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This collection of novellas features three very different stories and each one is worth your time.
In BRANDO AND BAD CHOICES by Stacy Longo, a selfish, sexually promiscuous woman finds herself in hell, but it's nothing like she'd imagined. The real torture is the boredom, and she meets an old high school friend who thinks they're being given a chance at redemption. But Stella's true fate arrives after meeting up with one of her nephews, when she is given a final chance to do right by him. As serious as the subject matter is, Longo sprinkles this with some well timed humor, but nothing that cheapens the chills.
STEEL by Tony Tremblay is an action-packed apocalyptic tale where all the adults have succumbed to a mysterious phenomena but a small group of teenagers survive in a shelter. They're threatened each night by lethal acid rain and during the day by a couple of bizarre creatures. Led by a strong girl named Steel, they eventually learn what has caused the end to come, and in a brutal showdown, her friend Fleet must make some difficult decisions. A violent, strange, and satisfying take on the end times theme.
Rob Smales' THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT is told through a lengthy email message, which actually describes events that went down over several years. A couple raising their newborn twin sons face some strange and spooky situations in the days leading to Christmas. Randy and his wife Beth become convinced someone (or something) is sneaking into their home at night and watching not only them but their twins as they sleep. Yeah, this one really gets the goosebumps going and had the feel of a classic-styled horror tale.
Three solid, satisfying novellas with a bonus end section where each author explains what inspired their story. Definitely check it out.
My first impression upon opening the envelope was “damn, this is a beautiful book!” For presentation alone, artistry and production value and design, it had major points in its favor before I even began to read.
Then I began to read, and found the contents to be equally, if not more, artistic and stunning. Now, I do review a lot of (and I say this with affection) schlock, grossness, nastiness, and trash … but I can also very much appreciate the literary delicacies, the fine and intricate examples of the craft. That’s what you get in ‘almost insentient, almost divine.’
The writing simultaneously has an old-fashioned feel and a modern freshness. It’s clean and clear and gorgeous, the kind of thing that in another author’s hands might come off as cloying or pretentious but here is satin-smooth. I read with equal parts fascination and admiration, with touches of “ooh I wish I’d done that” envy.
The stories themselves span several eras, with subtle undertones and interconnections particularly in the form of a disturbing puppet-figure. Some are hauntingly poetic, some the kind of nightmares in which you can’t say for sure just what was the scary part but the overall effect is deeply chilling.
I am not a fan of the term ‘literary horror,’ and calling it ‘highbrow horror’ seems even worse. But this is the kind of horror I could see someone really elegant and classy – my idol Dame Maggie, for instance – enjoying with her tea.
So, yes, top kudos to d.p. watt and everyone at Undertow for putting together a truly exquisite, breathtaking piece of work.
After his church votes to ban the Boy Scouts when it's learned they no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation, Dennis thinks back to an incident he was involved with in 1989, which is where the bulk of this story takes place.
At the Black Mountain Camp for Boys, Dennis was reunited with his childhood friend Wesley who now happens to be gay. Once his secret is out, even the most laid back of the boys at the camp begin to show their dark side, and Dennis is forced into a situation nightmares are made of.
While quite violent at times, ODD MAN OUT's power lies in its ability to reveal the brutal nature of mankind, of intolerance, and of a mob mentality. As in some of his past stories, the author gives a fresh look at the nature of religion and forces the reader to confront their own ideas and prejudices.
Newman's latest novella is perhaps his most intense yet, and easily his most important. Don't miss it.
SCAVENGERS by Rich Hawkins (2016 Amazon Digital / 85 pp / eBook)
A weekend getaway with some people your wife knows from work … her bosses, in fact, with their toddler in tow … isn’t exactly Ray’s idea of a good time. He doesn’t know them. As a part-time store stocker and struggling novelist, he doesn’t have much in common with their more professional lifestyle.
As a couple who’ve been facing fertility struggles, being around someone else’s kids isn’t the most comfortable scenario, either. Not that little Molly is all THAT bad, but then, it turns out little Molly isn’t the one they’ll have to worry about.
The first sign of trouble is an abandoned car slewed across the road, and what bursts from the woods when Ray and Tim go to investigate. Ray’s no sooner found a lost toy in a puddle when the attack comes.
Needless to say, the vacation doesn’t exactly happen as planned. It’s death and carnage, a village with a secret, an adrenaline rush with a few sharp surprises, twists and turns and shocks along the way.
DARK REACHES by Shaun Meeks (2016 CreateSpace / 372 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
One of the stories in this collection I’d seen before in an anthology and managed to successfully block from my traumatized memory until I spotted my own words from the review in the front ‘Praise For’ section.
Then it all came crashing back in full flinchworthy squicking eeeeeeek. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I wussily gloss over mentioning “Taut” this time around. Eeeeek. The hooks.
Moving on! Please. Moving on. So! Other stories! Of which, there are many … and as promised in the title, they reach to some pretty dark places. There’s a lot of death here, and a lot of undeath, and a few different flavors of the end of the world.
I found “Dreams of a Dead Man” extra-enjoyable because way long ago, my first pro sale was a zombie story called “Dawn of the Living-Impaired” about zombie rights and social activism; this could have been the same world, from another, grimmer, more tragic point of view.
But if you prefer your zombies nastier, you can find the full horror of war in “The Soldier,” and the depths of human perversion and depravity in “Body Bag.”
“Give Me Convenience” is a fun, gory little romp, a bloodbath disaster in microcosm … while “The Cleansing” presents the repercussions of a full-scale breakdown of civilization.
“Mommy’s Little Demon” turns out to be far from the wry twist on Rosemary’s Baby I expected, and “Family Lessons” is its own kind of agonizing.
And those are only a few of the offerings. You’ll also get a story from the author’s “Dillon, the Monster Dick” detective series, and possibly even a bonus icky surprise lurking like the post-credits scene at the movies.