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

~~~~~~~~~~~
COMING SOON:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Reviews for the Week of February 13, 2017

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for updated submission info. Ty.




PREVIEW:

ARARAT by Christopher Golden (to be published 4/18/17 by St. Martin's Press / 320 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

After an earthquake opens up a cave at the top of Mt. Ararat in Turkey, engaged couple Adam and Miryam are notifed of the find by an old friend. Our "power" couple are explorers and rush to the site to be the first to see what may very well be the remains of Noah's ark. Adam is a popular author and Miryam a filmmaker, so if this turns out to be the biblical arc they'll both become legends in their fields.

Of course there are others with the same idea, and our couple take a more dangerous way to the top of Ararat. Once inside, it does indeed seem to be an arc that held several species, but among their findings is a coffin that contains the skeleton of a human-like figure that happens to have horns on its forehead.

Before long, people are becoming possessed one at a time (allegedly by the spirit of the demon corpse) and members of the cave investigators begin to vanish. Golden uses a break-neck pace to keep the action coming and the suspense nearly non-stop. But what makes this novel work are Adam and Miryam, a Jewish/Muslim couple who aren't devout to their faiths, but instead are seekers who find their secularism being challenged. This dynamic gives ARARAT a fresh and timely edge, as do the host of side characters, including a field guide named Hakan who is continually at odds with Miryam, and a Catholic Priest named Father Cornelius who manages to bring scholarly insights to the demonic corpse that has most of the exploration crew freaking out.

While ARARAT reminded me somewhat of Lee Thomas' excellent 2006 debut novel STAINED, it stands on its own as a page turning action adventure/horror hybrid. Golden's past three novels, DEAD RINGERS, TIN MEN, and SNOWBLIND, were all excellent, and now with ARARAT he's 4 for 4 in a big way.

A best bet for fans of religious-themed horror.

-Nick Cato



THE FARM by Christopher Motz (2016 Amazon Digital Services / 63 pp / eBook)

Here's a great tale of modern horror that takes us back to an old farm house located in rural New York.

The story is told with a lot of emotion from the POV of the eldest brother, Emery. Emery looks back and retrospect’s the darkness, sadness, and terror that took a hold of him and his overtly dysfunctional family. He and his ten-year-old brother, Frankie, were often left alone in the house. Their mother constantly ill and non-existent hiding away upstairs in the sewing room. And, their Father out in the barn drinking away his PTSD from the war, or often found wandering and digging random holes in their yard, as if it were a metaphor for his own decaying mind. One night the boys’ parents go out for a night on the town and they hear strange noises coming from outside. Upon inspection, they see the creatures for the first time. Later we find out they look like large rats with human faces. Their eyes glow yellow from the woods behind their house, and there appears to be dozens of them out there. That is until we discover there is another creature lurking in the woods, and, he’s already been inside the house. One much bigger, fiercer, and horrific. The boys refer to it as a demon but have a hard time explaining it.

The author does an exceptional job drawing us into the storyline, with a cast of believably heartfelt characters and emotion, and then drags them to Hell and back. Motz can spin a terror-filled tale alongside the best of them.


-Jon R. Meyers



IN THE HOUSE OF MIRRORS by Tim Meyer (2013 Amazon Digital / 290 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

If the coming-of-age novel had an older brother, it would be something like this ... where the disillusioned millennial or Gen-Xer, after getting brutally knocked around by real life -- the career and/or relationship that didn't work out, dreams dashed, in debt and without prospects -- goes limping home to try and pick up the pieces and start over. I have a feeling we're going to be seeing a lot more of those.

The unlucky run-roughshod-over guy in this case is Ritchie Naughton, who thinks things are going pretty okay, why shouldn't they be? He's got a good job as a journalist, he's in fair health, his recovering addict girlfriend is managing to keep clean ... then he walks in on her getting mighty dirty in a different way, and it all goes to hell.

Not quite literally, not yet. But, hello hitherto unsuspected heart condition. Hello, bad breakup, resignation, and moving into his big sister's basement back in small-town Jersey. Hello, depression and futility and all that goes with it.

To try and shake himself out of his funk, Ritchie takes on a photography gig for a local paper. They even have a camera he can use, and if it's a brand he's never heard of, he doesn't much care. To further pick up some extra cash, he also agrees to help his uncle get proof of his aunt's affair. The combination of those factors is when things start getting weird ... instead of some love-nest or no-tell motel, he ends up at a big weird house in the woods ... and his camera starts taking pictures of things that aren't there.

Then it just keeps getting weirder. I was reminded in good ways of various King stories set in and around Castle Rock, several of the seemingly-side characters get developed in fun and interesting ways, their reactions even as matters more and more inexplicable unfold are refreshingly genuine; all in all, an engaging, enjoyable read.


-Christine Morgan





BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough (2017 Flatiron Books / 306 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

Louise is a divorced single mom. She finally gets to go out one night and meets the man of her dreams in a bar. Yet after they share a kiss he is in a rush to leave.

A couple days later at work, Louise meets her new boss and his beautiful wife, and it turns out he is the same guy she had met at the bar. Louise runs to the bathroom to hide until they're gone, but the next day she confronts him and things get to as normal as they can be. But not for long, as David starts to come after her and they're quickly engaged in an affair.

After dropping her son off at school one morning, Louise literally bumps into David's wife Adele, but is so taken aback by her beauty that she doesn't tell her about the affair, and against her better judgment actually becomes friends with this woman who is new to the town. The two become fascinated with each other, not sexually, but as what seems to be honest-to-goodness friends.

What follows is a wickedly addictive thriller as Louise begins to look into Adele's strange lifestyle, and things with David begin to nosedive. Pinborough's prose here is irresitible, the pace absoultely perfect, and at just over 300 pages, the story is a tight as can be. If not for my disrupting day job I would've finished this in a single sitting (it took me two!).

But the highlight here is the ending. OH MY GOD the ending. I know endings aren't the most important thing to a lot of readers, but they are to me, and this is one of the finest to come down the pike in years. It's to-die-for good. This is like GONE GIRL on speed, with a slight supernatural leaning to push it more into the horror realm, keeping it a creepy arm's distance from your standard "thriller."

Needless to say this is highly, highly recommended, and if you're a fan of killer finales, get this before some Internet troll ruins it for you.


-Nick Cato



LAST OF THE ALBATWITCHES by Brian Keene (2014 Deadite Press / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This book contains two novellas previously only available in limited edition collectible hardcover, so, being able to snag them both at the same time is a definite plus to the pocketbook. And, being able to read them together is even better, because they're Levi Stoltzfus stories.

Of the many threads stitching the greater literary Keene-verse together, this character is one of the most fascinating. Formerly Amish and still often mistaken for such -- hey, when you have the beard and the buggy, it's not that irrational an assumption! -- while also a practitioner of powwow as well as an eclectic assortment of various occult arts, Levi's appeared in several other works. We've gotten hints and glimpses of his life, but he remains an enigmatic, mysterious figure.

In THE WITCHING TREE, the troubles begin (this time) when a boy and his dog go missing. So does the boy's father, who goes out to look. The search party who finds them out by a lone old tree in a field ... well, what they find isn't pretty, and what happens to them is not pretty either.

The unnatural nature of the case causes a detective who'd heard a bit about Levi to seek him out, and enlist his help in dealing with whatever sinister force is in play. Levi's investigations turn up the tree's history, but also reveal some unsettling changes in the spiritual scheme of things, and lead him into a dangerous bargain.

THE LAST OF THE ALBATWITCHES joins Levi a month later, as he's still struggling with the repercussions from that previous mission. Something's definitely wrong in the paranormal world. It's affecting him, his associates, his abilities. Yet, when he's called upon to investigate another weird occurrence -- a possible sighting of a creature known in local folklore as an Albatwitch -- he can't refuse.

Meanwhile, a crew from the TV show "Cryptid Hunter" is also on the scene, and so are operatives from the megapowerful Globe Corporation. It quickly becomes obvious there's a lot more going on here than any simple rural legend.

References and connections to Keene's other works are deftly woven throughout, making a fun little egg-hunt for those who enjoy that sort of thing, while also providing plenty of tantalizing teasers to encourage new readers.


-Christine Morgan

~~~~~~~~~~~

COMING SOON: