Monday, February 22, 2016

Reviews for the Week of February 22, 2016

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




MONSTERS DON'T CRY by Shane McKenzie (2015 Deadite Press / 196 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Shaaaaaane, didn’t you say something in one of your author’s notes a few books ago that you were done with the fatty-fatty-boom-ba-latty grossness? I believed you, man! I believed you, and what do we get?

In this latest and possibly most violent and gore-soaked romp yet, Natasha isn’t just fat but deformed, freakish, and messed-up in many ways. She’s her mother’s personal living-legacy body horror, and does her mother – youth-obsessed, beauty-obsessed, aging-soap-star Celeste – ever take it out on her!

All Natasha wants is to be loved. To be pretty. She also doesn’t know her own strength … or her own rage. When one hurtful betrayal too many pushes her over the edge, it’s next stop total carnage.

It’s your basic Disney Princess story, essentially. Cruel mom-figure, ineffectual dad-figure, isolation, yearning, a journey of self-discovery and heart-searching into a strange new world in hopes of finding her prince.

Meanwhile, here’s Bruno, a scrappy but good-natured Aladdin/Flint type, trying to rogue his way through college by some shady means. Okay, he’s a drug-dealer. The crime boss he works for is a vicious and sadistic dominatrix, the Cruella/Malficent to Celeste’s Wicked Queen/Mother Gothel, and when Bruno gets on her bad side, he’s got no chance to escape.

Until Natasha finds him, but he’s not sure if he’s been saved or not. All he wants to do is escape, taking refuge with a friend’s frat … who are planning their lake party in the woods … where all the plot lines converge into an amazing epic finale of bone-cracking, blood-splattering, organ-squishing torture and mayhem.

Will true love conquer all? Will there be a happily-ever-after? Will anyone survive? You’ll have to read to find out, since I sadly think we might be stuck waiting a while for the full animated feature with musical numbers (but wouldn’t that be great???)

-Christine Morgan



NAUSEA by Ed Kurtz (2016 DarkFuse / 216 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

OK ... this isn't a horror novel. But it seems so many horror writers are trying their hand at crime/noir/thriller fiction it's nearly impossible to not read some of it. Several years ago Tom Piccirilli pulled me into the noir genre with his fantastic novels, and it has since snowballed. Thankfully, most noir novels/novellas I've read from horror writers testing the crime waters have been quite good. Kurtz' latest is no exception.

For the past twenty years, Nick has been a hired killer. He receives instructions and barely knows his employers or his targets. As Megadeth used to sing, "Killing's my business, and business is good." But lately Nick seems to be having a little problem. His last couple of kills have caused him nausea, and he's finding himself hitting the bathroom for a vomit session after each hit as guilt and other inner demons start to show their faces.

Told in two timelines (one how he became the killer he is today, the other showing Nick dealing with this new illness), Kurtz fills this gritty novel with a sleazy cast, some slick surprises, and an ending that's as dark and depressing as it is necessary.

A lot of protagonists in noir are anti-heroes, but Nick isn't, and while most readers won't be too upset with what becomes of him, it doesn't make us care any less about his lurid, violent lifestyle and profession.


-Nick Cato



TRIBES OF DECAY by Michael W. Garza (2016 Severed Press / 241 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It’s YA dystopia meets zombie apocalypse in this first of what’s projected to be a new series.
Decades after the infection/outbreak and collapse of civilization, the Cheyenne Tribe lives atop and scavenges from the buildings of the old world.

If a misfit young hunter hopes to win the hand of the chief’s daughter, he’ll have to prove himself. And, when a hitherto-unprecedented gathering of the dear threatens to overwhelm their society, a desperate journey into the outer world.

Kind of plodding and predictable, with way too much ‘tell’ and not nearly enough ‘show,’ I found it hard to muster much interest in or sympathy for the characters. Ended up skimming more than full-on reading. Has some potential, but lots of room for improvement.


-Christine Morgan



NONE SO DEAF by Pete Mesling (2016 Books of the Dead Press / 177 pp / eBook)

This collection of seventeen tales features a lot of payback, revenge, and karmic comeuppance. Bad people might get what they deserve, but usually not without leaving the good people untouched.

I found some of the shortest stories the most powerful, such as the creepy family-secrets darkness of 'The Patience of Adam,' the semi-random weirdness and semi-weird randomness of 'Day of Rage,' and the all-too-eerily-plausible 'The Tree Mumblers' (maybe because it’s set in Seattle and I could totally see that happening)

'Holy Is As Holy Does,' about a frontier would-be preacher/prophet who finds himself a little too successful, and 'Slipknot,' in which a hang-’em-high sheriff is eager to put his noose to use, were both effective historical pieces capturing more of the grit and blood than romance of the West.

Quite a few hits and only a couple misses, I thought. They reminded me, in a good way, of Twilight Zone episodes and old horror comics, where there’s a twist at the end or a grim little morality lesson or both.


-Christine Morgan


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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of February 8, 2016

NOTE: For submission info please see bottom of main page. Thank you.




THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES by Tony Tremblay (2016 Crossroad Press / 155 pp / eBook)

Having read a couple of Tremblay's stories in anthologies, I was looking forward to his first collection, and the wait was well worth it. These 13 tales bring the chills in unique ways, and there are several surprises.

Opening novelette 'The Strange Saga of Mattie Dyer' is a slick weird western with Lovecraftian happenings, 'The Old Man' finds a former gangster finding it hard to hide from his past, and in 'The Burial Board' a man learns the secret of the title object in this early 1800's-set chiller.

Robert learns there's more to killing someone than meets the eye in 'Something New,' then siblings overcome their abusive father in the grim but beautiful 'Stardust,'and a woman learns the truth on why her late husband refused to attend an awards ceremony while in the service in 'The Soldier's Wife.'

One of the best here, 'Tsumani,' shows a woman's faith challenged after she loses her family while on vacation, then, after murdering his unfaithful wife, a man pays for his crime in a most unusual way in my favorite of the collection, 'The Black Dress.' What an ending!

'Chiyoung and Dongsun's Song' is the author's take on a Korean folk tale that I found hilarious. It touches bizarro territory and would make a great episode of MASTERS OF HORROR (if directed by Frank Hennenlotter) should the series ever return to the airwaves.'Husband of Kellie' is a short and sweet zombie tale, and 'An Alabama Christmas' is one of the creepiest holiday-themed stories I've read in quite a while.

I had recently read 'The Pawn Shop' so can report it holds up well to a repeat visit. Then NIGHTMARES ends with 'The Visitors,' which finds a motel owner meeting her fate at the hands of two strange patrons. It had a sort-of David Lynch-feel and had me on the edge of my seat from the first page.

Having shared cigars and drinks with Tony at a couple of conventions, I wasn't sure what to expect from this mild mannered photographer, book reviewer and all around nice guy. I'm always nervous when reading the work of a friend, but with THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES, the only thing that made me nervous were some of the stories. This here's the real deal: serious horror and noir (with a touch of humor) that will surely win the author some new readers. Kudos to the brief introductions for each story. Definitely check it out.

-Nick Cato



I WILL ROT WITHOUT YOU by Danger Slater (2015 Fungasm Press / 152 pp / trade paperback)

I’ve been familiar with this guy through his readings and appearances at various events, but had somehow not until now sat myself down to read one of his books. And, of course, having finally done so, it blew me the heck away. I mean, I kind of expected it … this is Danger-Bleeping-Slater we’re talking about here, a barely-contained one-man-storm of raw talent.

His way with words is staggeringly awesome, poetic, and grotesque. A person could, like in that one South Park, get physically barf-your-guts sick from this stuff, yet keep going back for more. It’s that potent. That vividly, viscerally, in-the-face, full surround sound sensory experience potent.

If you – like me – get squicky about stuff like mold, roaches, decay, and peely dismemberments, um, well, I don’t know what else to tell you but tough up and read it anyway.

I WILL ROT WITHOUT YOU is, in a sense, the ultimate break-up novel. It’s the story of Ernie, whose life has been falling apart in just about every way since his girl left. His apartment’s bug-infested and there’s weird stuff growing in the bathroom, his landlord and neighbors are each freakier than the next, and to top it all off he seems to be coming down with something.

It just gets weirder and grosser, more surreal and more bizarre, from there. A complete inside-out upside-down trip through the wringer, fascinating, impossible to walk away from or forget. Even as it feels like things are crawling on, growing in, sloughing off, and squiggling under, your skin.

And if you ever have the chance to see him do a live reading/performance, seize the day, people. Danger-Bleeping-Slater. Great stuff.


-Christine Morgan



BLUE EEL by Lorne Dixon (2015 Cutting Block Press / 240 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Dixon (author of the grossly underrated 2011 novel ETERNAL UNREST) returns with a difficult to classify tale of cults, kidnappings, and strange, blue eels.

Branson Turaco has been a suspect in his daughter's kidnapping for several years, but when a lock of her hair is found in the home of another suspect, he decides to go after the perpetrator in the hopes his daughter might still be alive. He manages to buy a gun for protection, and with the help of a new intern at his day job and a former filmmaker (!), Branson uncovers a dark underworld that gets weirder the deeper he digs.

He finds out his daughter has been sold to a cult who live on a floating barge (of sorts) out in the middle of the ocean. This group are being transformed into glowing meta-humans by an unknown species of eel, whose juices give hallucinations and even cause people to see the future. Dixon mixes genres and keeps the reader guessing at almost every turn, and delivers an interesting cast (although I'm not sure why the alien-like cultists needed to use shotguns so much?).

BLUE EEL is an absorbing, fast-paced read, with a twist in the final two chapters that I'm still on the fence about. It's not disappointing, just something some may have a hard time buying.

If you like your horror on the strange side, give this one a try.

-Nick Cato



PREVIEW:

PAPER TIGERS by Damien Angelica Walters (to be released 2/29/16 by Dark House Press / 300 pp / trade paperback)

I still have not seen CRIMSON PEAK, and after the reviews of it, might be a while … because, THIS book is much more the sort of thing I would have expected/wanted from a lavish, moody, atmospheric, gothic mystery-drama. Anything less, really, is going to be a major let-down.

Okay and so maybe I could totes see Hiddleston as George, so what?

The point is, PAPER TIGERS is a gorgeous tapestry of pain from an author who specializes in just such intricate needlework. It’s about suffering, and wholeness, fear, longing, insecurity, self-loathing, and the prices we’d pay to get back what we lost.

Main character Alison is a burn victim. Not a survivor, but a victim, because her condition consumes her every waking moment and rules her world. Half her body is a disfigured mess of scar tissue. She thinks of herself as Monstergirl, having lost her hopes, her future, and everything but a hollow and reclusive existence.

Despite the efforts of her mother, her doctor, and her physical therapist, Alison hardly even ventures outside. On one of her rare excursions, she finds an old photo album at an antique shop and adds it to her collection – she enjoys looking at these images from the lives of others, making up stories to fill in what’s captured in the pictures.

There’s something strange about this particular album, though. It has an entire haunted house of dark history within its pages, and its inhabitants want Alison to join them. The offer is tempting – in their world, she can lose her scars, she can lose her pain … but at what price?

So, yeah, movie-making people, this is the one you need to do. It’s awesomely written, the sets and effects and costumes would be beautiful, it’s got tragedy and romance, it’s got it all. Somebody get Hiddleston’s people on the phone. And if he’s not available, how about Radcliffe?

-Christine Morgan



RAGE AND REDEMPTION IN ALPHABET CITY by Amy Grech (2015 New Pulp Press / 153 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Grech's latest collection features five stories (two are novellas), but long time fans should note there's only one new piece here.

The title tale, 'Rage and Redemption in Alphabet City' is a lengthier version of her story 'Apple of My Eye,' a gritty, disturbing tale of incest and revenge.

For those who haven't read them before, '.38 Special' is a darkly humorous look at a cheating housewife who also likes to play Russian Roulette, 'Cold Comfort' features a man cheating on his girlfriend after meeting someone at a bar (but there's a twist ending), and 'Prevention' shows the dangers of a mother favoring one child over the other.

Grech's new story, the novella-length 'Hoi Polloi Cannoli' is easily the best of the lot. In a society after a world-wide financial collapse, one man manages to overlook a community of survivors, but they must abide by his strict rules. Once a year, two lucky families are chosen to partake in a massive feast, where there's an endless buffet of food. The winners get to pig out for four hours in the company of their leader, but of course there's a catch. One young girl, who refuses to eat sweets, manages to turn the tables. Fans of end-times tales will eat this one up (full pun intended).

RAGE AND REDEMPTION is a fine collection for those new to Grech. Considering her first two collections are out of print, it's good for the author to have these tales back in circulation, but it would've been nice for New Pulp Press to mention this wasn't an all-new collection.

-Nick Cato



A COIN FOR CHARON by Dallas Mullican (2015 Winlock Press / 281 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Serial killer … or angel of mercy? Sadistic, murderous butchery … or divinely-guided release from suffering?

To the perpetrator, and even the victims, the distinction might be up for debate. To the cops, however, it doesn’t matter. You don’t just go around leaving a string of ritualistically displayed corpses all eviscerated and partly skinned without causing something of a stir.
In this nicely-turned thriller, the main characters are all deeply damaged people, in understandable, sympathetic, and sometimes frustrating ways. From the terminal cancer patient stubbornly keeping the truth from his family, to the counselor who’s able to talk others through the worst of lows while herself trapped in an abusive situation … from the detective trying to cope with devastation and loss, to the well-spoken young man who seems so gentle and polite … and all of them drawn into a grim world of violence.

I think the only real thing I tripped up on in this book had to do with Max. Did he have insurance? How was he paying his doctor bills? Wasn’t he worried about leaving debts? Those pesky questions did some interfering as I read, but not enough to knock me out of the story.

The mixes of theologies and mythologies worked well, I like the way the killer’s selection of targets is handled, and his backstory. Good descriptions, some touching moments and a lot of compassion and tension throughout, leading to some surprises and a fairly satisfying conclusion.

-Christine Morgan



MAGAZINES:


BLACK STATIC Issue 50

Another packed 96 pages of fiction and commentary kicks off with Stephen Volk on the similarities between horror and comedy and Lynda E. Rucker getting to the bottom of what exactly makes something 'goth.' Both are the usual solid commentaries well worth your time.

Heading off the fiction is Georgina Bruce's 'White Rabbit,' a hallucinatory tale of Alec, his dead wife, and how they bond over a skip in a record. "Grieving" stories are popular in BLACK STATIC, but Bruce's take is fresh and wonderfully written.

'Man of the House' by V.H. Leslie finds a 35 year-old man caring for his widowed father. He spends most of his time customizing and arranging a detailed doll house. Leslie's study of isolation and maturing kept my interest, but it's a stretch to label this one a horror story.

In 'Child of Thorns' by Ray Cluley, Nessa helps her friend birth an unusual baby and later finds out she just may have one of her own. A bizarre horror fantasy full of crisp images and easily my favorite of the issue.

'Greenteeth' by Gary Budden takes place in a future London where overpopulation and lack of work forces many to live on boats in the waters surrounding the city. It's a nice apocalyptic set up but doesn't seem to go anywhere.

'Foul is Fair' by Tyler Keevil: On the final night of a Macbeth performance, Peter learns his daughter may be the result of a supernatural occurence. Keevil's novelette may be the lenghtiest piece here but it reads the quickest. Good stuff, but it's another story this issue that barely registers as horror.

Finally, Tim Casson's 'Bug Skin' introduces us to a woman who discovers her late son was the victim of subliminal messages. It's sort-of like an updated 80s "Satanic Panic" tale and works quite well.

Peter Tennant delivers another barrage of in-depth book reviews (was nice to see three volumes of the 'Dark Screams' series covered) and interviews author Simon Bestwick, then, after several years, Tony Lee gives us his final DVD/blu-ray review column (and there's a brief commentary on film censorship), and I for one am sad to see him go. Here's hoping his replacement keeps the goods coming.

BLACK STATIC is always a great read, but for the 50th issue I was surprised to see a couple of stories that could've easily been placed in a non-horror magazine. Good tales, mind you, just strange to see them here. Or maybe it's just me?

Subscribe or sample an issue here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato

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A NOTE ABOUT SUBMISSIONS:

We continue to receive a lot of submission requests despite what our submission info listed at the bottom of the main page says. We're a small group who do reviews out of a love for the genre. We don't get paid by presses or authors for our opinions. Please don't be insulted if we don't get back to your query. The amount of review material sent in is staggering, on top of the books we review that aren't sent in as review material. Thank you for your understanding.

-HFR staff