Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reviews for the Week of October 24, 2016

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

SHOCKER by Armand Rosamilia and Frank Edler (2016 Rymfire Books / 130 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Manny "Dirty" Sanchez is placed in the cell of Vito "The Shocker" Shocketti at Rahway State Penitentiary in NJ. Currently on his 20th year of a life sentence, Vito wonders if his young new cell mate is a spy for the police or a genuine criminal. He slowly gains his trust and trades food for stories about his violent and crazy past, most of which took place in the 1980s around the NJ heavy metal scene.

It turns out Vito had been raised by nuns at an orphanage (one who was his aunt). But he ended up getting thrown out after he was caught having sex with a young nun in a confessional booth at the age of 13, and has since been on the streets.

Most of SHOCKER is Vito telling Manny his crazy past hi-jinks, which include him being controlled by a statue of the Baby Jesus he had seen while at the orphanage. The statue shows up all through the story, commanding him to kill and have sex with all kinds of metal heads down the Jersey Shore and around some iconic former NJ rock clubs. Reader be warned this is some real "guy" humor, and if you weren't a metalhead in the 80s some of it may go right over your head.

But for those of us who grew up in this scene, there are a lot of references and situations that are hilarious despite the authors' twisted take on them. I did find it funny that a guy as tough and crazy as Vito Shocketti would be a fan of such wimpy bands as DANGER DANGER and BON JOVI, but hey, in the 80s I guess even the toughest dude would listen to such crap if it meant getting down some girl's pants, which here is our protagonist's main goal in life. Funny also is the anti-Staten Island commentary, which I (as a Staten Islander) actually found hilarious, as what is said here is practically the same thing we Noo Yawkers used to say about the Jersey metalheads! Ah, to be back in the 80s once again...

In the end, Vito finds out who Dirty Sanchez really is, and, guided by the Baby Jesus, are off on an adventure to be continued in the second part of this planned trilogy.

SHOCKER is a wicked fun read, especially for metalheads or anyone interested in the 80s metal club scene. The authors blend horror, humor, and some really bizarre situations to make this jailhouse thriller a real blast of trashy goodness.

I'm looking forward to the recently released SHOCKER 2: LOVE GUN...

-Nick Cato

REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 AND 4 edited by Jim Goforth (2015/2016 J. Ellington Ashton Press / approx 300 pp each / trade paperback & eBook)

Then there’s those awkward moments when your co-worker makes a big disapproving speech about some regular mass-market paperback crime thriller she found in the bookshelf just out in the common room, and how a book like this shouldn’t BE here in this facility, it’s all full of rape and violence … and you’re sitting there reading the third of the REJECTED FOR CONTENT anthologies …

Well, I figured at that point I might as well go for broke and read the third AND the fourth and review them both in one mondo equivalent of binge-watching. So, I did. Yes, my brain feels all dirty (or, dirtier; let’s be realistic here, it was far from spotless when I started).

Made for a whooooooole lot of nasty, let me tell you! The lineup of authors alone should be a warning of the level of hardcore grossness you’re getting yourself into; K. Trap Jones, Amanda Lyons, Stephen Kozeniewski, the Sisters of Slaughter, T.S. Woolard, John Ledger …

I had a feeling I’d be in for a rough time of it, narrowing down my top picks to mention in this review, but, here we go!

“What’s In A Name” by Toneye Eyenot starts off the Vicious Vengeance of RFC 3 with the atrocity-meter cranked to maxx, no holds barred, as a grieving father seeks revenge for the unthinkable. It certainly sets the tone for the rest of the book! If you can make it through this one, you’ll probably be okay. Maybe.

Other faves from that volume: Ian McClellan’s “Justice,” a soul-shredder with nuances of Jack Ketchum; Lisa Dabrowski’s short-sweet-beautiful poem “Alabaster Skin;” the disturbingly sexy “In The Black Room, We Are Not Allowed To Speak,” by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason; “Waist Deep” by Matthew Weber; and Ash Hartwell’s “Care Plan 13.”

The subtitle of RFC 4 is Highway to Hell (pictured above), with the theme of highways, be they metaphorical or literal ... the journey, the transition, the travel ... when it isn't so much where you're going as how you get there.

I think the creepiest of Vol. 4's offerings is "Miss_Vertebrae" by Eric LaRocca, though as something of a fastidious crazy-cat-lady in training myself, I can't deny a certain affection for "Little Miss Persnickety Jayne" by Mark Woods. I also got a sick kick out of the Last-House-on-the-Left vibe in William Bradley's "S.O.A.P;" Brian Glossup delivers an unlikely team-up adventure in "Hit N Run;" "The First Cut" by T.S. Woolard, shows turnabout isn't always fair play; and a deadly dose of revenge porn stars in James H. Longmore's "Snuffed: Fifty Shades of F*cked Up."

As a fun bonus, one trademark of the RFC series is the little 'rejection letters' included at the ends of the stories. Whether the real deal or not, one can't help but smirk and snicker at the notion of some unsuspecting slushpile reader or editor getting a surprise eyeful of these fiendish offerings.

-Christine Morgan

IT CAME FROM ANOMALY FLATS by Clayton Smith (2016 Dapper Press / 182 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, I picked this book up on a whim while trolling the new Horror releases on Amazon. It immediately caught my interest for two reasons (aside from the fact it’s a new Horror collection and I’m naturally a big sucker for a good ole’ short horror story). One, the beautifully violent and horrific cover art sporting these massive green tentacles, a stereotypical suburban soccer mom, and large, shiny daggers, and, two, the intriguing book description.

The author introduces us to a recurring setting that takes place in this strange and horrific place found within all nine stories, Anomaly Flats. It’s this little cyber town of doom and horror, if you will. Think green ooze, rotting corpses, strange creatures, UFOs, black magic and pink laser beams meets short horror stories of yesteryear. A couple of my personal favorites were "The Time Capsule,' a story about time travel to kick things off.  'Aberration,' a fun romp through an abandoned minor league baseball field, while father and son spend some not so quality time together bonding over potential jail time, or even worse, DEATH! 'The Invitation,' a skillfully innovative take on the classic haunted house tale, one where the reader may be in more danger than they realize before beginning the story in the first place. Not to mention haunted by a witch, you say? Yes, please.

Recommended for fans of Horror, Dark, and Science Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

STRANDED by Bracken MacLeod (2016 Tor / 300 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

On their way to bring supplies to an oil rig near the north pole, the crew of the 'Artic Promise' start experiencing weird occurences: it seems the ice has frozen their ship in place, their radio equipment stops working (despite not being broken), and as far as the eye can see it appears the whole ocean has frozen solid. Among the colorful cast of crewman is Noah Cabot, a low man on the totem pole, who is constantly treated unfairly by his father-in-law William Brewster. The two have a difficuly history, which is revealed in pieces over the coarse of the story.

With the threat of running out of food and water, the crew decides to travel on foot to a mysterious mountain of snow, which they believe could be the oil rig. It turns out to be another ship frozen in place, and to his utter shock, Noah finds a fellow deckhand from his own ship onboard...a friend who died a year earlier.

STRANDED is a suspense-filled thriller dealing with dopplegangers, shadow people, and a supernatural element that blends believably into the happenings. Comparisons to John Carpenter's THE THING come to mind, but to me more so SURVIVE, the 1976 film dealing with the true tagedy of a rugby team who fought for survival in the Andes mountains after their plane crashed. MacLeod takes this type of survival tale and twists it in a way all his own, highlighted by some dazzling prose from the very first page.

If you're an agoraphobic, this one will mess with your mind on a few levels, and even if you're not this is a creepy-as-it-gets novel that will surely get under your frostbitten skin.

-Nick Cato


I MISS THE WORLD by Violet LeVoit (to be released 11/18/16 by Publisher: King Shot Press / trade paperback)

I read this one start to finish with hardly any breaks. Luckily, though I read it at work, that was a night the residents all slept through; if they'd been up and around and needy and making me actually, y'know, do my job, we might've had some disputes. I did NOT want to be interrupted.

From the opening scene, something so visual, so archetypal, so ultimately Los Angeles -- a naked blonde poised to leap from the roof of a plastic surgery clinic -- the reader is inexorably drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems. Where appearances are one thing, appearances, face-value, facades, rose-tinted glasses and sepia-tinted reminiscence ... but where even deception itself is deceiving.

The first half or so of the book, I was riding a nostalgia wave so intense I had to remind myself to breathe. Maybe a long, rambling conversation about memories of Grandma's house wouldn't have that effect on everyone, but it hit me right in some emotional nerve cluster, a soul-ar plexus if you will.

Yes, okay, there was the jumper at the beginning, and one might've anticipated that story, her story, to be the central plot, but it proves to be only an incidental moment as a sister and brother meet in a Hollywood cemetery for the abovementioned long conversation. Which also covers the intricacies of screenwriting and casting, various movie-making and silver-screen history, and deep personal issues.

It's like listening in on a painful, intimate disclosure, compelling and addictive. And, gradually, in the briefest tap and lightest brushing of disquiet, you start picking up on other things ... indications that something is VERY wrong here, that something BAD has happened, or has been done, or is being done, or going to be ... teasing curiosity.
And then, oh wow. And then oh wow. After I read it, I had to contact the author because "wow" was pretty much all my stunned mind could manage.

You know that feeling when the bottom drops out from under? If you watched something like Sixth Sense or Unbreakable before knowing the spoilers, that feeling of jawdrop when you suddenly GOT it? The goosebumps, the stunned blinking, the tingling hollow cold rushing sensation right behind your sternum? THAT feeling?

That happens in this book. More than once. It is masterful, it is beautiful and awful, it is sweepingly and breathtakingly artistic, the impact of seeing some great natural wonder or work of art for the first time.

As I was reeling from it, awash in the awe, feeling dazed and vulnerable, the book then took a shrieking hard left into utter horror, and blew my mind like a dandelion puff.

-Christine Morgan

LAKE LURKERS by MP Johnson (2016 Severed Press / 80 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, here’s the latest from author MP Johnson and Severed Press. And what do we have here? LAKE LURKERS is a strange little horror romp that takes place in a wealthy subdivision in Minneapolis. Tess is tired of living in a trashy, cramped one bedroom apartment. She has no room for activities and barely any amenities after issues with closing on her first property. She saves up everything she has and buys a mansion with more room and comfort than one could possibly imagine.

Although, there’s a catch: she's in a relationship and she lets her boyfriend, Randall move in, too. He’s annoying. He shreds metal riffs through loud guitar amps and doesn’t give Tess her much desired personal space in her castle. But, this isn’t the only issue Tess is being confronted with. No, there’s a secret lingering in the basement. A secret the previous owners failed to disclose in writing. It isn’t until discovering a black, oily slime in the backroom in her basement that Tess realizes she has other fish to fry (pun intended). People are dying outside, being pulled into the lake in front of her new big, beautiful house. Even the dumb cops are dying as they search for the answers needed to solve the big mystery. What are these slimy, black tentacle things made of pink brain meat? And why do they have so many teeth? And where in God’s name are they even coming from?

The extremely talented and versatile MP Johnson, takes us on a hard hitting, fast bullet flying, heavy metal guitar slinging, action-packed adventure, while Tess plans for the biggest, baddest, and not to mention most expensive rager of all-time, as she puts an end to the blazing madness lurking from the lake across the street.

-Jon R. Meyers

PRETTY PRETTY PRINCESS by Shane McKenzie (2016 Blood Bound Books / 202 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Parents of young children, approximately how many repeat viewings of Elsa's Winter Wonderland Sing-Along or something does it take before the average adult ends up gibbering in the corner? Because, whatever the number, I fear the McKenzie household must have far surpassed it by now, and Shane was hardly an average adult to start with.

His previous book, MONSTERS DON'T CRY, was only a talking animal and a couple musical numbers away from being a classic (if warped, violent, depraved, and sexed-up) take on the basic, Disney Princess formula. Evidently, that still wasn't enough to get it out of his system, and the result is Pretty Pretty Princess.

In this storybook realm of scattered kingdoms divided by the dread Dark Wilderness, tradition demands every princess be locked away in a monster-guarded tower or dungeon, only to be married off to whichever bold knight rescues her. This doesn't always go well for the princess. Sometimes, it means years of solitude and captivity, malnutrition, and neglect.

One man is out to change the system: our 'hero,' Prince Francis. Shunned by his own royal parents for being more interested in peaceful pursuits, burdened with a less-than-macho reputation, with a tendency to spontaneously burst into song, he travels around -- accompanied by Gavin, a foul-mouthed base-natured talking pig -- in hopes of convincing princesses they deserve better treatment.

His big opportunity arrives when he ends up accidentally recruiting a bunch of mercenary warriors who intend to help him rescue the most legendarily beautiful of princesses, held lo these past twenty years by the terrible Goblin-Dragon.

To his surprise, he succeeds. But, far from any happily-ever-after, he finds his troubles are only beginning.

It is crass, vulgar, obscene, outrageous, offensive, lewd, crude, tacky, and generally about the wrongest most messed-up fairy tale since what Anne Rice did to Sleeping Beauty.

Which isn't to say it's porn; while there's sex and loads of jokes about and references thereto, they're rather far from erotic. There's also more groin injuries than a Jackass marathon, more poop and potty humor than several seasons of South Park, and a whole lot of gleeful gory carnage.

-Christine Morgan

THE NIGHT CYCLIST by Stephen Graham Jones (2016 TOR / 32 pp / eBook)

THE NIGHT CYCLIST was originally published online and recently brought to our reading pleasure as a Kindle Short on Amazon, where I decided to check it out as I was looking for something quick and short to read. This beautifully written story is told in first person and it's rather short, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t pack a literary punch: it does.

Not being a huge fan of the author’s longer works as of yet, I have found that I do enjoy some of his shorter stories, this title no exception and is probably amongst my favorite that I've read. The author successfully manages to develop a couple of strong characters with a common interest; cycling. The main character, Bunny, a bachelor chef who has had countless failed relationships; one after another, is in for the ride of his life. He enjoys the nights’ sky on his rides to and from work, with his knife set strapped around his upper body, reminding him of the past when he was part of the team. Some of the most useful life lessons he’d ever learned came from his respected mentor in competition bicycling, Coach. The darker segments of the story begin to unfold when he stumbles across two dead bodies on his ride home from work, but he’s not the only one in town that’s been cooking. He decides to leave the bodies alone, lying there, as most bystanders would, in hopes, that someone else calls in and notifies the authorities, in which, a young gal does when she stumbles upon the scene.

When Bunny goes home and flips on the television he rewatches the true horror unfold, but something catches his eye in the footage. When he goes back out to see what he thought it was with his own two eyes, the author introduces us to a mysterious bicyclist, one Bunny can’t believe is able to do things on his bicycle much older than his, and what’s that smell? Immediately we get a sense of strong mystery and dread and begin to connect the strange characters to the corpses found in the creek. What were they doing and why? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out for yourself. The secret may be worth killing for. 
Recommended to fans of Short Stories, Dark, Horror, and Weird Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

CHASING GHOSTS by Glenn Rolfe (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 144 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a sneaky kind of book ... it starts off like it might be the classic small-town coming-of-age tale, boys on an adventure, uncovering dark secrets and creepy local history ... but the boys disappear, and the focus skip-jumps from there over to a band on their way to a gig at a weekend cabin party, with no idea what's lurking in the woods.

Meanwhile, the parents of one of the missing boys were having troubles of their own even beforehand, and this loss might be the last straw. The father, Derek, takes off on his bike, undecided if he's going to see his girlfriend, get drunk, look for his son, or what. He also ends up at the party, after an unsettling encounter with a lurking stranger by the road.

For most of those in attendance, it's an evening of booze, sex, music, and other recreational pursuits. For others, it's torture, mutilation, murder, and worse, at the hands of an inbred backwoods clan. Fairly standard stuff of its type, but entertainingly told, the interactions and banter among many of the characters are fun, and the ending makes for a nice surprise.

-Christine Morgan


SILENT SCREAMS by Josh Strnad (to be released 10/31/26 by Serpent and Dove)

The introduction to this anthology of 26 tales differentiates between two types of horror, the 'safe' (because we know it's fictional and can therefore keep a comfortable detachment) and the other kind (from which it isn't so easy to distance our psyches), and indicated this was a book of the latter sort.

Therefore, I was expecting a bunch of psychological horror, real-world plausible stuff, human monsters, killers, abuse, cruelty, the could-happens ... and found myself surprised by the number of them featuring more fantastical elements. Not necessarily a bad thing, just, also not necessarily matching that initial set-up. Anyway, fantastical elements aside, the emotions and experiences are what counts, and those were satisfyingly effective.

This time, I ended up with two tied-for-top fave picks. One is Igor Teper's "The Untelepathic Man," an unusual exploration of disability and difference, understanding. empathy, and society. Imagine being the only person in your community lacking a vital skill or major sense; what would that be like for you? What would it be like for everyone around you?

The other tied-for-fave is "The Words That Bite" by Frederick Obermeyer, an unusual apocalypse for everyone who ever got tired of the old 'sticks and stones' adage, in which the full destructive potential of words get unleashed, and what you say really can come back to bite you.

Other standouts include Helen Catan-Prugl's "The Lady in the Billboard," "Tyrant's Fall" by Andrew M. Seddon, "Moretta" by Aurora Torchia, "My Secret Thorns" by Rebecca Birch, and Chantal Boudreau's "Hand."

I also really liked Garth Upshaw's clever twist on some tropes in "Franks," though it ended much too soon; I'd definitely want to read more or longer works set in that world.

All in all, a nice variety, many more hits than misses as far as I'm concerned. Some new names to watch out for, too. Definitely worth a look.

-Christine Morgan

HALLOWEEN ORGY MASSACRE by Jeff O'Brien (2015 Riot Forge Studios / 136 pp / trade paperback)

Here is another fine example of it-is-what-it-says ... the title promises a Halloween Orgy Massacre, and you'd better believe that's exactly what you get. But, if you're thinking along the lines of standard slasher spree fare, you'll be in for more than a few surprises; things here go quite a ways off those rails.

I mean, we got weird goo-spewing toothy alien monsters here, we got cloyingly cute childrens' show characters, a scantily clad barbarian babe-mage, one of the few times I've read anything with a prophecy / destiny Chosen One shtick without totally wanting to claw out my own brain.

And, yes, we got orgy massacre all over the place. Something's turning people into sex maniacs, or murdering and devouring them, or both.

At first, the day seems like a crazy dream come true for nerdish metalhead Will, when the popular gal he's been crushing on is suddenly throwing herself at him, and he's got a chance to show all the cool kids at the big Halloween party he's not such a loser after all.

Okay, yeah, there are other weird things going on in town, like whatever blew a hole in the roof of the store where he works, and some cloaked mystery woman following him around, but, priorities are priorities.

My only issue with the book is a minor nit-picky one, which is that although it's set in the 1980s, a few uses of more contemporary dialect and slang sneak in. But, like I said, minor and nit-picky; everything else is popcorn-crunching giggles and gore.

-Christine Morgan


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