Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reviews for the Week of January 30, 2017

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





VYRMIN by Gene Lazuta (2016 Bloodshot Books / 315 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I am enough of a fairytale/folklorist that any book with an old-fashioned German woodcut style cover is a surefire way to get my attention. Particularly when it depicts that most archetypal of fear-driven images: the feral man-beast stealing away an innocent child to savage and consume. That's the nerve center root of our storytelling, right there.

And the idea that these tales weren't just invented to keep the kiddos from wandering off into the woods ... the idea that there really were such monsters ... who can resist? After all, we know there ARE, even in our modern world. They may not sprout fur by moonlight, but oh, yes, the monsters ARE. It's not much of a step further to bring the old legends to life.

If that was all this book was about, I still would have been perfectly satisfied. But this book takes it even further, takes it way beyond our notions of the Brothers Grimm or The Howling or all those urban fantasy RPGs and paranormal romances of secret races living among us. This book takes it back to the beginning and then some.

It's sneaky, too. It touches on various tropes and themes ... the small-town hicks plagued by something uncanny, the hush-hush agency investigating supernatural occurrences, the weird cult, the bloodline legacy ... but shakes them up, turns them inside out, blends and remixes and remasters. It's Twin Peaks meets Wicker Man in the archetypal Black Forest backwoods rustic America, managing to combine Biblical overtones with science fiction, anthropology and history.

I'd say all that should make it hard to categorize, but what you really get here is a dark, multifaceted jewel of horror. Grisly gore, primal fears, the murky chills of the unknown, transformation, mutilation, fates worse than death, loss of self ... the hits just keep coming, and as soon as you think you've figured it out and are feeling a little secure and safe, you'll be hamstrung from another direction.

-Christine Morgan

(**Editor's note: VYRMIN was originally published by Penguin in 1992)




BEYOND THE GREAT, BLOODY, BRUISED, AND SILENT VEIL OF THIS WORLD by Jordan Krall (to be released 2/17 by Bizarro Pulp Press / 134 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Krall's latest novella is a trippy, dark science fiction story dealing with a group of mentally unstable men on their way to an already colonized Mars. As with many of the author's stories, we're never sure if we're actually on a shuttle or on Mars, or in a psychiatric ward. The mystery and constant guessing keeps things moving, eerie, and unsettling.

As we journey along with our main untrustworthy protagonist, the story expands into the life of a Messianic figure, terrorism, and a look at industry that's as obscure as the main scifi story. And in the end, things are (sort of) tied up with a chilling note.

BEYOND is told in short sections, making it very easy to digest in one sitting, and Bizarro Pulp Press's page layouts enhance an already fantastic tale that's way out of the oridinary.


-Nick Cato



CARTOONS IN THE SUICIDE FOREST by Leza Cantoral (2016 Bizarro Pulp Press  / 110 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Leza Cantoral’s debut collection is a fantasmagorical sex blob of pink literary color jelly for your fragile horror mind, body, and soul. The writing is highly versatile, fresh, hip, and creative in all the right ways. Think old school Bizarro Fiction when it first came out. Think Horror double-dipped in the heart of the Beat Fiction era. Think about watching your favorite Saturday Morning cartoons while eating a bowl of sugar coated cereal in your favorite pair of underwear, while still candy-flipping from last night’s psychedelic rave party. We're introduced to a number of memorably bizarre and horrific circumstances, sexy adult themed fairytales, and eerily black-ink bleeding cartoons.

Some of my favorites in this collection were 'Cartoons in the Suicide Forest,' a unique and clever tale that takes social networking deep into the depths of the Suicide Forest and introduces us to creepy abandoned cartoon girls searching for their mother. In 'Green Lotus,' failing relationships are bad but not worse than feeling like you are stuck with someone forever, especially when you’re candy dipped into a green slime bath and turned into a goddamn plant for the rest of your life. 'Cosmic Bruja,' a dreamlike acid trip that takes us to the center of religion and Mexico. And 'Fist Pump,' an erotic noir-esque tale in which a damsel in distress just wants to be a part of the gang in more ways than one.

A brilliant and extremely versatile collection I’d recommend to fans of Bizarro, Horror, Science, and Beat Fiction alike.


-Jon R. Meyers



RIDERS, PLEBS 2 (Books 1 and 2) by Jim Goforth (2016 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 310 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When I reviewed the original debut PLEBS, I knew even then it was too much bursting-at-the-seams story to be confined to one book. And, see? Look. Just look. The sequel alone takes up two full action-packed volumes!

Which, fortunately, I was able to read back to back, sparing us all my inevitable furious shrieking over sudden cliff-hangers. Note: if you, like me, are prone to furious shrieking over sudden cliff-hangers, then yeah, make sure you have both installments standing by.

RIDERS picks up a few months after the crazy, violent carnage in PLEBS. The surviving characters have formed a sort of roving vigilante band -- among their retinue, four motorcycles named for the fabled Horsemen of the Apocalypse, hence the title. They travel around, dealing out vicious punishment on rapists, abusers, and other such scum of the earth.

Sounds like fun, right? No mundane cares about jobs or money, plenty of wicked weaponry and sweet rides, and the company of three beautiful women who are also the deadliest of avenging angels, serving up white-hot fury and cold-blooded justice to those who deserve it.

Thing is, though, enterprises such as this have a way of getting out of hand. Of crossing paths with the wrong sorts of enemies or biting off more trouble than can easily be chewed. What starts as another seemingly routine mission -- striking back at some scuzzballs who ruined a girl's life -- blows up when the scuzzballs have a crime boss friend who decides to take it as a personal insult and affront to his business.

From there, it's escalation and exponential vendetta, the hunters becoming the hunted, with some complications of mistaken identities, and hapless tagalongs swept in over their heads. But, while all that's going on, there's also the small matter of, oh yeah remember them? The Plebs, the savage freaky mutants from the first book, who are also still around.

If I'm going to quibble, and I guess I might as well, the main problem I had here was an excess of telling and exposition, some over-explaining of motivations, some redundancy, and heavy-handedness with stressing how hot these ladies are. We get it, already; don't need to be told sometimes several times in a paragraph.

With a large cast of characters, an almost equally large ultimate body count, lots of high-octane battle scenes, some wild sex, and the suggestion of a really loud blasting soundtrack throughout, it's like reading an intense action-movie marathon. And, hey, I still want to know more about the Plebs themselves; plenty of room for another sequel!


-Christine Morgan



THE MORTUARY MONSTER by Andrew J. Stone (2016 StrangeHouse Books / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK? The hauntingly cute, endearingly creepy one about the little boy who grew up in a graveyard, raised by the dead? Kind of sweet and tragic, Tim-Burton-esque before Burton got too kooky?

THE MORTUARY MONSTER is NOT LIKE THAT. Well, maybe a smidge, in the broadest strokes and vaguest similarities; I mean, it's about growing up in a cemetery, it's about coming to terms with matters of life and death, family and belonging, and so on.

But this is WAY more dark, WAY more messed up. Very decidedly NOT for kids. There's bad language. There's horrible parenting. There's sex with corpses. There's beatings and torment and violence and vulgarity. Murder and suicide. Abandonment, betrayal, loss. Dark stuff. Messed up stuff.

Yet it READS like Gaiman, it reads Burton-esque, it reads Addams Family, Roald Dahl. It reads morbidly funny and charmingly grim. The sheer dissonance of it just totally works. All it's missing, really, is stylized illustrations throughout.

Summary-wise, there's this guy named Gonzalo, whose family have been caretakers of an unusual cemetery. All Gonzalo's wanted since he was a kid was to be able to leave, to become a part of regular society, but he's never been able to manage it. Not even with the helpful advice of his dead friends.

He vows not to make the same mistakes his own parents did, but that sort of thing's always easier said than done, and there are always plenty of ways to make different mistakes. Especially when your own child is born half-corpse anyway ... but you're still trying to be what you think a good father should be.

I went into the book knowing nothing but the title, so, the result was an unexpected but welcome delight, a whimsical poison-chocolate surprise, immediately captivating and a really ghoulish, sick treat throughout.


-Christine Morgan


MAGAZINES:



BLACK STATIC No. 56, Jan-Feb 2017 (published by ttapress.com)

Another solid issue opens with Lynda E. Rucker heading the commentary (Stephen Volk's final column appeared in issue 55) with an encouraging view on why she believes art can save us in the current dark political climate, and new commentator Ralph Robert Moore looks at "The Perishability of Metaphors" (as well as memory and...mothers). It's a bit sad, but interesting nonetheless.

Kicking off this issue's seven stories is 'The Green Eye' by Scott Nicolay, which is the account of a young boy who had a supernatural experience after stripping cars at a junkyard. This short tale is then explained in an author's note that's two pages longer than the story itself. An odd selection for an opener although it's all quite interesting.

'Smoke, Ash, and Whatever Comes After' by Eric Schaller: Peter and his young daughter Tracy are cleaning house. They decide to dismantle a bureau and even get rid of a doll Tracy had made (as per her request). They place the items in the fireplace to eliminate memories. Schaller delivers a haunting, emotional look at loss and grief that will surely stay with you.

In 'Border Country' by Danny Rhodes, a divorced dad takes his son on a camping trip. The son becomes the target of a legendary witch. Familiar, but Rhodes' focus on the dad's apprehension gives it a fresh feel.

'What We Are Moulded After' by Eugenia M. Triantafyllou: After Eleni's husband Andreas dies, she "creates" another husband by placing Andreas' bloodied jacket on another man. Told from Eleni's new mute husband's viewpoint, Triantafyllou's horror fantasy is an absorbing, original tale with an ending that had me wanting more.

An old man and his wife live in an isolated area surrounded by abandoned homes in Charles Wilkinson's 'The Solitary Truth.' His wife Agnes can't accept their cat has died, and he keeps hope their daughter will finally come to visit. Another story centered around the ways we deal with loss and grief. Good, but depressing.

'The Maneaters' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Although Scarlet learned about her late grandfather through her grandmother, she learns the truth when she finds a 35 year-old note in her grandmother's bedroom. A chiller of self discovery highlighted by some excellent prose. Stufflebeam also appeared last issue and has won me over.

Finally, in 'Stanislav in Foxtown' by Ian Steadman, Stan works at a greasy chicken restaurant and is constantly bullied by his muscle-bound boss. With the help of some feral foxes, Stan manages to advance his position. Steadman demonstrates how suggestion can be as, if not more affective than "showing" graphic violence. Great stuff here.

Seven top notch tales that prove why this magazine is the best in the business. Writers would do well to pay close attention.

Gary Couzen delivers another batch of DVD/blu ray reviews (I'm looking very forward to the Arrow DRILLER KILLER blu), and Peter Tennant provides a fantastic interview with Stephen Volk (after reviewing his latest collection), and also dissects a few anthologies and novellas (seriously folks---Peter's reviews are worth the cover price alone).


Grab your copy (or better yet, a subscription) here: BLACK STATIC subs/issues

-Nick Cato

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COMING SOON:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reviews for the Week of January 16, 2017

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





TRIPLICITY: THE TERROR PROJECT BOOK 1 by Stacey Longo, Tony Tremblay, and Rob Smales (2016 Books and Boos Press / 274 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

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.

-Nick Cato



ALMOST INSENTIENT, ALMOST DIVINE by D.P. Watt (2016 Undertow Publications / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

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.


-Christine Morgan



ODD MAN OUT by James Newman (2016 Bloodshot Books / 150 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

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.


-Nick Cato



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.

-Christine Morgan



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.

-Christine Morgan

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Ten Books of 2016 (Volume 2)

Our second TOP TEN list comes from staff writer Nick Cato, who adds, "I only read 37 books this year, which is less than half of my usual annual amount. But out of that batch these were my faves..."





10) CREEPING WAVES by Matthew M. Bartlett: Continuing the same vibe he created in GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION (2014) and THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS (2015), Bartlett brings us back to the mysterious town of Leeds, revealing more of it's dark history and mysterious residents. With glimpses into Leeds' personal ads, haunting phone calls, and the sense that nothing is at it seems, CREEPING WAVES is another excellent entry in Bartlett's growing occult series. Well written, scary, and completely absorbing, you'll surely be weary of turning your radio dial down to the lower numbers.



9) THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES by Tony Tremblay: Having read a couple of Tremblay's stories in anthologies, I was looking forward to his first collection, and the wait was well worth it. These 13 tales bring the chills in unique ways, and there are several surprises. This here's the real deal: serious horror and noir (with a touch of humor) that will surely win the author some new readers. Kudos to the brief introductions for each story.



8) SUBMERGED by Thomas F. Monteleone: A fast-paced action adventure/thriller with just enough Lovecraftian goodness to give it a horrific edge. While I hate to use a played out term such as "compulsive page-turner," there's really no other way to describe this as the close of each chapter forces you to read on. An all-around great read from one of the best in the business.



7) GORGONAEON by Jordan Krall: Like his FALSE MAGIC KINGDOM series, GORGONAEON is a dazzling, surreal, nightmarish head trip. Characters and events come in and out like a hazy daydream, and as things are eventually uncovered the author delivers some serious chills. Weird fiction just doesn't get any better than this.



6) RETURN OF THE OLD ONES: APOCALYPTIC LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR edited by Brian M. Sammons: I'm as tired of the "Lovecraftian" subgenre as I am of zombies, but editor Sammons has assembled a fantastic collection here, sectioned into three eras (before, during, and after the Old Ones return). One of the finest anthologies of the year regardless of your feeling toward the HPL Mythos trend. A great blend of veteran and newer authors.




5) BLISTER by Jeff Strand: Easily my favorite Strand novel since his 2006 thriller PRESSURE, this quirky creeper dealing with a man on a forced vacation who meets a hideously disfigured girl is as charming as it is bizarre. Wow. First time I ever referred to a horror novel as charming, but, hey...



4) THE SADIST'S BIBLE by Nicole Cushing: After blowing my mind last year with her incredible novel MR. SUICIDE, Cushing's follow up novella is every bit as disturbing, thought provoking, and eerie as you'd expect. Excellent.



3) STRANDED by Bracken Macleod: Arguably the scariest read of the year, MacLeod's arctic chiller brings both THE THING and SURVIVE! to mind yet has plenty of weird tricks up its sleeve. A genuine page turner highlighted by some spectacular prose.



2) A LONG DECEMBER by Richard Chizmar: Question: How many collections of this size (35 tales) can feature so many consistently solid stories? Answer: very few. A fantastic career-spanning door-stopper of a book you'll surely be revisiting.



1) THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS by Jason Arnopp: A perfect blend of horror and humor, paranormal and possession, with guest appearances from real life film directors and footnotes from the protagonist's brother, at times this feels like serious non fiction. Arnopp's novel was the most difficult for me to put down this year. So. Damn. Good.