Monday, December 11, 2017

Reviews for the Week of December 11, 2017

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





THE NOCTUARY: PANDEMONIUM by Greg Chapman (2017 Bloodshot Books / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This novel-length sequel to Chapman's 2011 novella THE NOCTUARY takes some familiar tropes, twists them, and becomes a creepy-as-it-gets tale I read in only two sittings.

For those not familiar with the novella, it's included here as an opening bonus. In a nutshell: author Simon Ryan literally becomes hell's newest scribe, his words able to change the destiny of every living soul. In PANDEMONIUM, Ryan's former psychiatrist, Dr. Desmond Carter, receives a manuscript allegedly written by the now missing Ryan. His destiny quickly snowballs as his boss, a crazed patient, and a detective all fall victim to Ryan's otherworldly words.

PANDEMONIUM keeps the scares coming and the peril alive on every page. A couple of scenes inside a mental institution raise serious goosebumps, and the impending sense of doom is relentless.

Towards the end, Chapman spends perhaps a bit too much time on backstory, although he does create his own hellish version of history that could easily be built upon in future projects.

 PANDEMONIUM delivers the goods and should chill even the most jaded reader.

-Nick Cato




ENGINES OF RUIN by Lucas Mangum (2017 Doom Kitten Press / 180 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, this guy is officially one to keep an eye on, still fairly new to the game but already displaying the kind of talent and skill that will go a long, long way. Not to mention, proving that good writing isn't a lost or dying art in this modern age; the current crop of rising stars will more than carry on into the future!

Opening with an intro by extreme-horror powerhouse Shane McKenzie, Engines of Ruin is a tidy collection of eight unsettling tales. Some touch on the supernatural, many have religious aspects, but most deliver their chills simply by delving right into the darker undersides of the human psyche.

"Hell and Back," in which a pastor-turned-bartender faces the conflict of helping a friend who's done a terrible thing, has a gritty noir feel and reads like it should be a starkly done black-and-white graphic novel.

The passion and poison of twisted relationships take center stage in stories such as "Worlds Colliding" and "Video Inferno," while painful histories, forbidden urges, and deadly secrets refusing to stay quiet are the focus of "A Killing Back Home" and the haunting "Waters of Ruin."

"The World Asunder" manages the deft trick of being a zombie apocalypse story without on-screen zombies, and "Occupy Babylon" brushes up against the end of days in a subtly sneaky surprise.

The full-on weirdest of the set is "Our Lady of the Sea," maybe not Lovecraftian in a lore sense but (to me) very much so in a feel sense, atmospheric and eldritch and somehow beautifully bleak.

So, yeah, all right, sometimes I may grump about these kids being so much better than I was at that age, but I mean it with affection. They've got the stuff. We won't need to despair for ongoing good reads, and that's what really matters.


-Christine Morgan




PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW by Gwendolyn Kiste (2017 Broken Eye Books / 90 pp / trade paperback)

Rhee is a ghostly hitchhiker who haunts the same isolated stretch of highway night after night, freaking drivers out and having her own otherworldly fun. But at the end of each day she is transported back to a house she shares with four sisters, each of them a ghost, too.

But it turns out these ladies aren't your ordinary specters: Rhee is actually the legendary Resurrection Mary, one of her sisters the infamous Bloody Mary, another Mary Mack, etc., Urban Legends whose afterlives are about to be challenged but the ultimate incarnation of darkness.

Rhee's world is also beginning to merge with human love interest Dave and his young daughter Abby, as well as twin sisters who have a knack for contacting the spirit realm.

Kiste's dark fantasy grabbed me from the first sentence and forced me to finish in one sitting. This highly imaginative novella features some incredible imagery, gorgeous prose, and a satisfying finale that could easily lead to a sequel. I loved it.


-Nick Cato




THE WILDRENESS WITHIN by John Claude Smith (2017 Trepidatio Publishing / 258 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I went into this one with no idea of what I was going to read, and I came out the other end some days later, blinking like a mole in the sunlight, trying not only to figure out what I'd just read but what was real and what wasn't.

A shifting unreality, to say the least! Over the course of the book, several times right when I'd finally think I had a grasp, that grasp would slip away like a handful of smoke. If it's like King's The Dark Half, it's the origami version, so intricate and folded in on itself the eye can barely comprehend and the brain is left guessing.

Summary-wise, it starts off with a couple of middle-aged author types heading out for a restful cabin vacation, but from the get-go there's some Lynchian not-quite-rightness going on about the woods. Our POV guy, Derek, soon becomes concerned about his buddy Frank. Their reminiscences about the old days, including absent friend Izzy, gradually make Derek wonder how much of Frank's writing is drawn from imagination and how much from real life.

And, of course, things take a swiftly spiraling dreamlike descent from there ... fiction and reality intertwine ... Derek has to confront the true-life inspiration for one of his own literary creations ... Izzy shows up, or does he? ... some strange force in the forest is calling ... much more than sanity and safety are at stake.

Now and then, things side-wander with a bit more info dumping about music and such than I particularly cared for, but the lavish sensory immersion and richness of description more than makes up for it. Not a book for casual pick it up / put it down reading, though; you've got to pay attention or you will soon be lost in the woods.


-Christine Morgan



PREVIEW:

WIDOW'S POINT by Richard and Billy Chizmar (to be released January 28, 2018 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 156 pp / hardcover)

The Harper's Cove lighthouse has a dark and troubling history, and famous supernatural investigator Thomas Livingston is about to spend a weekend there. His aim is to get material for yet another bestseller, and with over two dozen confirmed deaths over the years, he's sure there will be plenty to write about. To make matters spookier, he's locked in by the groundskeeper with no phone or Internet service. Of course it doesn't take long for the hauntings to begin, which grow in intensity after he finds the journal of a 12 year old who once lived there with his family...

While WIDOW'S POINT is a familiar story (1408 immediately comes to mind), it's told through a series of voice and video recordings that give it its own feel, and the four post endings make it seem like an authentic episode of Unsolved Mysteries. In the hands of these skilled authors (a father and son team), a typical genre tale manages to raise some serious scares and proves there's always room for a well told, solid ghost story.

A no nonsense, tight, filler-free novella perfect for a late night read.


-Nick Cato




THE TEETH OF THE SEA by Tim Waggoner (2017 Severed Press / 180 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

As a reviewer, I strive to be detached, aloof, and professional -- hey! what are you laughing at? Okay, okay, fine, my reaction upon learning of this book was giddy glee and something like "OMG YES freaky sea monster chompy aquatic horror is my JAM bring it on gimme!"

What can I say? I love this kind of stuff. And I'm delighted to report that The Teeth of the Sea does not in any way disappoint. It's got everything I look for in oceanic creature-features and then some! Great action, fun characters, interpersonal conflict, glorious carnage, terrific writing, believable critters with personality and motivation ... an exhilarating adventure from start to finish!

It opens with a small pod, two males and two females, returning by instinct to their ancestral spawning/hatching ground after long years in the deep. Only, there's a problem. During the intervening time, the island's been made into a prime vacation destination of luxury hotels, casinos, canals, and resorts.

This doesn't stop the pod for long, because they quickly discover that this means a veritable bounty of tasty soft-skinned morsels. Soon, videos of gory attacks are all over the internet, but every public-relations nightmare has its silver lining. Cue monster-watching boat tours, a special episode of a cryptid-hunter show, a disgraced professor hoping for redemption, a comedian looking to become a real-life action hero, and the stage is set -- so they think -- for success.

So they think. Needless to say, it doesn't go as planned. In fact, the situation keeps getting worse for the idiot soft-skins with their cameras and phones and selfie-sticks. But it's all-you-can-eat time for the pod, unless their violent competitive urges get in the way.

Top-notch chomping, plausible science (often a rarity in creature-features, must admit), tons of fun, and a fully satisfying read!


-Christine Morgan




MAGAZINES:



BLACK STATIC no. 61 ( Nov/Dec 2017 / TTA Press)

Opening commentaries feature Lynda E. Rucker's thoughts on ghosts in light of the Christmas season, then Ralph Robert Moore discusses the loneliness of the writer's life as well as carrying on despite those who may be against you.

This issue's fiction is once again among the best in the business, and includes:

-THE ANNIVERSARY by Ruth EJ Booth: In just 4 short paragraphs, Booth delivers a powerful piece on spousal abuse. A grim tone is quickly set...

-FOR WHOM THE DOGS BARK by Ralph Robert Moore: an old man named Hans, who lives alone, grows weary as he faces cataract surgery. Late at night the dogs next door wake him with their barking, but when Hans investigates he finds three naked men on all fours pretending to be dogs. We learn a bit of Hans' back story but only enough to hint at where his mind is currently at. A weird and unsettling study of aging.

-THE BOOK OF DREEMS by Georgina Bruce: A dazzling look at an abusive relationship where the abused's (Kate) cloudy memory leads to her man's (Fraser) downfall. Bruce's symbolism makes the piece almost feel sci-fi but the underlying horror will chill you to the core.

-DO NOT GOOGLE by Andrew Humphrey: a cheating husband is asked by co-worker Vince to take a piece of paper containing a series of words that, when Googled, lead to a loved one's death. Being said husband doesn't love anyone, he takes the paper...and discovers the hard way he most certainly does. An idea that reminded me of CURSE OF THE DEMON (1957), and I'm sure much earlier stories, but here Humphrey gives it a fresh spin.

-A SMALL LIFE by Carly Holmes: An alcoholic man, running from his past, arrives in a small town and joins a rowing team to help keep his mind off his demons. He does fine, until almost capsizing the boat one day after seeing a strange creature jump at him from the woods. And when Jess, a team mate's sister, joins the team and shows interest in him, our unnamed protagonist begins to spiral way out of control in this engrossing novelette.

-TANCHO by Mel Kassel: Laurie, an old woman on dialysis, is kidnapped and murdered by her neighbor, Jameson. He has a customized pond where he keeps her spirit (or something like it) with occult symbols on the walls that keep her a submerged prisoner. It seems Jameson has found a way to breed rare koi fish for a demanding market, which he needs Laurie for. But Laurie figures out a clever way to turn the tables on her captor. Kassel's aquatic terror tale brings to mind classic EC comics although with none of the campiness. This is seriously strange (and disturbing) stuff.

Gary Couzens delivers another batch of dvd/bluray reviews, including a look at the latest box set of George Romero films from Arrow, the seventh season of The Walking Dead, and Arrow's real pretty deluxe edition of John Carpenter's THE THING.

Among Peter Tennant's book reviews are seven anthologies/collections, six chapbooks from Nightjar Press, and a detailed look at a Hap and Leonard graphic novel. Among the six novel reviews is 'Kill The Next One' by Federico Axat, a complex sounding thriller that has shot to the top of my must read list.


Grab your copy (or better yet, a subscription) here: Black Static

-Nick Cato


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COMING SOON:


3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the great review of THE NOCTUARY: PANDEMONIUM. Greg has a twisted imagination, doesn't he?

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    Replies
    1. He sure does. Nothing cooler than a sequel that's better than the first tale. Excellent!

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