Monday, April 9, 2018

Reviews for the Week of April 9, 2018

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. SPOILER ALERT: We're packed to the gills...

WOLF AT THE DOOR by Theresa Derwin (2016 Quantum Corsets / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This slim collection of ten stories does leave a lot to be desired in terms of interior layout and typesetting; a lack of indents makes for difficult reading. If you can get past that, though, and a few other little things here and there, you’ll find some fun stuff.

The title tale, “Wolf at the Door,” features forbidden attraction among the schemings of an unusual organization, and is followed by steampunk with zombies in “Dirigible of the Dead,” while a singularly unpleasant protagonist faces the future in-laws in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Then it’s back to steampunk-era historical to investigate “Abuse of the Dead,” and the quirky little “Ring and Rage” takes some nice little old ladies on their shopping rounds. Next up, “Pound of Flesh” delivers a change of pace following the diary of someone embarking on a drastic weight-loss plan.

“Muse” is one I’m sure many of us can relate to, examining the lengths we might have to go to in order to satisfy the hungry voice of our art. Then it’s time for squicky laughs in the schlocky pulp of “Giant Vampire Spiders From Outer Space.”

“Meat is Murder” plays with some revenge twists as a disgruntled vegetarian goes off the wagon in a big way. And, wrapping things up is my fave of the bunch … “The Things I See” is nicely creepy while also sadly sweet.

-Christine Morgan

SACRIFICIAL LAMBS AND OTHERS by Sheri White (2018 Macabre Ink / 116 pp / eBook)

After an introduction by Monica O’Rourke, White’s debut collection opens with a batch of flash fiction, many of which are quite gruesome. Some great ideas are touched upon and I think a couple of pieces would make for good, longer works.

The short stories section opens with ‘The Storm People,’ a supernatural chiller proving you should always heed the words of your grandfather, then in ‘Red Handed,’ a man in a struggling marriage learns an extreme way to relieve the pressures of life.

‘Spider Bites’ finds Marty, an arachnophobe, dealing with a white spider his spider-loving wife Kate has brought into their home. It’s bad enough Marty accidentally kills Kate, but when said spider sinks it’s fangs into him, the real trouble begins. In ‘The Phone Call,’ a brother and sister who haven’t spoken in 10 years contact each other ... via ghostly channels. ‘Wasting Away’ is a dark (and surreal) look at anorexia, while ‘Ashes to Ashes’ follows a widow who goes to extreme lengths to be reunited with her late lover.

‘Watch Your Step’ is a fresh take on the apocalyptic thing, Sheila gets more than she bargains for with her two unruly sons in the heartbreaking ‘Sacrificial Lambs,’ and ‘Maternal Instinct’ pits a pregnant woman against an irritated female Bigfoot on an isolated stretch of road.

A workaholic watches his wife, son, and other vacationers *melt* on the beach from the safety of his hut on a tropical island in ‘Paradise Lost,’ but he discovers too late that what’s causing the ghastly phenomenon isn’t what he originally thought. In ‘The Lying Dead,’ a widowed husband discovers, from a dead guy, that his son may be the product of an affair, then ‘Scarecrow Night’ highlights a prosperous community and its adults who will let nothing—not even their disobedient children—get in the way of their unholy blessings.

‘Things Happen Here After Dark’ follows a young couple who sneak into a carnival after hours and become prey to a supernatural clown, then lastly, Christina learns of her fate from an unusual machine in ‘Orgasm,’ and her husband unknowingly has a hand in it.

This is a fine introduction to White’s story telling, and we see her skill develop through each piece. There are some ballsy moves here, as no one is safe and the supernatural pokes its haunted head in at unusual times. A few stories will disturb you (especially ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Scarecrow Night’) while others take common tropes and give them entertaining spins.

A short but solid collection that will surely turn (and twist) many heads.

-Nick Cato

SEXTING GHOSTS by Joanna C. Valente (2018 Unknown Press  / 114 pp / trade paperback)

Okay, this one’s a little tricky and I’m not quite sure where to begin… So, what do we have here? Another poetry collection? Yes, we have that. But, is it like all the other poetry collections available out there on the market today? No, it definitely isn’t and if it were I wouldn’t read it. On to the next questions… Is it horror? Does a review of it even belong here on The Horror Fiction Review? I’m going to have to say, yes. It is and it does. Valente’s collection is unique and creative and disturbing, it’s haunting, often thought-provoking, it’s brutal, has the power to mess with your head and emotions, it’s sometimes cute and cuddly, but don’t let it catch you off guard. It’s also just as dark and demented and depressing as it is all those other things. It has the right amount of psychological horror flair built up between this sort of new, hip, modern, and edgy prose. Plus, the concept behind the overall collection is absolutely brilliant, in my opinion.

Some of my personal favorites in this collection were 'No one Likes You Until You’re Dead,' 'The End of the World Happened on the Internet,' 'When Blue Becomes Magenta,' 'I Am Home Alone on a Friday Night Because No One Loves Me,' and 'God of Destruction.' 

Definitely recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE PLEASURE HUNT by Jacob Floyd (2017 HellBound Books / 352 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a book about sex and obsession, power and submission, darkness, madness, and did I mention the sex? Strongly written from a first-person present-tense POV, the reader definitely gets a front-row seat for the action, which is some steamy, steamy stuff. But wait, it’s not only erotica … there’s much more going on behind the scenes.

See, there’s this secret online hook-up club, where real names are a no-no and refusing a ‘match’ is forbidden. Rules are strict, penalties severe. The member known as Sexy Cupid, who claims his arrow never misses, has been a very active and satisfied customer. Then he connects with a mystery lady called Dark Dance, and his whole world changes.

Their encounter is unlike anything he’s ever experienced, overshadowing everything else. He can’t stop thinking about her. He’s frantic for a follow-up. But, when he tries to find her again on the site, he can’t. His inquiries start getting him warnings from the admins, yet he can’t stop searching and prying. Eventually, his efforts are – you know, ‘rewarded’ might not be the right word here. He finds Dark Dance, with whom he’s by now utterly obsessed. He wants to be hers utterly, to belong to her, to serve her. He promises to do anything she wants, anything she says.

Thing is though, Cupid’s a stubborn entitled jerk. When Dark Dance tells him to wait for her to come to him, of course he won’t. He continues his stalking, trying to find her, demanding her attention. All to show her how devoted and obedient he is and how much he adores her, by doing the exact opposite of what she says.

It turns out, Cupid is not the first man to become fixated on Dark Dance. It turns out, Dark Dance is far from an ordinary woman. It turns out all sorts of things, with unearthly powers and unholy tortures (for which we also get that front-row seat!) and ancient evils. Much more than Cupid’s life is on the line, and the jerk still won’t learn.

-Christine Morgan

SHARKWATER BEACH by Tim Meyer (2017 Severed Press / 182 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

People keep saying sharks, like zombies, are played out, done to death, have even (so to speak) jumped the shark. To that, I say, phooey. Just because some unimaginative grumpypantses don’t know how to have fun anymore, they have to try and bring everyone down?

It’s no secret by now that I’m a big fan of the aquatic toothy monster genre, especially when tropes get turned on their heads and wild new angles are added to spice things up. I’m pleased to report that, in those regards, SHARKWATER BEACH definitely delivers.

I mean, sure, it’s got your secret lab and scientists doing experiments and things go wrong and the hungry fruits of their labor escapes … sure, it’s got a remote island about to be cut off by a convenient storm so calling for rescue / assistance is impossible … those are practically required! It’s also got black-ops mercenaries dealing with betrayal, a promising marine biologist who gave it all up for a career in law enforcement, a professor who gets too close to some of his students, and mostly …

This is not your ordinary shark! This is not even your ordinary giant shark, smart shark, or airborne cyclone shark school. This shark has something extra. This shark is also preggers and about to unload a litter of monstrous hybrids as capable on land as at sea.

So, aw yeah, bring it on, let the carnage commence! Which it does, with no holds barred, no mercy given. There’s lots of chomping, lots of action and destruction. Characters die unexpectedly, unexpected characters die. Another great summer vacation read, though not if you’re planning to get in the water.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC no. 62, Mar-Apr 2018

In the opening commentaries, Lynda E. Rucker looks at the author’s life in the public eye (in particular with social media), then Ralph Robert Moore discusses a childhood friend and, as a writer, how it has affected him later in life. I still don’t know if I should laugh or say HUH?! over Moore’s concluding paragraph, but either way both columns are compelling and act as fine appetizers for the coming pages.

This issue’s stellar fiction offerings are three novelettes and two short stories, beginning with E. Catherine Tobler’s ‘Sanguinary Scar,’ which is sort of an aquatic take on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (why can I hear some readers screaming at this comparison?). It’s a well written piece with unexpected, sudden violence, but I feel a bit out of place in a horror fiction publication. Good tale, but perhaps better suited for BS’s sister sci-fi/fantasy magazine, INTERZONE. You’ll most likely enjoy it and tell me to shut up, so...

Jack Westlake’s ‘Bury Me With Broken Light Bulbs, Bury Me in Shattered Glass,’ follows two men battling different addictions, yet our protagonist learns they’re alike in certain ways. Despite the nihilistic title this one ends on a dark yet oddly hopeful note.

In ‘Things Behind the Sun’ by David Martin, a music fan, learns a song he has become obsessed with was recorded by a band from a small town he used to live in. A hipster music journalist discovers Martin has a copy of their rare lone album, and together attempt to find out what the band is up to. But what they discover left me in a genuine state of wonder. One of the finest short horror stories dealing with music I’ve ever read. Honestly! Bravo.

Kay Chronister’s ‘Your Clothes a Sepulcher, Your Body a Grave’ is a beautiful dark love story told in an almost poetic style. A man recounts how he met and fell in love with “the niece of my mother’s first love’s spinster sister” as a child and how he has remained in love with her despite becoming married and a father of three children. Chronister places poisonous spiders and creepy nuns alongside hyacinths and descriptions of sunny afternoons to give this a surreal, unsettling vibe. I re-read a few sections for full affect.

Finally, in Michael Wehunt’s ‘Caring for a Stray Dog (Metaphors),’ Kent leaves his wife and home after the death of their young daughter via a senseless mass shooting by, of all people, a Baptist pastor. He befriends and takes care of a homeless dog and, like the subtitle says, begins to find metaphors at every turn...metaphors that help him heal. Kent is haunted as he not only visits random Baptist churches, but attempts to make sense of their oddly spelled names. A fever dream of loss, grief, and the unusual ways we deal with moving on, this is the second story that concludes on a hopeful note.

Gary Couzens delivers another batch of Blu-ray reviews, hence my list of to-see titles now includies WITCHHAMMER, a 1969 shot in Czechoslovakia film that sounds right up my alley, and the violent actioner KILLS ON WHEELS. There’s also an insightful look at the box set of the latest season of TWIN PEAKS.

I enjoyed the interview with author Anna Tambour, and Peter Tennant’s reviews of her collection and latest novel have grabbed my attention. Tenant also provides in-depth reviews of 6 other books, including Mira Grant’s INTO THE DROWNING DEEP and Wlliam Meikle’s Collection THE GHOST CLUB, which sounds like a clever, spooky time. I used to save Peter’s reviews for last but now find myself getting right to them.

As mentioned, this issue’s fiction is simply the Best of the Best, and still the main reason to be reading BLACK STATIC. Get on that right here: BLACK STATIC subscription

-Nick Cato

Monday, March 26, 2018

Reviews for the Week of March 26, 2018

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

THE GOAT PARADE by Peter N. Dudar (2018 Grinning Skull Press / 300 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Dudar (author of the fantastic, Stoker nominated A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES) returns with a thought provoking occult horror novel that takes the “deal with the Devil” trope and adds some sinister new edges to it.

Crime reporter Erik Marsh asks to be reassigned to lighter duty after years of gruesome stories. But he’s quickly brought back in when an apparently occultic crime is committed in his young son’s elementary school. He meets a street performer named Svetlana, who proves she has the power to see into minds and just may be able to help him find who is leaving a trail of bodies around Maine.

Recently released from prison is blues guitarist “Tobacco Joe” Walton who learns life on the outside hasn’t become any easier and a former debt owed hasn’t been forgotten. He brings a “crossroads” element to the story that enhances and never takes away from the main cult/serial killer plot.

These three people eventually meet on what is essentially Satan’s playground and come face to face with a brutal cult led by Warren Pembroke, who keeps his followers in line via drugs, sex, and cold blooded murder. The descriptions Dudar gives from some of the cultist’s point of view are bone chilling, especially when one begins to contemplate the afterlife. This line in particular is quite grabbing:
“Hell was real, that much she understood now. The world of religion back on earth was all fables and superstitions, but here in the netherworld, it was all an eventuality.” As the kids say, Spooky AF!

THE GOAT PARADE is a solid old-school styled, no BS horror novel, with children in constant peril, a realistic cast, and a fresh feel to some familiar ground. The portrayal of Old Scratch doesn’t sensationalize him as many stories do, which adds to the impending sense of dread that builds in each chapter. And be warned: the author holds back NO punches during the finale...

Makes a great triple-feature, rainy weekend read with Douglas Clegg’s GOAT DANCE and James Newman’s THE WICKED.

-Nick Cato

IF YOU DIED TOMORROW I WOULD EAT YOUR CORPSE by Wrath James White (2018 Clash Books / 99 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, first things first. This book is not for the faint of heart. So, what do we have here? A horror poetry collection from Clash Books released specifically on Valentines Day? Well, sort of. What we actually have here is more like a brutal horror poetry collection released on Valentines Day from Clash Books with a beautifully horrific cover by the brilliant artist and designer, Matthew Revert, along with some other eye-catching and erotic images found on the pages within. Seriously, though… the poems in this book are heavy. Think Fifty Shades of Decay. Think BDSM, think torture, think violence, think underground snuff films. Like if Bukowski were to put down the booze, pick up a pentagram, and shoot up tons of steroids laced with male testosterone enhancement pills, while working out at the gym naked, and then popping a six-day long erection before watching a bunch of black market torture porn in a dim lit basement somewhere on this side of Hell. This book will make you want to act on your animalistic instincts and rip apart your lover like a lioness the next time you have sexual intercourse. It is dark and sincere and beautiful and emotional and very well written. Proceed with caution. There is some dark and violent subject matter going on here that will definitely hit home with fans of the author’s prior work released, Splatterpunk, Edward Lee, and Jack Ketchum (RIP). Also, be sure to read the introduction written by the author himself as it explains the overall motive of the book very well. 

Aside from the poems in this collection, there are also three short stories that fit the horrifically perverted content here very well and add a certain depth to the overall project. Some of my personal favorites were 'Facial,' 'Womb,' 'The Death of Passion,' 'Astral Projection,' 'Untitled #3,' and 'The Last Cabbage Patch Doll.' 

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

SPLATTERPUNK FIGHTING BACK edited by Jack Bantry and Kit Power (2017 CreateSpace / 194 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Anything extreme horror AND donating to cancer charity is automatically going to be a double-win in my books; both of those, for different reasons, are important to me. My only regret about this anthology is that it’s another I didn’t have a chance to submit to, but as always that just means I can enjoy and review with clear conscience.

First up, the never-disappointing Adam Millard takes on sirens with “They Swim by Night,” in which a random encounter with a seedy bar act turns into something far deadlier. Then grossmeister Matt Shaw’s “Melvin” starts with someone choking on a disembodied penis and gets weirder from there, and by that point you’re off to the races.

Get into the holiday spirit with “The Passion of the Robertsons” by Duncan Ralston, a phantom limb syndrome with a little bit more in Tim Curran’s creepy “Limb Memory,” and visit the gory end of the world in Rich Hawkins’ “Hellscape.”

John Boden’s “The Going Rate” reminded me of a more graphic version of a Robert McCammon story that has remained in my mind as the scariest thing ever, so, bonus points to him for a short ruthless gut-punch I won’t soon forget.

Plus, experience the talents of Glenn Rolfe, Bracken MacLeod, the killer teamup of W.D. Gagliani and Dave Benton, and Kristopher Rufty. Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred, no subjects are off-limits to these guys.

It IS only guys, though, which is a bit of a letdown, and makes me feel all the worse for missing out on the submission window. Come on, ladies, we need to represent more in the splatters!

-Christine Morgan

SINKHOLE by Ken Goldman (2017 Bloodshot Books / 420 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Until now, I’ve only been familiar with Ken Goldman’s work through his short stories, so a full novel made for an interesting change. Especially with a premise involving the ground collapsing under pricey suburbs, nasty slug-monsters, and subterranean horror. Those on their own would have been enough, but history gets involved with several flashbacks to the same nightmare taking place in cowboy days.

The action and descriptions are excellent, as the slug-monsters begin feasting on the residents of upscale Diamond Loop and the workers who were just trying to fix some troubles with the pipes. And not just feasting; sometimes the victims survive, if no longer quite themselves, and go on to commit their own unspeakable acts.

Meanwhile, back in the wild West, passengers on a stagecoach discover a similar situation, their story unfolding in tandem. The historical aspects were okay; I can be a stickler for that but overall was willing to let little nits slide.

As matters on both ends move closer to final confrontations and disastrous conclusions, the threads intertwine in clever ways, connecting the eras, even if some of it seems a little coincidental and/or forced.

My biggest issue, though, was with the dialogue, particularly that involving the younger characters. Lots of exposition in what’s essentially the same voice, shaking me out of the story with “kids don’t talk like that” thoughts.

Tangentially connected to history, I did find the more modern parts had a disjointed feeling with a lot of the cultural references and other details. It felt, reading, as if it had originally been meant to be set in the 1970s or so, but then the author decided to update to 2015 and missed changing some stuff. Tube tops, for instance.

Still, if you’re into creature-features, looking for some Real Housewives of Diamond Loop vs. slug-monsters, like westerns, and appreciate cleverly interwoven timelines, this might well be a book you’d enjoy.

-Christine Morgan

HE DIGS A HOLE by Danger Slater (2018 Fungasm Press / 191 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

For as much of a goofball he may present as online, damn can Danger Slater write! Each new work from him exceeds the last, pushing the excellence bar higher every time. You might read one and say, “well, he can’t get any better” … but then, stinker that he is, he goes and DOES.

He Digs A Hole is his latest, and it’s one of those where I had to pause several times to just shake my head and go, “wow.” The visuals. The language and word use. The unique voice, bending and breaking the ‘show-don’t-tell’ rule as well as the fourth wall, and time, and space, and reality. I mean, wow.

Now, to be fair, there were also a few times I had to pause and wince and squeal; my recently-surgeried-upon frankenarm made the scene where the protagonist saws off his hands to jam gardening tools in his raw-meat wrist-stumps (don’t dun me about spoilers, it’s in the very first chapter) a particular personal challenge.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Harrison Moss is your basic suburban everyman, with the wife and the house and the job and the weekend barbecues with the neighbors and the ennui and despair. One day, on impulse, Harrison swallows a seed from a strange tree in the yard, and is overcome with the fanatic urge to dig.

So, he does. Then, when the hole threatens to consume everything, he and his wife jump into it. That’s when things REALLY start getting weird, not even 1/3 of the way into the book. The weirdness progression amps up exponentially, like, to cosmic levels and beyond.

Seriously, wow. This is a whole mind-bending book of wow.

-Christine Morgan


CEMETERY DANCE issue no. 76

This issue features 8 slabs of new fiction without a slouch in the bunch:

-BLACK WATER RISING by Danny Rhodes: a melancholy look at a man during his final days, Rhodes paints a haunting portrait that aims this issue toward some dark territory.

-In THE HANDLER HAS A TALK WITH LLOYD (by Ray Garton), Lloyd has a face to face talk with the person responsible for his decades of mega success as a folk singer. When child abuse is the *least* disturbing thing on the menu, you know you’ve entered the realm of Ray Garton. A quick & crazy version of the “sell your soul” theme.

-NEMESIA’S GARDEN by Mariano Alonso: an immigrant woman gets a job working for two wealthy senior sisters in a mid town Manhattan apartment, taking care of their garden room. But one of the sister’s reasons for befriending the worker may have a sinister agenda in this smart thriller.

-STRANGER TO THE LIVING by Gerard Houarner: Roger has a relationship with his unborn daughter Sarah, a relationship that helps him and his wife understand their current predicament. Houarner digs deep in an unsettling yet hopeful spook-fest.

-In Jeremy C. Shipp’s THE ARES VEIL, we meet a couple with three kids (one recently gone away to college) and the odd device the younger son learns to use. The always strange Shipp will make you re-read the last two sections of this one and then your spine will begin to chill as it all becomes clear. Some brilliant story telling here.

-SYSTEMS by Nathaniel Lee is an effective nature-gone-amuck tale about a man’s training of wild crows that goes way too far. Features a RARE nightmare scene that actually makes the story shine, so don’t skim it!

-THE TRANSLATION OF AQBAR by Aaron Worth finds a famous London magician named Ugolini performing his act at a private home. But the affect it has on two brothers gets under the skin of a doctor working with one of them at an asylum. A trippy offering from Worth.

-Finally in PATCHWORK THINGS by John Hornor Jacobs, 11 year old Franklin goes on a hunting trip with his Uncle Burl and shoots an unusual creature. Years later, after his mom dies, Franklin moves in with Burl, and reveals to his uncle what he has become. A well done backwoods creeper.

All your usual non fiction columns are up and running, including another great piece by Thomas F. Monteleone (this time he dissects social media and it’s as hilarious as it is depressing), plenty of Stephen King news and reviews courtesy of Bev Vincent, and entertaining reviews by Ellen Datlow, Michael Marano, and a sad look at malls and bookstores by Mark Sieber. Add a great introduction to ROSEMARY’S BABY by Peter Straub (for its 50th anniversary), a nice interview with Joe Lansdale by Chris Hallock, and a boatload of book reviews and other surprises and you have yet another winning issue. Grim cover art by Ray Dillon makes this look sexy on your coffee table, too...

Grab an issue (or subscription) here: Cemetery Dance Issue 76

-Nick Cato


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Reviews for the Week of March 12, 2018

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


WALKING ALONE by Bentley Little (to be released April, 2018 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 304 pp / hardcover)

Little’s second full-sized short story collection (after 2002’s THE COLLECTION) features a career-spanning lot of 27 tales, several appearing here for the first time.

The stories are presented chronologically in the years they were released or written, starting back in 1984 with ‘Milk Ranch Point,’ a creepy Western that’s like a cross between THE GUNS OF WILL SONNETT and IT’S ALIVE, then 1985’s ‘Snow’ pits a married couple against living snowmen on an isolated stretch of road. The occult-ish finale may feel a bit dated but it works. Then again the story is 33 years old, so...

The next three entries are also from ‘85, starting with ‘Children’s Hospital,’ where a young man with leukemia befriends a new kid in the ward. They’re picked on by a bully who is convinced they both have AIDS. But the new kid has an unusual way of bringing the bully to an understanding in this powerful social commentary. ‘Palm Reader’ displays the macabre, creative, and darkly humorous side of Little we fans have come to love. A great reveal gives this one a solid chill with the chuckles. Then in ‘Slam Dance’ we meet Anna, a straight-A student at a Catholic school who gets her hands on a “slam book” and learns what her fellow students really think of her. But when she starts writing her own insults in the book, her classmates begin to get in trouble and even...change.

‘Last Rodeo on the Circuit’ (1986): Rob and Teena wind up at a huge (though isolated) rodeo and discover much more than abused animals are part of the show. Classic Little craziness abounds.

In 1987’s ‘The Car Wash,’ young Timmy’s grandfather believes an abandoned car wash is haunted. After a young girl is found there dead, Timmy’s life quickly descends into sheer terror as only Little can deliver.

‘The Feeb’ (1988) is a weird kid who lives alone and, as the local teens discover, is responsible for the town’s sudden crop and livestock decline. A weird EC comics-type monster tale with even weirder sex!

Shooting into 1991 we have ‘The Mall,’ which is an abandoned structure standing in the center of a gang/gun infested city. A young boy thinks he sees his dead father lurking inside the place in this heartbreaking ghost tale. 1994’s ‘Hunting’ finds a father and son bonding over a camping trip, but their relationship changes when they return home and the son learns of his mother’s infidelity.

‘The Piano Player Has No Fingers’ (1996): Ed is double crossed out of a major development deal and now sits in jail. His old friend goes to bat for him and discovers a demon and magic working behind the scenes in this modern occult-noir tale. Good stuff and a bit different from what we expect of Little.

In ‘The Man Who Watched Cartoons’ (1999), Marilyn is concerned her young daughter Jenny has been corrupted by their senior, wheelchair bound neighbor Mr. Gault. But after going through her daughter’s belongings, Marilyn makes a shocking discovery in what (I believe) is one of Little’s most disturbing stories.

Jumping to 2016, we get the flash piece ‘Apt Punishment,’ a two-sentence tale that will make you squirm and doubt the author’s sanity (that’s a compliment, BTW). The next 12 stories are also from 2016, beginning with ‘Black Friday,’ which is a real treat if you’re a fan of Little’s 1997 novel THE STORE. This one takes place in that world on the worst/busiest shopping day of the year! Excellent. ‘Mona Retrospective, Los Angeles’ features several controversial artists of the past returning to prove they still have what it takes to shock a crowd, and man, do they ever. In ‘Jorgensen’s Fence,’ Rich begins to admire his neighbor’s beautiful new fence, but when he learns how it was made his life goes in a dark, downward spiral. One of my favorites here and a fine example of Little’s ability to combine macabre horror with absurd humor and deliver a truly terrifying tale.

‘The Silence of the Trees’ is another treat for Little fans as one of his old characters returns to solve a supernatural murder mystery...and perhaps this is a prelude to a future novel? ‘Sticky Note’ is a yellow Post It spotted in the gutter by a man who thinks the message written on it (“Kill her”) is directed at him in this paranoid thriller. In ‘The Smell of Overripe Loquats,’ young Johnny is supposed to be at Sunday mass but the neighborhood kids introduce him to a god of their own making in an abandoned house. A great coming of age/religious horror tale and a highlight of the collection.

‘The Maid’ is a sexy Hispanic worker named Rosa at a posh hotel who gives vacationing couple Chapman and Shauna a difficult time. But when Chapman tries to get her fired it turns out no Rosa works there in this slab of freaky horror. ‘Schoolgirls’ is perhaps what the film CLUELESS would be had it been shot in hell. We’re thrown into a savage world that while extreme, seems all too real.

In ‘Under Midwest Skies’ we meet Louis, a New Yorker stuck on a business trip to an isolated section of the country. He hears a tornado warning on the radio and takes refuge in a small town. But what he encounters is pure insanity Little fans will love.

‘Pictures of Huxley’ examines Jillian’s life in the wake of her young son’s death. Pictures of him around her home are starting to change, and some are even starting to ... an emotional, haunting, heartbreaking story and one of the best here. ‘My College Admission Essay’ is written by an applicant who was asked what obstacles he had to overcome in his life. Short and incredibly disturbing (be warned if you’re among the growing legion of those who fear clowns).

In ‘Pool, Air Conditioning, Free HBO,’ Todd and Heather have decided to combine their honeymoon with a cross country trip. They check in to a run down motel in New Mexico and become the target of a sinister dwarf manager and strange neighbors. Little combines horror and dark humor so well here you’ll be spooked as laughs sneak out the side of your mouth. I re-read this after finishing the collection as it’s the epitome of what I love about the author’s style.

The last two tales are from 2017: ‘The Train’ finds a school picnic in full swing, but at the end of the day two dads decided to stay with their young sons to take a train ride around the park. Leave it to Bentley Little to turn a children’s ride into a seriously frightening experience.

The closer is a flash piece titled ‘A Random Thought From God’s Day.’ Like most of what proceeds it, this is darkly funny, terrifying, and what people not into sports (like myself) often think. I couldn’t be more into the author after this one if I tried.

Bentley Little is often praised for his short stories, and while THE COLLECTION (2002) is still my favorite of his works, WALKING ALONE is an impressive display of his talent, his newer stories here testifying he has truly become a master of the macabre, the weird, the just plain “out there.” A couple of tales show Little perhaps a bit more “normal,” but those who may have an issue with this will be glad to know his deranged side is still very well represented.

Long time fans will find much to love here (and not only for the nods to past stories and novels), while newcomers looking for no-holds-barred horror will undoubtedly leave satisfied.

-Nick Cato

HIDDEN CITY by Alan Baxter (2018 Gryphonwood Press / 266 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’ve encountered my share of urban fantasy over the years, both as a reader and a gamer … but in all that time, I’ve never seen it done like this! Urban fantasy without elves and orcs, without werewolves and vampires, without wizarding schools or secretive mystic cabals … but modern magic wielded by ordinary people.

It’s a different kind of magic, too. Actually, it’s several different kinds of magic. This isn’t your bell-book-candle formulaic kind of deal with wands or rituals. It’s handled almost more like psychic abilities, or superpowers, where each individual is going to have his or her own particular type of gift. I love that approach, and here it works extremely well here.

So, you’ll have your talents who can heal, or make illusions, or enhance technology, most of them fairly minor. Some work together, some mostly operate solo but maintain their connections among the weird community. For the most part, they keep things fairly low-key. This isn’t big epic Dr. Strange-scale cosmic arcana … at least, usually it isn’t.

Steven Hines, our main character, self-describes as a ‘citymage.’ He is linked, on an intense and intimate level, to the city of Cleveport, attuned to its activities and moods as if the city itself is a living being with which he shares a telepathic/empathic bond. They can communicate, help each other. But it comes at a cost. His travel options are severely limited, for one. For another, Cleveport is very much the jealous type when it comes to his other relationships.

He is allowed to have friends, though, including his childhood BFF Abby Jones, now a police detective. Although she doesn’t understand (or much want to) the whole magic thing, she recognizes it can be useful in solving certain cases. Like the one she’s got now, with several inexplicable deaths with connections to the talented community.

You might think this was gearing up to your classic buddy movie, Alien Nation with a magic twist, that new Will Smith one, whatever. And you wouldn’t be far wrong, but you also wouldn’t be fully right. As our main two undertake their investigation, events across the city are already building toward a crisis, and other characters are being pulled in.

A beat cop finds himself dealing with spates of seemingly random violent attacks and bizarre transformations … a young mage is scared and on the run after her boyfriend’s overdose … a mob boss is unhappy with gone-awry shipments of a magic-specific drug … pretty soon all of Cleveport is basically going nuts, and it’s up to a small group of mismatched heroes to try and save the day.

Action-packed from start to finish, layered with levels of subtle but deep backstory, lively, fast-paced, gripping, and fun, Hidden City is a definite winner. I’m thinking Netflix series. Somebody should get on that.

-Christine Morgan

BROTHEL by Stephanie M. Wytovich (2016 Raw Dog Screaming Press / 172 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

I always begin my poetry reviews by stating, "I'm not a big poetry reader, but..." and this time is no exception. But it seems there has been plenty of poetry in the horror world lately, much from some of my favorite writers. This is also my first review of an audiobook, a copy of which I won on a raffle through the author's Twitter page. So over the course of a few weeks, I listened to this collection of dark poetry during my drive to-and-from work. Let me begin by pointing out the voice of reader Veronica Giguere made me feel as if I was in a coffee houses' open mic night circa 1967, with fingers snapping and the smell of espresso surrounding me. And while at first I was overtaken by the sensation her voice creates, by the end it was the witty, wise, and at times just plain wonderful words of Wytovich that won me over.

There are many pieces here (156 to be exact) told from the point of view of a Madame that blend together into what is pretty much a novella written in verse. With titles such as 'Dirty Sheets,' 'Clitorial,' 'Gasp for Air,' 'White Dahlia Abortion,' and 'Violent Fantasies,' Wytovich delivers an engrossing study of sex and death within the Working Girls profession and the Brothel of the title. In poems such as 'Ripped Stockings,' the author's ability to bring life to her characters is on full display: "Holes make a star appearance on vulgarized flesh, as my attempt to be lady-like fails. There's a rip near my crotch and it does nothing ... but make me laugh." Pure gold, folks. GOLD. This goes into a piece titled 'Rough Play,' which further lets us into the narrator's psyche, as do all that proceed and follow. Best of all, the women in Wytovich's world may be prostitutes but they're no one's permanent slaves, and at times, we fear and respect them.

I would've liked BROTHEL had I read it in printed form, but as an audio experience I loved it. I've been to many open mic poetry nights at local coffee houses in my hometown of NYC, and the work on display here would not only fit in perfectly but earn standing ovations. Highly recommended in any format, but I believe the audio will blow you away.

-Nick Cato

CLOVENHOOF by Heide Goode and Iain Grant (2012 Pigeon Park Press / 397 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Huh, well, what do you know … feeling sympathy for the devil IS possible! I’ve been a big fan of Edward Lee’s Mephistopolis for years, but even his take on the big bad guy is kind of lackluster. Here, though, as much of a jerk as he is, there’s just something goofily likable about Jeremy Clovenhoof.

Imagine the afterlife being run like a mega-corporation, with business meetings and mission statements, obsessed with productivity, processing souls, managing resources, all that fussy bureaucratic stuff. Imagine saints and archangels in a celestial boardroom, arguing about sins and entry requirements.

Imagine Satan being told he needs to improve Hell’s performance, and when his efforts don’t meet the board’s standards, him being ousted in a sneaky corporate coup. Worst of all, he’s banished to mortal Earth, where he’s expected to live as an ordinary human. He’s got a flat in the English suburbs, a glamour to disguise the horns and hooves, a new name, and what Heaven considers a generous severance package.

He is, however, not thrilled about any of this. His initial efforts to blend in lead to disaster after disaster. He burns through his money with nary a care as he discovers television and the internet. His neighbors don’t know what to make of him. Nobody greets him with the respect and fear he deserves. His old adversary Michael keeps popping in to check on him at inopportune times.

Various schemes – starting a heavy metal band, getting a job at a funeral home, seeking romance – continue to go diabolically wrong, but Jeremy refuses to give up. When he eventually suspects there’s more to his exile than he first thought, nothing will do but to find a way back to confront the powers on high.

The tone – even when describing various atrocities, mutilation, and cannibalism – is wicked and fun, casual, charming, snarky, reminiscent of The Screwtape Letters. I was delighted to discover it’s the first of a series, if shocked I had only now learned of it. Definitely want to pick up the rest!

-Christine Morgan

SICK HOUSE by Jeff Strand (2018 Amazon Digital Services / 214 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

First off, I’d like to take a moment and shamefully admit that I’m underdressed and somehow showing up very, very late to the Strand dinner party. In fact, I’m so late that when I’m walking in the rest of the crowd is slamming down their silverware on the table linen, choking on their first bite of worm rot sushi, turning their faceless heads, and snarling in my general direction as I hang my head and search for an empty seat amongst the swarm, hoping that nobody will smell the abundance of alcohol still lingering on my breath. I’m not quite sure how or exactly why but other than a coauthored release from years and years ago, I have yet to sit down and dig into the dirt of any of the author’s substantial number of prior works available on the market today. With that being said, this will DEFINITELY not be the last and I have some severe catching up to do.

So, what do we actually have here? A typical haunted house story? Yes and no. This is where things get exciting. We do have the usual tropes found within the typical haunted house all know it, a couple moves into a haunted house and is spooked out by the strange occurrences happening there, somebody eventually gets hurt, etc. But, what makes Strand’s work unique is that while sticking to the structure of the usual haunted house plot he takes it so much further. The book is often comical at times, which is a pleasant change of pace that adds to the value of entertainment. The characters are all well thought out and constructed to where you can actually visualize the events taking place. Also, we are introduced to a recurring sub-plot with a big back story, sometimes alternating chapters back and forth between the main plot, telling multiple stories at the same time in an almost before and after type of setting of the same location.

Long story, short: The main character takes a new job in a new town and he and his family move there, rent a haunted house where they soon discover terrible murders have taken place (we learn about the gruesome past first hand as the book progresses). Soon the family is faced with fruit that rots in a day, self-mutilation, torture, gore, gore, and more gore. The spirits are ruthless, violent and seek the utmost revenge to the house’s new inhabitants. How do you kill something that is already dead? Well, I guess you’ll have to read it and check it out for yourself.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

SHE SAID DESTROY by Nadia Bulkin (2017 Word Horde / 198 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection has been getting a lot of attention in terms of reviews, award noms, and the like. It’s also got an intro by Paul Tremblay, no small potatoes of an accomplishment either. And it is easy to see why; these are all masterful stories.

They are not light, quick, casual reads, either. These are the kind that demand your entire concentration. Or, rather, that grab your entire concentration and hold it Stockholm-hostage, a willing partner in your own abduction.

Have your mental passport ready, too … many of these are set in far more exotic locales than typical. The opening tale, “Intertropical Convergence Zone,” is one such, and one that gave me chills down to the marrow. Whether interpreted literally or metaphorically, it’s eerie and powerful.

“Truth is Order and Order is Truth” blew me away with its unexpected beauty, while “No Gods, No Masters” delivers with demonic bloodlines. “Red Goat, Black Goat” presents one of the most unusual and scary gothics I’ve seen in a while.

Another particular standout is the amazingly imagined “Pugelbone.” I love this kind of extrapolory world-building to begin with, and the addition of the title critters themselves takes it to whole new levels of WTF.

Within these pages, you’ll find cold hard death, wry dark humor, pain and suffering, hauntings, strange religions, twists on cosmic horrors, familial legacies, and much more. Do yourself a treat, get this book, mark out a nice block of uninterrupted time, and sink on in.

Just remember, this is the heavy stuff, the dark stuff; this is not gonzo splatter or quiet literary but its own deep brand of dread-at-the-core.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, February 19, 2018

Reviews for the Week of February 19, 2018

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

DOWN THERE & OTHERS by Keith Minnion (2017 White Noise Press / 206 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m always thrilled to check out new material from Keith Minnion, and in his latest short story collection there are several previously unpublished pieces. The 17 tales are:

-THE BLUE CAT: An old woman adds a glass cat to her collection of porcelain figurines. But the seemingly inanimate feline brings an unwanted darkness to her world.

-ON THE HOOKS: Mal lives in a small community of survivors (of what we’re not told). He hunts by night to bring food and goods back to his people, and after clashing with a young boy during an outing we learn just how desperate times have become.

-SO MANY HATS: A sinister slice of flash fiction.

-UNDER THE WING: A brief but heartbreaking sci-fi tale.

-OLD BONES: Novel excerpt featuring a fossil dig and time travel. I’m hooked!

-A TRAIL OF FOOTPRINTS: A struggling alcoholic helps his neighbors locate their son in a snowstorm. But the footprints he follows has him questioning his own reality. A haunting mystery with a head scratching (but satisfying) conclusion.

-PATERFAMILIAS: Quick sci-fi piece that seems like part of a bigger story. A man tries to juggle his wife and a beautiful android-like servant.

-RUNNERS RUNNING: A college student gets fed up with her self-centered boyfriend and decides to move on.

-CLOSE THE DOOR: I’m a big fan of Minnion’s 2011 THE BONE WORMS, and here’s a final chapter to it that takes place 20 years after the events of the novel. One of my favorites of the collection.

-WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN I DO THIS?: Odd tale of a man’s first time with a woman, and what he does today.

-THE HOLES: A wonderful coming of age story. Minnion keeps the mystery going until the end making this one of the creepier entries.

-LITTLE SISTER: Augustine’s younger sibling needs to get her leg fixed, but no one seems to want to help them in this nifty chiller.

-GHOSTS: a young space traveler gets supernatural help to complete an impossible mission. Some slick world building enhances this solid sci-fi romp.

-MOONS FOR MY PILLOW, STARS FOR MY BED: a young girl has a magical encounter with an old man at a laundromat in this light hearted fantasy.

-THE WAMPYR: flash piece about a ghoulish figure’s insatiable appetite.

-DOWN THERE finds a man working with the Navy on a mission that requires the ultimate sacrifice to keep the apocalypse at bay. A creepy-as-hell thriller that I’ve read before...and it holds up quite well.

-DOG STAR caps off the collection and is another novel excerpt, this time a supernatural mystery centered around an artist named Cy whose friend pulls him into an odd situation. Like the aforementioned OLD BONES, Minnion again has me hooked!

DOWN THERE shows off the author’s skills across several genres, and features over a dozen drawings by him. A couple of stories seem to play out like non-genre dramas, but even those will hold your interest. Keith has been at this a long time, and it’s long overdue you treat yourself to his world if you’ve yet to enter it.

-Nick Cato

YEAR'S BEST HARDCORE HORROR VOL 1 AND 2 edited by Randy Chandler, Cheryl Mullenax (2016, 2017 Comet Press / 295 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Saw a meme going around recently, some sort of ‘how much of a literary snob are you’ thing, and I could only laugh. I mean, okay, it didn’t help I was deep into a back-to-back read of these two volumes of the extreme of the extreme.

Oh, the classic, the quiet, the elegant, the subtle and poetic and discreet … oh, the crass crude pulp wallowing in violence, sex, and gore … surely nobody would enjoy BOTH! Surely. Yeah right. But, wait! I’ll let you in on a secret here – if you get lucky, with the right blend of writers, stories, and talents, you can have it all in the same delightful package.

That’s what you get here. Not in every tale, to be sure; some of them are the full glorious bellyflop into viscera and atrocity, guaranteed to make even the hardiest reader cringe. Others, though, others transcend, taking things to a higher level. Elevating it, as they say on the cooking shows.

No wonder, though, when you look at the lineups of authors. Wrath James White is here, the undisputed master of primal sexpain and kink. So’s the leading lady of the extreme, Monica J. O’Rourke. Anything by either of them will haunt you forever. Powerhouses like Tim Waggonner, Kristopher Triana, and Adam Cesare, too.

And the titles! No other genre can pull off titles like “Bath Salt Fetus,” or “King Sh*ts” with such aplomb. No other genre can get away with sheer ickiness like Tim Miller’s “Backne” or Pete Kahle’s agonizing “Where the Sun Don’t Shine.”

Of them all, my personal favorite is “55 Ways I’d Prefer Not To Die” by Michael A. Arnzen; it brings – of all things – whimsy to a series of flinchworthy and all-too-relateable scenarios. It pairs well with stark contrast to Stephanie M. Wytovich’s gorgeously done crimson-drenched vignettes in “On This Side of Bloodletting;” those two alone are shiver-fuel for a year.

If you approach these books like some compilation of torture porn, surgical videos, and gross jokes … well, you’ll probably still have a fantastic time. You’ll just be missing out on some nuance. Take your time. Appreciate. Enjoy.

Just hurry and catch up, because I hear Volume 3 is on the way soon!

-Christine Morgan

FOREST UNDERGROUND by Lydian Faust (2017 Sinister Horror Company / 122 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, where to start? I’d say one-part psychological horror meets fairy tale meets dark fantasy meets two parts modern horror with a couple of bloody twists of earth root, for a perfectly blended horror novella from this powerful debut from the mind of Lydian Faust.

I’ll even admit, at first, I wasn’t really getting into the story with the whole fairy tale bit, especially because it was such a memorable one as a child, but I kept with the big bad wolf because the writing was that solid, and I’ve always enjoyed reading segments that take place between a psychiatrist and their patient—let’s face it: the more messed up, the better. The author manages to pull off what I didn’t like about the story at first exceptionally well, keeping the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next, and then a couple twists threw me right back into the mix and even caught me off guard a few times. I then found myself enjoying the beginning of the book that much more even though I’d personally thought I’d already wrote it off and moved on.

A sinister psychiatrist feeds off the disillusion of one of her rare subjects, a female who thinks she’s living the actual reality of little red riding hood, and then attempts to pin her own personal murders on her patient’s deceased relative by attempting to embed her crimes into her patient’s traumatic memory by making her believe a loved one committed them and was aware of the location of the bones. Brilliant. In the end, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Faust has the power to mess with your mind. Can’t wait to read some more. Don’t forget to cross your T’s, dot your eyes, and bury your goddamn bones.

Definitely Recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

LIGHTBRINGERS by David Price (2017 Crossroad Press / 397 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Okay, normally, anything prophecy/Destined-One is an automatic no-go for me; gives me an eye twitch. Seen so much of it, too much of it, not often well handled. I even scolded Douglas Preston at a signing once for them dragging prophecy into the Pendergast books. Suffice to say, I’m not a fan.

But I went ahead and gave this hefty tome a try because the rest of the premise sounded intriguing – a semi-post-apocalyptic future where cosmic horror runs smack up against the legends and folklore of our world (I do love me some myth-meets-Mythos). Magic is real, a lot of technology has been lost or forgotten, and the result is a sweeping decade-spanning epic, beginning with a young woman meeting a forest god and becoming pregnant with twins believed to be the Lightbringers, gifted with hope and healing, to help drive back the forces of darkness. Which, of course, the forces of darkness are not happy about, sending terrors to threaten the twins even before they’re born.

The book’s done in a very storyteller style with emphasis on the ‘tell,’ and again, normally, this’d be another automatic no-go for me. I prefer intimate character POV and the whole show-don’t-tell thing. Yet, here, with this strong narration and narrative voice, it still somehow works. This is something it’s easy to imagine actually being told.

The dialogue combines the more formal/archaic fantasy sounding stuff with modern terms, usage, slang, and references. It’s a little jarring at times but overall works well. We get to follow one of the Lightbringers and his companions on his journey; it’s part fairy tale quest and part survival adventure, with tests and hazards and personal obstacles to overcome.

Reading along, there will come a point when you realize there’s way too much left to be contained within one volume, setting up for a sequel or trilogy or series. Which, of course, because that’s the way these big sweeping epics should be!

-Christine Morgan

CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE edited by John Brehl & Joseph Sullivan (2017 Cemetery Gates Media / 214 pp / trde paperback & eBook)

Imagine a twenty story, short story collection where every entry is dark, clever, and very different from each other, but all contain some similar aesthetic that relates in great and memorable ways and then bundle it up with creepy illustrations by Chad Wehrle, while boasting some of the most intricate book formatting I’ve seen in quite some time. That’s what CORPSE COLD from Cemetery Gates Media manages to do. The only negative thing I have to say about this book is the fact I decided to read it on my kindle and didn’t wait to purchase the actual physical copy. I could see going back to reference certain stories found within, and with a such a great cover, an excellent book to leave sitting out on the coffee table to spark up a spooky conversation with friends and family, or whoever else may be visiting your lonesome flat.

The recurring theme found in all the stories here is dark and spooky, from one story to the next, each one terrifying, clever and unique in their own dark and demented ways, written in a way that is easy to share and read, making each tale that much more powerful. My personal favorites were, 'Switches,' 'Black Dog,' 'Czarny Lud,' 'Moss Lake Island' (one of my recently new favorite creepy witch stories of all-time), 'It that Decays,' and 'A Casket for My Mother.' All dark, eerie, and beautifully written horror stories to come back to from time to time or perhaps share with one another around a campfire, but don’t forget to look behind you every now and again because there may be something lurking in the trees right behind you.

Did you hear that?

-Jon R. Meyers