Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Reviews for the Week of June 12, 2017

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

DEATH GLITCH by Ken Douglas (2012 Bootleg Press / 322 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

"Lila Booth is going to kill your granddaughter." Boom, with an opening line like that, we are off to the races. With a protagonist who's not just a grandma, but a retired expert heart surgeon grandma with terminal cancer. I mean whoa! What a character! Come on, how can you NOT keep reading?

Better and better, she's racing to save her granddaughter from a stone-cold hitwoman, at an erotic costume ball, in Reno, on Halloween, because her granddaughter got hold of some incriminating information belonging to the sleazy son of a crime lord mogul ... we've got action-packed thrills-a-minute right out of the gate!

I could hardly read fast enough. Get those words into my eyeballs, get them into my brain, I want to know what happens next! And then, what happens next is, after stopping to help deliver the baby of a hit-and-run victim dressed like a vampire, our gutsy granny gets shot through the heart.

You might think that'd be it, that the book would then switch to the point of view of her granddaughter or something. But no, there are far weirder twists and surprises in store. Such as granny waking up in the morgue, and discovering not only isn't she dead anymore, not only doesn't she have cancer anymore, but she's young again.

As if death itself glitched (hence the title) and respawned her as a previous version of herself, albeit with all her own memories and knowledge. So now, not only is she dealing with this assassin, she has this inexplicable stuff going on. Healing and youth? A lot of people are going to be very eager to get their hands on that secret, as she soon finds out.

This book doesn't slow down, doesn't let up, keeps up the hectic headlong pace throughout ... and at the same time still manages to sneak in several interesting, thought-provoking messages about second chances.

-Christine Morgan

SACCULINA by Philip Fracassi (2017 Journalstone / 99 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

First of all, I couldn’t wait to check this one out. In fact, I opened it up and started reading it as soon as I got my filthy hands wrapped around it. Philip Fracassi is a brilliant writer who has, yet again, managed to deliver another solid title that delivers exactly what it sought out to do, and that is, entertain and creep out the reader. This time in the form of a deep-sea creature horror novella. Now, before you turn around and go the other way because this trope has been used time and time again practically to a literal death pulp ... don’t ... because Fracassi does it with his own style and grace that is found constantly floating around in his many published works prior, and he absolutely knocks this one out of the waterpark so to speak, and feeds us some good old-fashioned horror candy.

Two brothers, a friend, and their father go out on a fishing trip with a strange captain to celebrate one of the brother’s fresh release from prison. What better way than to go out into the ocean, drink some beers, and fish up a storm, right? Well, guess again because there is a rather dangerous storm ahead of them, and, well, something much more violent and mysterious is lurking in the water beneath the boat. The author lures us into the story with the characters’ vivid depth and emotion, typical of his prior work, whilst managing to creep and entertain with his excellent use of some of the finest slow-burning cosmic dread in town, just until he’s got you right where he wants you, and then, before you know it, you’re swimming in hell just like the rest of them.

Recommended to fans of Horror, Dark, and Weird Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

what if I got down on my knees by Tony Raucher  (2015 Whistling Shade Press / 204 pp / trade paperback)

The all-lowercase and lack of punctuation in the title made me wary ... was this going to be some overwrought trying-too-hard artsy pretentious thing? Or was it going to be one of the rare cases when the unorthodox usage serves to enhance rather that detract, to add a subtle but constant undercurrent of mental disquiet?

Well, obviously, it's the latter. Because, had it been the former, I wouldn't have finished reading, and therefore wouldn't be writing this review. Life's too short. Imagine being a musical type and hearing a favorite piece played well, but with all the notes offset just a little. In a weird sort of way, the writer/editor in me felt like that, but the uncomfortable sensation added something of value and interest to the overall experience.

What you have here is a collection of several strange and far-ranging tales, many touching upon similar themes of missed changes, solitude, loneliness, dubious friendships, lost loves, abandonment, rejection. Many seem laments, of a sort ... the lament of never speaking up, the one that got away, no appreciation and manipulation, occasionally edging from insightful toward borderline creepy.

Not a happy-happy feelgood batch of reads, in other words. But haunting, thoughtful, and effective. From a male perspective, yet also deeply immersive, intuitive, and emotional ... flying in the face of the commonly-held notions of gender roles.

"let's get sad" was a personal fave, as a group of guys try to depress themselves by watching tearjerker movies, listening to emo music, moping, and glooming ... all in the hopes of impressing the cool moody girls; sort of a wry jab at the lengths people will go to in order to try and get laid, even to the point of making themselves miserable and unable to function.

The structure of "modern problems (part 364,927)" is peculiar to follow but fascinating; reading along, there's no guessing where it's going and by the time you get there you're not sure just what happened; I liked it a lot and still can't pin down exactly why.

In some vaguely indefinable way, much of the book reminds me of the writing of Jennifer Robin ... except, instead of observational and autobiographical, these stories feel more fictional yet introspective ... an inward exploration of psyche through these various characters. Hidden depths and unknown profundities, is the kind of sense I'm trying to get across here. Whatever it is, it works.

-Christine Morgan


NEON GOLGOTHA by Michael Faun (2017 MorbiBooks / 47 pp / chapbook)

Faun's gloomy tale takes place in all five boroughs of New York City. Each chapter represents a borough with a new set of characters and off the wall situations.

NEON GOLGOTHA brings to mind Burrough's 'Naked Lunch' and Gasper Noe's 'Enter the Void' as if run through Dante's Inferno. A trippy tale of decadence and damnation in the big city. To tell you more would ruin this short but memorable nightmarish fever dream.

-Nick Cato

THE DOLL HOUSE by Edward Lee (2017 Necro Publications / 102 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

And another instance where suddenly there's an Edward Lee book I hadn't known about but immediately IT MUST BE MINE!!!! Some authors are automatic queue jumpers Fast Passin' their way to the top of my reading list, I must admit. Not fair, but, there it is. I'm only human (at least, until some better option comes along).

But, in this case, in my defense, it's a small book. A clever miniature, almost. A good-looking book too, but one that continues to support my only aggravation with this press. Gorgeous books in terms of production value, excellent stories ... lots of itsy-nitsy-bitsy non-spell-checker-able goofs slipping through.

That gripe aside, on with the show! The story's a pastiche, done in the style of M.R. James, though with the inimitable Edward Lee flair -- in other words, sexed up like whoa, perverse and delightfully nasty. Now, I know pastiches often get mocked and sneered at, but Lee's intro to this book nicely sums up my own feelings on the matter, so I needn't get into it here.

In The Doll House, collector Reginald Lympton gets a lead on a rare and valuable one for sale, the creation of a legendary craftsman who was also a reputed occultist and ancestor of the seller. None of this stops Lympton from shamelessly fleecing the sick old man and taking the treasure for much less than the asking price.

Lympton is an unpleasant fellow all around, lusting after his neighbor's daughter and the old man's daughter while bored with his own lusty and buxom wife. His libido and his personal unpleasantness both amp up as soon as the doll house is in his possession, and he soon finds himself in for a fittingly unpleasant fate.

-Christine Morgan

PURGATORY BEHIND THESE EYES by Doug Rinaldi (2016 Mayhem Street Media / 251 pp / trade aperback & eBook)

Even just the intro to this one hits its share of nerves for creative types ... because most of us have been there, in the doldrums, the dead seas where the joy gets leeched out of what we love to do, when it no longer feels worth it, when the temptation to give up and let it wither can get so strong.

I mean, I can relate, y'know? Been there. Been there all too often. But to come back from that, to persevere, is its own form of joy ... and that also comes through in the intro and the stories following.

Which are, many of them, let's put it right out there, kind of dark and messed up. You get savagery and mutilation, houses of dubious repute, devils and angels, bizarre contagions, necrophilia, insanity, murder, sinister betrayal, steamy sex, autopsies gone wrong, cannibalism, cults and killers ... all the gooshy good stuff.

Now, usually I have a hard time picking a top fave, but in this collection there was a clear stand-out winner: "Annual Seed," which starts off with a simple farmer's prize produce contest and a disgruntled competitor, ramps up toward being a revenge tale, and then swerves a crazy left turn out of nowhere into even more delightful fun.

What that meant, of course, was that I then faced the tough decisions on picking a second-fave, but really, this is not a bad problem to have. I ultimately narrowed it down to two strong contenders, the
OCD/anxiety-laden "Cleanliness & Godliness" and the historical maritime nightmare of "Maelstrom" (I have a thing for ships, what can I say?)

Bonus feature Author's Notes appear at the end of each story; there are mixed opinions about whether such belong there or at the end or not at all, but I like the little peek behind the curtain at the inner workings while it's still fresh in my mind.

-Christine Morgan

BLACK STATIC no. 58 (May/June 2017)

Opening Commentary from Lynda E. Rucker examines the classic lost girl trope in a couple of recent films, then Ralph Robert Moore shares how a heartbreaking real life event brought a few books and films to mind.

In Mark Morris' novelette 'Holiday Romance,' Skelton returns to a seaside bed and breakfast he last stayed at as a teenager. He contemplates his failing marriage and his late parents, as well as a girl he had met at the Inn all those years ago. During a walk on a rainy pier, a detective questions him, claiming a bag of body parts found on the nearby beach matches his DNA. And when Skelton discovers there's no record of a woman he had dinner with the previous night ever being checked into the Inn, Morris leads us into a Lynchian mystery that will surely give you the chills.

'The Process of Chuddar' by Tim Casson deals with a young man who befriends the last member of a cursed family. The curse eventually carries over to our protagonist's successful food business as well as his own life. This is the second part of a trilogy although you won't be lost if you missed Casson's 'Bug Skin' back in issue 50. A fine creature feature centered around a female artist.

'Nonesuch' by Joe Pitkin finds a city slicker named Jack purchasing an orchid in an area so remote he can never find the same way to and from. After meeting a hippie-like man who offers to cheaply prune Jack's apple trees, Jack decides to quit his city job and risk an apple cider press. Pitkin takes the classic "urban man moves to the country" thing and delivers a familiar yet finely written, solid chiller.

'Survival Strategies' by Helen Marshall centers around a reporter arriving in New York City to interview a woman named Lily Argo who had discovered one of the biggest horror writers of the 70s. Lily's stories of working back then in a male dominated industry are interesting, but not exactly what our reporter was looking for. So Lily gives her a bit about the legendary Barron St. John, which sort of mirrors recent events in our reporter's life. Haunting stuff.

And speaking of haunting, this issue's final offering by Gwendolyn Kiste, 'Songs to Help You Cope When Your Mom Won't Stop Haunting You and Your Friends' is an emotional ghost story about a teenager dealing with her mother's death through certain rock songs. I'm a sucker for music-themed tales and Kiste's is as good as they get.

Gary Couzen's 'Blood Spectrum' gives us another large dose of DVD/blu ray reviews (including a beautiful PHANTASM box set) and Peter Tennant's always in-depth book reviews examines several graphic novels, three recent titles from Richard Chizmar (plus an outstanding interview), and 5 more books. Tennant's damn column always increases my TBR pile...

This 58th issue (that's technically their 100th...visit their website below for more info) shows BLACK STATIC continuing to publish some of the best horror fiction in the business.

Order your copy here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato

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