Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Hiatus...



Yep, we're going on hiatus for the summer of 2016. Our every-other-week publishing schedule shall be put on hold. I have recently landed two huge gigs and will be very busy over the next 2-3 months preparing manuscripts and also (hopefully) finishing my second novel. Anyone who has sent in review material, we will still get to it, but not until late September, early October of 2016. Sorry for the delay, but this move is necessary for our own sanity.

ALSO: DO NOT SEND REQUESTS FOR REVIEW. It will be deleted unanswered. I am continually flooded with requests to review books and this small staff just doesn't have the time. While we're flattered so many people want to be reviewed in this eZine, the amount of material demanding our attention has reached absurd levels. This fanzine was started as a labor of love and as a fun project, but it has turned into a major undertaking.

Should I, Christine, Jon, or Sheri review anything on our personal blogs over the next few months, I will link it here and also on our Facebook page.

Thanks for your support, interest, and readership and we'll see you in the fall...

-Nick



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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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of June 6, 2016

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





BONE MEAL BROTH by Adam Cesare (2012 Rollin & Jeannie Press / 104 pp / eBook)

Reading a collection of eleven short stories from Adam Cesare is kind of like punching yourself in the head almost a dozen times … but in a good way.

He starts things off with a rustic tale of a couple kids on an errand to pick up the latest delivery from 'The Still,' only to find out just what really does go into the makings of the favorite local popskull. Then it’s time for an unsettling look at mental illness and death in 'Flies in the Brain,' and by then you have a pretty good idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, but it’s too late to back out.

The niftily noir case of a detective and a dame in 'Pink Tissue' and the skin-crawling twists of 'Bringing Down the Giants' tied for my personal favorites of the bunch, though the maddening mind-itch left lingering from 'So Bad' and the creepy siblings 'Rollin & Jeanie' both are strong seconds, making it a heck of a race overall.

Genre-wise, there’s a little something for everybody, provided everybody likes their somethings on the grim, weird, or twisted side. Like cryptids? Check out 'Boarder Jumper.' Prefer the perfect woman? Test drive 'The New Model.' Gritty revenge more your thing? 'Trap' should satisfy. Stories of loss and loneliness? 'The White Halloween' and 'The Girls in the Woods' give you a couple different but tragic and troubling takes.

So, yeah, not a dud to be found. Not that any duds would be expected from this author; everything I’ve read from him so far has been terrific, and now I just see he’s as good with the shorter stories as the novels.

-Christine Morgan



THE FIREMAN by Joe Hill (2016 William Morrow / 768 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

Hill's 4th novel is an apocalyptic epic dealing with a pandemic that causes people to spontaneously combust. Victims first notice black and gold scars on their skin (dubbed "Dragonscale") and know anytime after this they could explode. While the idea could've easily been used comedicly, Hill keeps things, for the most part, serious, and it wasn't hard for me to buy into the disease (there are some finely placed moments of humor, though).

Heading the cast of infected survivors is "The Fireman," who has learned to control the fire that wants to consume him. He has even discovered how to use his disease as a lethal weapon, and is able to keep a small community of infected safe from marauding gangs of extremination squads. He has a harder time, however, handling their internal conflicts, especially since he doesn't live with the group he protects.

Among the community is former nurse Harper Grayson, who is on the run from her crazed husband Jakob who's convinced she has infected him. John (aka "The Fireman") has placed a young boy in Harper's trust, and she becomes the nurse of her newfound home and family. But of course not everyone is happy to have her there, and Hill spends much time developing his varied cast as the uninfected close in on them.

Adding to the mounting tension is Harper's determination to bring her baby to term. The apocalypse is bad enough without being pregnant, and Hill uses this obstacle to wonderful effect, especially during the satisfying conclusion that sort-of reminded me of the film version of FAHRENHEIT 451 (the author even cites Bradbury's book as an inspiration in the dedication).

While I believe this could've been about 200 pages shorter, the novel still manages to move quickly and I wasn't bored for a second. Fans of end times stories will surely enjoy this, and those who think the subgenre is played out may be in for a surprise or two. Fun, creepy, and with some humorous pokes at pop culture, THE FIREMAN is another solid release from Hill. Read it in direct sulight for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato




COMPUTERFACE by Kevin Strange (2016 Carrion House / 84 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know by now it’s only a matter of time until the machines rise up against us. Yet we keep making our technology more and more powerful, more and more independent, more and more intrusive giving it more and more access to and control of our most intimate lives, information, and details.

Yet, when it DOES happen, I bet some people will still have the nerve to be surprised. Nerve, or arrogant hubris, tomayto/tomahto. That’ of course, is if the zombies don’t get us first … but people are arrogant and stupid enough to be looking forward to that one.

Anyway, I digress. COMPUTERFACE presents the robot uprising in a way that, well, you kind of have to admit we deserve it. To really drive the point home, the book opens with a prologue featuring the ultimate obnoxious neckbeard, Harry, an abusive jerk online and in real life. A total creep, but, thanks to his review website AngryDorks.com, a really rich total creep who’s already got his own high-tech hideout nerd-rage bunker. When he sees the end coming, he’s ready to wait it out in comfort.

Then we jump to the title character, who wakes up with no memory, no clothes, and a computer for a face. He thinks he’s a man; the reactions of the human survivors and robot attackers he encounters seem to suggest otherwise. But, to the leaders of the resistance, he presents a unique opportunity, possibly mankind’s last chance to turn this war around.

An unlikely hero, perhaps … distrusted by his own kind, fighting to cling to the vestiges of his humanity, wracked by revelations from his amnesiac past … and maybe the world’s only hope.


-Christine Morgan




GOVERNOR OF THE HOMELESS by G. Arthur Brown (2016 Psychedelic Horror Press / 70 pp /  trade paperback)

This book brings such a fast and free-floating sense of unreality, it’s like being swept along on a racing whitewater current or drawn by a riptide. Maybe you can see the shore, or a ways ahead down the river gorge, but any ideas of having control are pretty much an illusion. You’re at the mercy of irresistible forces here. The best you can do is hang on, try to keep your head above water, and hope for the best.

It’s a story of insanity. Or, several stories of insanities. Twisting in on each other, folding out from each other, an Escher print made from words. The characters are insane in ways that I, working in a psych facility, simultaneously found perfectly believable and kind of scary. I’ve HAD conversations mot dissimilar to those presented here.

What’s it about? Welllll … a trial, of sorts … a guy named Wilson is brought before the court for murdering the man known as the Governor of the Homeless. Except, the court is in Bum Town, the jurists are bag ladies, the Governor isn’t actually dead, and that’s before you even get to the stuff about creepy maybe-inhuman gangs, Abortionstein, and the Archaeopteryx. Hey, YOU read it, and try to explain it!

A crazygood story, well-written and filled with fantastic turns of phrase – the description of a plucked angel’s “embarrassed chicken wings” made me have to do that thing where you stop reading and just go wow with the admiration headshake – and laden with illustrations by Sarah Kushwara to add to the disorientation (my fave was on page 48). Crazygood, goodcrazy, all-around weirdness, definite psychedelic horror to live up to the publisher’s name.


-Christine Morgan




WASTELAND GODS by Jonathan Woodrow (2016 Horrific Tales Publishing / 362 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When a book opens with a kid getting the life-essence blasted out of him before being torn to pieces and scattered across a strange blighted landscape … by the GOOD guys, no less … you know you’re in for a wild ride. The compulsion to read on, the need to know what’s going on here, is downright irresistible.

What is going on here centers on a man named Billy, who’d lost his son a few years earlier. Not to illness or a senseless accident, but to a sadistic killer who filmed the whole thing. Needless to say, this messed Billy up more than a little. His marriage is in trouble, he’s drinking too much, and that’s when he gets approached by the mysterious Dr. Verity, with an even more mysterious offer. If he’ll work for her, in a unique capacity, she’ll help him find the man who murdered his son.

Billy, not unreasonably for a devastated parent, agrees. Even when he learns his boss is no ordinary person, the Wasteland to which she takes him is no ordinary place, and there are forces at work far beyond his understanding. The particulars of his job, which involve tracking down those destined to become evil and stopping them – permanently – while they’re still young and helpless.

Somewhere around there is when I started thinking I knew where the story was headed. And, whoa, was I wrong! It went several directions I never could have expected, a mobius corkscrew through possible timelines and alternate realities. By the halfway point, I’d given up trying to guess (though I was right about that one character!) and just read on with that delightful sense of surprises and discoveries we don’t often see in these generally predictable nowadays.

Be prepared, this is a hefty tome, a long read and a complicated one, with some difficult/troubling moments and subject matter. Not light easy vacation or bedtime reading; it requires paying attention and sticking with. But expertly done, and rewarding. Some of the Big Questions are of course left unanswered, because that’s kind of the whole point, and adds to the potent, lingering effect.


-Christine Morgan




MAGAZINES



BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 52 / May-June 2016)

After some opening commentary on horror TV and stage, this issue's fiction kicks off with a 23-page novella by Carole Johnstone titled 'Wetwork.' It's divided into 6 chapters, and my apologies to the author (who is excellent and has appeared in the pages of BS many times), but after a few attempts I just couldn't get passed the second chapter. It has a fine set up, but two of the main characters speak in a heavy (and I mean HEAVY) accent (written in intense phonetics) that I found incredibly distracting. Sorry, but I just don't have the time to decipher the main dialogue in such a lengthy story (and readers shouldn't have to, either). Perhaps one of our readers from across the pond can enlighten us in the comments below?

'Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile' is Damien Angelica Walters' second appearance in BS. Young Courtney and her mom move into her new stepfather's house. Her new stepsister is a weird one who doesn't want to give the new family a chance. And when Courtney starts getting along with her stepfather, Walters' tale becomes a gripping, unusual take on ghosts. Excellent.

A brother and sister are visited by an aunt they had never met in Robert Levy's 'The Oestridae.' The siblings' mother has been missing for a month, and it seems their aunt may have something sinister planned. Levy's suggestive prose amps up the chill factor in this impressive offering where no one is who they seem to be.

Mary Ann King's 'My Sister, The Fairy Princess' is a short but (un)sweet tale of Annamaria and her younger sister Daisy, who is a "fairy princess" of another kind in the wake of their mother's passing. Unsettling and deep.

And finally, 'Trying to Get Back to Nonchalant' by Ralph Robert Moore finds Hal spending his final days with his new girlfriend and her insightful young daughter. It's a heartbreaking study of people dealing with cancer, and not necessarily something I'd expect to come across in a horror magazine...yet it works.

Peter Tennant's 'Case Notes' kicks off with a fantastic and informative interview with Paul Meloy (and a great review of his first novel, 'The Night Clock'). Then Peter gives the buzz on three books dealing with insects (one edited by The Horror Fiction Review's own Christine Morgan), and six (count 'em!) new horror film books, which made this horror film fan quite happy. I'm now looking very forward to Lee Karr's 'The Making of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead.'

Gary Couzen's 'Blood Spectrum' once again delivers a barrage of dvd and bluray reviews, including the Arrow bluray of cult favorite 'Audition' and what is possibly the first semi-positive review of the American remake of 'Martyrs.' 

As always, BS is packed with great stuff, and again, forgive me if you found my "review" of 'Wetwork' to be lazy. Just being honest here, folks.


Subscribe or check out a solo issue here: BLACK STATIC (no. 52)

-Nick Cato


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