the isolation, the controlling behavior, the emotional abuse, and sheer hatefulness. Nick is all set to enjoy making Eve’s life a living hell, but he maybe could have done a little more background checking on the house and town before signing the papers.

I’m sure the poor tired old meme has probably played out by now, but really, all I can do is Doge: Wow. Such nasty. So bodily fluid. Much squick. Wow.


-Christine Morgan



THE NINES by Sam W. Anderson (2015 Rotcho Press / 330 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The Money Run is a dangerous stretch of American highway where all sorts of shady cargo is transported. The average person has no idea what crosses these roads, and those in Anderson's underground like it that way.

Artimus is a truck driver known for taking on the hard tasks and for his skills behind the wheel. But now, Artimus' long time contact has given him a crucial assignment, one that must be completed or it will mean the end of him. And Artimus quickly learns she wasn't kidding, as his route becomes cluttered with obstacles that go from annoying to lethal,and downright WTF? territory.

I didn't realize this book was part of a series (or at least a universe created by the author), and there are references I'm assuming can be answered by reading some of the other Money Run stories (about halfway through the book I did an Interwebz search and sure enough, yep, this was the case). But as it is, THE NINES works pretty good as a stand alone novel. It's an action packed tale full of some really sleazy people (my favorite being Sister Dazy, the epitome of an exploitation film-type nun who doesn't mind stooping to unholy means to get things done) and plenty of DEATH RACE 2000-inspired auto action. In fact, the whole thing reminded me of a crazier version of the Charles Bronson classic THE MECHANIC, which left this 70s film fan with a satisfied grin.

I'm looking forward to checking out another adventure with the steroid-addicted Artimus, who turned out to be a likable enough anti-hero. Buckle up and give THE NINES a spin, and if possible, read it in an abandoned theater for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato



MAYAN BLUE by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 278 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I tried, too, and in some ways I was successful. I mean, it’s a horror story steeped in Central American mythology, which is high on the list of ancient cultures I find particularly fascinating.

In that regard, Mayan Blue does a pretty good job – the imagery and descriptions, the supernatural elements, blood, bone, sacrifices, people getting their skin flayed off, terrifying deities; that aspect’s all there.

The background is solid, if the plot’s a fairly typical archaeology-expedition-goes-wrong as a group of students go to join a professor who’s discovered what appear to be Mayan ruins in the U.S. The problem I had wasn’t even with most of the characters being your basic Cabin in the Woods archetypes of jock, scholar, good girl, slut.

The problem I had was the writing style, which was heavy on passive voice, author narration, within-scenes POV jumps, and basically way more “tell” than “show.” Admittedly, the stuff they were telling was gory neat stuff, but it read more like a droning film strip than the exciting scary story it sought to be.

That’s too bad, because the potential’s really there, the spirit and passion and interest in the subject. I think, with some work and the help of a diligent editor, this book could really shine. Here’s hoping for the next one. I’d love to see more done with the great mythology!


-Christine Morgan



NOT SAFE FOR KIDS by Kevin Shamel--illustrated by Jim Agpalza (2016 Spunk Goblin Press / 130 pp / trade paperback)

Halfway through reading this one, I had to pause long enough to remark to the head publisher than it was the most delightfully fun and (bleep)ed-up thing I’ve ever read. Then I went and finished it, and I stand by that sentiment.

Agreed, it’s not for kids (oh so very much definitely not!) … but now that mine is no longer a kid, I’d certainly give her a copy. In fact, I could see myself giving copies to each of my nieces and nephews and other youngsters of my acquaintance, once they turn 18 and their parents can’t be TOO mad.

What is it? Well, it’s a series of little life-lessons, and a bunch of the super-secret secrets adults have been keeping to themselves, stuff like what’s really under your bed, what animals are up to, what parents really do at work all day, how to get a new mom, why your skeleton is trying to escape, fun games to play with your siblings, etc. A handbook, a guidebook, a gospel, everything you always knew they were lying to you about while you were growing up. With illustrations every bit as totally badwrong as the text

My personal favorite was the suggestion to tell your younger sib that he or she was not only adopted but found in a murder house, a la Dexter. Since that’s the sort of thing I might have told my own siblings, and since to this day we talk about my daughter’s “attic sister,” I guess my only excuse is, well, I may be deranged.

But, I take some twisted comfort in knowing that hey, I’m not alone.


-Christine Morgan


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