Monday, October 30, 2017

Reviews for the Week of October 30, 2017

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

SLEEPING BEAUTIES by Stephen King and Owen King (2017 Scribner / 700 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook & CD)

It's apocalypse time once again courtesy of the King family, brought to us by Stephen and his son Owen, based on Owen's idea. It seems women all over the globe are falling asleep and becoming wrapped in cocoon-like webbings that sprout from their own faces. People who try to wake their loved ones by ripping the webbing away are viciously attacked, but the women fall right back asleep after their seemingly possessed assaults.

Most of the novel takes place in the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, specifically inside a woman's prison where the strange Evie Black is being held. Evie is unaffected by the strange plague and claims to be the cause (and solution) to it. She also controls rats and other animals, and uses them to keep the inmates and correctional staff in line with her will. Or so it seems.

The women who have fallen asleep find themselves in another realm (of sorts): they still seem to be on earth, just a male-free version of it, until a baby boy is born, giving them the opportunity to "start over" and raise the evil gender the right way. Yeah, things get a bit social/political but thankfully, not overbearingly so.

There are a lot of characters here, although I found them easy to follow (there's a handy guide at the beginning for reference, although I think most readers will find it unnecessary). And while I liked most of the female cast (especially the town's sheriff Lila) I found myself uninterested in most of the guys, even an animal control expert who plays an important part.

The first half is a great set up, but the second basically becomes a protect-the-prison-stand-off story that grows tired and familiar (picture a slightly supernatural version of ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13). I guess trying to keep such an epic idea confined to a small town made me long for more info on what was happening elsewhere, but we're only given brief glimpses of that. There's also a nifty cult introduced early on who would've surely made things weirder, but we don't hear about them again until the epilogue. Perhaps King had his full of cults with DOCTOR SLEEP? Anyway, missed opportunity imho.

I liked SLEEPING BEAUTIES, and rate it as a good--but not great--King novel. The concept is quite engaging, and I think this may have worked better in a shorter version (and I've heard this IS a shorter version of the original draft). Fans of apocalyptic tales will enjoy it, despite some familiar ideas.

A film version could surely be a blast, so long as they keep it away from everyone even remotely connected to CELL.

-Nick Cato

KILL YOUR NEIGHBOR by Andersen Prunty (2007 2017 Amazon Digital / 42 pp / eBook)

The author nails another riotous tale in regards to a thought I think we’ve all most likely had at one point or another in our daily lives: the pesky neighbor. You know, that asshole who lives next door who you wished dead just to get a moment of peace and quiet and a goodnight's sleep? I used to live in this townhouse a while back and next door this chick with ten million kids moved in. We eventually named her “Trashy” because if you saw her you would know exactly what I’m talking about...

So, Kip and Emma just bought a new house while refuging out of the city and into a rundown cul-de-sac. There’s a couple of houses covered in black mold, but appear uninhabited for the most part. Except for the house next door that looks worse than all the other houses on the block. But, it’s got everything they were looking for, everything they had hoped and dreamed… except for one thing. That pesky annoying neighbor with three hell hounds that are constantly barking at all hours of the day and night, and to make it worse their owner doesn’t even care. She takes them out to their property line, the side that’s closest to theirs, and lets her terrible dogs leave piles of feces so close to their car that they are constantly stepping in dog shit when getting home from their long hours at work. When they confront the neighbor, it makes it all that much worse, and all hell begins to break loose, as the daily taunting gets turned up miserably from an even five to an all-out ten as far as annoying neighbors go. They’d do anything to make it stop. And that’s the plan.

Definitely recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

THOSE WHO FOLLOW by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason (2017 Bloodshot Books / 133 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Twins feature prominently in this latest offering from the Sisters of Slaughter, and who better to explore that unique kind of connection? Whether it's the dynamic of the good twin / evil twin, or the powerful telepathic bond even between twins raised apart, the subject is a fascinating one.

Celia has always felt somehow incomplete, and her attempts to fill the sense of emptiness inside her with drugs and alcohol have led her to a rootless, wandering, hitchhiker's life. Until she accepts a lift from the old man in the old black car, who takes her to a strange church in the middle of a forsaken desert.

But it's no ordinary forsaken desert, and he's no ordinary old man. This is his special place, an other-realm to which only he and those like him can travel. It's been his secret hideaway, secret even from others of his own kind, for decades. That's where he keeps his collection of women, each with a number carved into her forehead. Celia, now 'Fourteen,' is the newest addition.

Meanwhile, far away at a mental hospital, Casey is troubled by visions of some other-self, hearing a phantom song, and suffering injuries she swears aren't self-inflicted. Rocked by revelations about her past, she's determined to find the truth. To do that requires either convincing the doctors she's not crazy, or finding some other way to escape.

And meanwhile meanwhile, another of those with the ability to travel decides to investigate his suspicions about the old man with the old black car.

Overall, I found the premise intriguing and the descriptions nicely done, but the positives were balanced out by a few flaws ... the dialogue often felt stiff, and some key elements were underutilized or left unexplained. Real potential here, just needs elbow grease and polish.

-Christine Morgan

PASSAGE TO THE DREAMTIME by Anya Martin (2016 Dunhams Manor Press / 52 pp / chapbook)

In this one act play (second in the 'Dunhams Manor Playhouse' series), a 27 year old American woman named Lana arrives at a West German prison in 1947 to see a man she had a relationship with during the war.

Lana had met the much older German man, Franz Schiller, at a nite club in Paris she sang for. He introduced himself as an artist, and the two were instantly drawn to one another. But back home in America after the war, Lana has read about Franz' brutal exploits under the SS as a merciless Colonel, and now confronts him about his war well as their three year old son he doesn't know about.

Martin's play is a dark, emotional love story, filled with some gruesome and heartbreaking images, and a surreal look at these characters' possible futures. Highlighted with some moving artwork courtesy of Kim Bo Yung, this is a short but powerful piece I'd love to see performed on stage.

-Nick Cato

THE BOOK CLUB by Alan Baxter (2017 PS Publishing / 107 pp / hardcover & eBook)

Life seems to be rolling along fairly well for Jason and Kate. Nice house, cute kid, a reasonable schedule to let each of them pursue their individual interests as well as grandparents conveniently close to babysit when it's date night.

Until the evening Kate doesn't come home from her book club. Jason's efforts to track her down only lead to one dead end after another, and it doesn't help that the default police position in such matters is to regard the husband as a possible person of interest.

Such scrutiny -- especially after their inquiries dredge up some unsavory indiscretions and past family tragedies -- makes it difficult for Jason to carry on his own investigation. He's sure the people from her book club must know something more, something they're not telling.

He's right about that, though sure not in the way he or anyone else could have expected. The result is a tense nail-biter, fast-paced and suspenseful, laden with eerie mysteries and sinister secrets.

I read it at a single sitting, zipping breathlessly along. It's a fascinating example of the what-would-YOU-do, how-far-would-YOU-go scenario, to find out what happened to or maybe even have a chance to save someone you loved.

-Christine Morgan

SPERMJACKERS FROM HELL by Christine Morgan (2017 Deadite Press / 180 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I've been reading Morgan's novels since 2003, and can say her latest is easily the most batshit crazy in her ever-growing arsenal, which is appropriate considering it's her first novel for Deadite Press.

In SPERMJACKERS FROM HELL (you just gotta love that title) a bunch of gamer slackers semi-seriously summon a succubus, and while their ritual works, they call forth something a little ickier than the video-game demoness hottie they'd been expecting. This nasty, slug-like creature has the group dreaming extremely perverse things, on top of psychically calling them, begging them to join it in its underground lair. Just wait until you see what it has in mind!

And never mind the succubus: it seems there are plenty of freaks inhabiting this small town, freaks who will be easier to control once this demonic thing has its way with our five young protagonists. I hugged my poor dogs a little tighter after reading this...

Sick, gross, disgusting, and (oddly) very funny, SPERMJACKERS is like an x-rated bizarro version of the 1966 Peter Cushing film ISLAND OF TERROR. Morgan breaks the 4th wall a few times but it's done in a way that will tickle your funny bone (if it doesn't molest it first).

For those who like their horror way off the wall.

-Nick Cato

LITTLE DEAD THINGS by Jo-Anne Russell (2017 Tortured Souls Books / 164 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I may have mentioned a few dozen times before, but, the art of flash fiction (and its lightningbolt sib, the drabble) is one I regard with awe. Look at me, even my book reviews tend to run 200-300 words. Those fast, vicious little zaps are hard to do right, but when they work and are effective, you get major bang for the buck.

Which is definitely the case in this collection. Mucho bang for the buck, lasting potent and/or creepy impressions left to linger. Less is more, as they say, and here is a bookful of good examples. They run the gamut, dark humor and extreme horror, occasionally sweet, often ominous.

Some of my personal faves:

"The Denturist" ... given the medical mouth-related woes I've been going through, this one resonated for sure; I might give in to some pretty sketchy arrangements for pain-free new teeth!

"Perfectly Preserved" ... something about this one is just, aww, touching and endearing.

"Scabs" ... this one too, despite its grossness; maybe it's those maternal instincts but aww again.

"Satan's Waterfall" ... as if a girl's first period isn't stressful enough, just wait, there's more!

"Accidental Death" ... a spooky typewriter tale with which any writer can likely relate.

"Loose Change" ... who hasn't stuck their hand down the sofa cushions and found a surprise? Pleasant or otherwise, or, in this case, a pricey temptation.

"You Are What You Eat" ... oh, the lengths we'll go for the sake of vanity, beauty, and social pressure!

"Teddy's Teeth" ... take that, monsters under the bed!

All in all, some maybe could have used a bit more fine-tuning and polish, but, good stuff!

-Christine Morgan

-HFR staff


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful review of Little Dead Things! I realize there were some older drafts that slipped in so those are being rectified. Thanks again!