Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reviews for the Week of February 27, 2017

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





PRIMORDIAL by David Wood and Alan Baxter (2017 Cohesion Press / 227 pp / eBook)

I have mentioned a time or million before that I get a huge kick out of toothy aquatic monster creature features, be they book or movie or otherwise. This is still true, and PRIMORDIAL proved to be one of the best, the most thoroughly delightful and satisfying, that I've read in quite some time.

Plot-wise in the larger scheme of things, it's exactly what you'd think and exactly what you'd want. Rumors of a lake monster, rich guy with a plan to find it, assembles his team of experts, off they go to exotic location. At first, there's doubt and skepticism, but hey, it's his money, might as well humor him.

And then CUE THE CHOMPY-CHOMPY! Because of course the monster's real, of course the various members of the team have their secrets, of course the locals are hiding something, of course there's trickery and betrayal afoot, of course the expedition quickly becomes a desperate fight for survival.

What makes a book a hit or a miss (in this case, hit, serious out of the park type of home run hit) is the way of the telling, the details, the extra added touches, the style and characters, the wit, the writing. Lively dialogue, believable interactions and reactions, terrific action scenes, wonderful descriptions ... it goes slyly meta with references to stuff like Jurassic Park and King Kong ... it's got a rugged Aussie and the sexy star of a myth-hunter show ... it's even got Nazis, believe it or not. And, of course, an awesome giant toothy aquatic monster!

It also features one of the most horrible/hilarious anguished livestock scenes since that poor cow dangling from a helicopter in Lake Placid. Imagine like that, only, with a sheep ... in a life jacket ... a sheep in a life jacket ... and okay maybe I'm weird but I'm one of those who isn't nearly so distraught over dozens of people becoming lunch, but OH NO THE POOR SHEEP! Then again, usually, the people, they kind of have it coming.

If, like me, you're a fan of JAWS and MEG and various menaces from the darkest depths, if you're intrigued by legends of Nessie and sea serpents, if you made embarrassing squee noises over the mosasaur tank scene in Jurassic World ... this book is for you!

-Christine Morgan




THE SECRET OF VENTRILOQUISM by Jon Padgett (2016 Dunham Manor Press / 200 pp / limited edition hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, audio book)

Having read Padgett’s 2015 novella THE INFUSORIUM (which is included here in a slightly altered form), I had high hopes for this collection and wasn’t the least bit disappointed. Comparisons have been made between Padgett and Thomas Ligotti and Shirley Jackson, and while that may be true he has his own voice and most importantly, a few of these tales are genuinely scary.

The brief opening mantra (if you will) ‘The Mindfulness of Horror Practice’ sets a gloomy tone for things to come, which kicks off with ‘Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown,’ which chronicles the murderous games among siblings. ‘The Indoor Swamp’ is another brief exercise in weirdness which Padgett has mastered despite being relatively new on the scene. The sense of setting here is as vivid as a film.

In ‘Origami Dreams,’ our narrator decodes messages inside an origami house he finds inside his box spring while cleaning under the bed. As we’re never quite sure if this is reality or fantasy, Padgett keeps us guessing until the final, eerie sentence.

My favorite here is ’20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism,’ which is written “pamphlet style” as 20 brief steps to what it takes to master the craft. And as we get to the 20th step, things become surreal and, ultimately, terrifying. This one worked for me big time...

Next up is the aforementioned novella ‘The Infusorium’ (see my full review in the 12/7/15 edition of this fine eZine), an impressive, strange murder mystery set around an abandoned paper mill. I think I enjoyed this revisit even more than my first. ‘Organ Void’ introduces us to Rose, who is stuck in a feverish nightmare (at least she—and we—hope so). Either way, Padgett gives the act of donating to the homeless a Bentley Little-lever sinister dimension.

Title tale ‘The Secret of Ventriloquism’ is written as a one act play, and is kind of an extension of ’20 Simple Steps to Ventriloquism’ with our ventriloquist now dealing with his annoying wife and getting closer to Mr. Vox, a “Greater Ventriloquist.” Another creepy-as-it-gets piece.

Capping the collection is ‘Escape to Thin Mountain,’ a heart breaking road-trip type tale that has stayed with me since finishing the book.

These 9 stories manage to get under your skin and embed themselves in your psyche. Padgett’s top notch blending of the weird and the horrific comes off as the work of a seasoned writer, and has placed him on my must read list. This is not to be missed.

-Nick Cato

(NOTE: due to a scheduling conflict, Jon R. Meyer's review of this book will appear next issue. We had originally planned to do a dual-review).





INTERSECTIONS: SIX TALES OF OUIJA HORROR (2016 Howling Unicorn Press / 434 pp / trade paperback, eBook)

I don’t think anybody can deny that, whether hoax or subconscious impulse or actual paranormal presences, Ouija boards are creepy. So, naturally, the whole theme makes great fodder for stories, and this book presents six diverse and unique takes. In some, the Ouija is front-and-center, in others it takes more of a supporting role to larger or weirder goings-on, but as a common element linking these novellas, the 'talking spirit board' certainly manages to hold its own.

Starting things off is "Ghosted," by the always-entertaining Kerry Lipp. The title does clever double-duty here, referring not only to the restless dead but the often-manipulative social phenomenon. Its wry humor is the surface layer to some unflinching cruelty and pain.

Next up is Megan Hart's "Blood Born," in which a troubled young woman and her baby go from bad situation to worse, and worse yet, when she finds herself isolated with a peculiar family as twisted histories and dark secrets unfold.

"Sounds of Silence," by Chris Marrs, makes a big-step change of pace from the previous entries by basically bringing about the end of days, leaving the last remnants of humanity struggling to survive as the forces of Heaven and Hell wage war.

Then, Brad C. Hodson's "Gallow's Grove" takes us back to the bygone days of Prohibition, when mediums and the debunking thereof were big business, and a protege of Houdini is called in on a case where personal matters may intrude on the job.

Sephera Giron's "The Next Big Thing" also looks at magic and mentalism, their shady sides as performance art, and what happens when attempting to add a new element to the act makes things get all too real and all too dangerous.

Last but not least is "Mr. Shady," by Rob E. Boley, answering the eternal question of life-after-death with several really bleak, dysfunctional options demonstrating how humanity has managed not only to screw up the mortal world but the whole metaphysical cosmos.

I'd also like to make approving note of how many of these stories featured, without making any big gimmicky deal about it, female main characters. Even though like half of them were written by dudes! Gasp shock! But shhh, let's keep that to ourselves so as not to scare off the squeamish!

-Christine Morgan




VERMILION by Molly Tanzer (2015 Word Horde / 386 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audio book)

I went into this one with only the vaguest idea of what it was about ... or, rather, what it wasn't about ... "not your typical vampire novel" covers quite a bit of ground. What I did know going in was:

1.) It was from Word Horde, and every other book I've seen from Word Horde has been top-notch terrific ...
2.) It was by Molly Tanzer, who's also basically top-notch terrific ...
And 3.) The cover depicted sort of a gunslingery occultist vibe.

Those factors, plus "not your typical vampire novel"? How, really, could it go wrong? Well, I'll tell you. It couldn't. It didn't. It delivered the neatest melting pot of alternate history weird western supernatural steampunkesque feminist diversity-friendly romanticish adventure/thriller since ... well, ever, because there hasn't been anything quite like this before.

Okay, if you're one of those who can't stand to read anything without a ruggedly handsome straight white guy protag, you're liable to be unhappy here. Lou Merriwether is only one of those things, though she does dress like a man. The better to get along in a man's world, don't you know, especially when you're not only a woman, but half-Chinese. A misfit in both cultures, she's also taken over her father's business, which is also far from the usual line of work.

Lou's a psychopomp, in the business of dealing with the undead, helping restless spirits cross over instead of lingering around causing trouble for the living. The tools of her trade are a fantastic assortment of goodies and gadgets. She's pretty well-versed in whatever the other side can throw at her, but she's not a professional monster hunter and she's certainly not a detective.

Nonetheless, she ends up taking a case of missing persons, missing Chinese men supposedly lured away on promise of jobs with a railroad project when there's not supposed to be a railroad project. The truth of course proves to be even more sinister, involving a rustic wellness spa, the purveyor of a miraculous elixir, and a disturbingly attractive enigmatic stranger.

Wonderfully written and lots of fun, with vivid characters (many of them strong women and/or dynamic minorities; leave your stereotypes at the door please!) and an engrossing exploration of a West that never was ... it's part DEADWOOD, part BRISCO COUNTY Jr., part Van Helsing penny dreadful, and altogether its own unto itself.

-Christine Morgan

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COMING SOON:

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