Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reviews for the Week of June 18, 2018

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



THE LAST IN LINE by Thom Erb (2018 CreateSpace / 524 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Erb, author of the fantastic novella TONES OF HOME and the fast and furious zombie novel HEAVEN, HELL, OR HOUSTON, begins an ambitious three novel series with another zombie tale, this time set in 1985. I was weary for the first several chapters, thinking, “Oh man, here we go with another generic apocalypse novel,” but Erb soon shut me up and delivered something fresh.

Like the heavy metal music that fuels and is often referenced in the story, THE LAST IN LINE relies more on a fantasy element than horror, although horror purists need not worry as all the grue expected in such a tale is plentiful. We have a mysterious virus turning the world into flesh eating monsters, but it has a supernatural angle: It seems a war to dethrone God has erupted, and our zombies are more demonic than Romero-esque. The otherworldly beings in charge of the chaos are hell bent on tracking down “Children of Light,” powerful humans who can thwart their plans. It turns out two of the last Children of Light live in New York State, and a mystical British chap named Elton arrives to help guide them and their friends through what could be the final world war.

I couldn’t help picturing this project working well as a graphic novel, as the villains and much of the dialogue from the supernatural characters are very comic book-like. And while this may distract some readers, Erb has a way of keeping things moving so fast (even at 500+ pages) it’s hard to let it take you too far out of the novel.

Packed with gut munching mayhem, D&D inspired magic, several epic fights, a coming of age vibe, one kick ass dog, and plenty of music references (make sure to hook up a playlist of 80s Iron Maiden, Dio, Judas Priest, and Accept tunes to play in the background as you read), THE LAST IN LINE should please zombie fans and those who like their horror heavy on the action.

Erb also leaves us psyched for what’s to come. I have my beer mug and headphones ready for the next installment...

-Nick Cato





CANDLE AND PINS by Jacqueline West (2018 Alban Lake Publishing)

Lest anyone be wondering: these poems are all inspired by folklore and superstitions. Which, if you think about it, at their core ARE horror. Like fairy tales. Deep and primal proto-horror, stirring deep and primal chills in our psyches, touching upon our oldest fears. They’re ABOUT fear.

It doesn’t hurt that I love that stuff, am fascinated by it on a Jungian level. It’s a joy to run across some bit of folklore I hadn’t encountered before, some superstition new to me yet instantly understandable. This collection gave me that joy (as well as sparking some story ideas; thank you for that, Ms West!).

There are 61 poems in here, all short and sweet, or dark chocolate bittersweet. They haunt. They linger. They brood. These are poems that smart, historical-minded Goths and occulty-types in particular would go for. Teenage me would’ve wanted to read these out loud in a cemetery to impress a crush. Heck, current-day old me would be more than half tempted.

A few of my personal stand-outs:

“Menstrous,” which should be required reading for junior high girls during *that* special health class when the guys all got sent out to play dodgeball or whatever; forget Judy Blume and even Carrie; this is feminine scary power and moonblood mystery like whoa.

“Spider’s Web” … I’m majorly creeped out by spiders, and this one made me take one of those uncomfortable looks inside myself to wonder if I’d be able to overcome that to help a loved one.

“In Its Crib” speaks to those uncanny moments I think every parent experiences at least once, even if just as a brushing, fleeting thing; the last line is a breathtaking icicle right to the heart.

All in all, eerie and beautifully shivery, like the unexpected caress of a gentle finger on the nape of your neck when you’re alone in the room. I caught myself going “ooh” in out-loud admiration several times during the course of the read, occasionally needing to pause and just sit and reflect and let things sink in. Artful, evocative, clever, gorgeous. Highly recommended!

-Christine Morgan



RITUAL by Tim Miller (2018 GutWrench Productions / 240 pp / trade paperback) 

Okay, this was a first for me by the author. It was an originally dark and brutal tale accurately centered around crooked religious beliefs and practices, black and white magic, witches, paganism, and witchcraft. The story keeps the reader engaged and wanting more at all times, so much so, that I literally finished this book in one sitting after picking it up on a whim, while looking for something new and dark and gory to read. Mission accomplished and then some here, folks.

While going door to door handing out church pamphlets, a group of friends who attend a private church school meet an old man who tells them a story about his daughter joining a Satanic cult before disappearing during her college years. The group of friends soon start to notice not everything is as it seems, especially the two pastors from their school, a couple of other teachers, and even the police in town appear to be involved in the reoccurring murders going on. After meeting a real-life witch with white powers, the group of friends consult with her to take on the cult of Satanists in hopes of ending their life long secrets of betrayal and murder that everybody either seems to be covering up, involved with, or ignoring. With nowhere to go and nobody to trust things begin to get more gruesome and bloodier than ever, as we soon discover the cult's plan is to plant a demon seed into one of the church’s most outgoing teenage female supporters. Will the crew get there quick enough to save her in time? I guess you'll have to read it for yourself to find out.

WARNING: This book contains explicit content that fans of Splatterpunk and Hardcore Horror will appreciate and adore; think Edward Lee, Wrath James White, and Ryan Harding here. If you’re easily offended, you may want to proceed with caution or turn the other way now and run for the hills as fast as you can!   

Definitely Recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers


PREVIEW:

TOMORROW’S JOURNAL by Dominick Cancilla (to be released 7/18 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 320 pp)

This one definitely goes on the short list of absolute mind-blowers, one which made me have to set it down several times to walk around for a bit or take a breather and just let my thoughts go “wow” on a loop.

It’s also one about which I can’t say too much, because even a little might be spoilery and ruin everything. It needs to be experienced on its own terms. You’ve just got to trust me, it’s good … it’s brilliant, it’s intense, it’s breathtaking, it will keep you guessing and dreading and wondering from start to finish.

As something of a hint, imagine a teenage girl finding a book, a journal with some sections clipped together and an opening list of instructions about not peeking ahead. Imagine that girl being able to write in this journal as one side of a conversation with someone who knows a lot about her, and about her future.

Someone who’s got tasks and requests and demands, but who isn’t very forthcoming with answers. Someone who’s proven chillingly right, as the girl finds out the hard way when she doesn’t follow those instructions or try to cheat around the rules.

And imagine being the person on the other end, trying to help, trying to solve problems, but risking making things worse. It quickly becomes heavy on torment from both ends, a doomed Cassandra vibe going both ways, each new revelation cranking up the tension and terror, each new page bringing another deeper layer.

A truly phenomenal, emotionally agonizing, nail-biting read. If I had to nitpick, my sole issue would be with one section where the girl’s relating of events is more of a narrative than a journal entry; I could see why it was necessary, but to me it just didn’t flow as well with the rest of the book.

Making Tom Riddle’s diary from Harry Potter look like kid stuff, TOMORROW’S JOURNAL wasted no time becoming a strong contender for my top pick of 2018.

-Christine Morgan




OLD ORDER by Jonathan Janz (2018 Amazon Digital Services / 42 pp / eBook) 

Next up is the rerelease of this controversial Amish tale first published back in 2010, apparently the book had originally received a number of negative reviews, as some readers thought they were purchasing and reading an Amish Romance Novel given the title. And, although there is plenty of romance to be found in this novella, expectations of that nature and given the context of the book description, one would be sure to find plenty of other controversial and equally explicit material within the pages of this obvious Horror book.

With that being said, the author delivers a unique story of a man pretending to be a member of the Amish community. He goes door to door looking to work for room and board. After stumbling on an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, the main character is swept off his feet by the immense hospitality received from the eclectic members of the household. He almost feels bad for plotting to rip them off, but as for the goods in the house there are several high dollar items, watches, rings, diamonds … exactly what our main character needs to kick things off and start anew after he pulls off his master scheme. Low and behold, the family isn’t quite what they seem, not only are they all female underneath their clothes, they are some sort of coven of undead mutants, who soon seek revenge as the main character’s plans begin to quickly unravel at the seams.

With plenty of perversion, sex, and violence, the author delivers a quick and solid novella engaging readers in an original story from the very first page. Just remember, folks. This is not some lovey dovey Amish Romance Novel written in some genre we never knew existed until now.

This is the real deal.

-Jon R. Meyers


PREVIEW:

TRIPLE AXE by Scott Cole (to be released 7/2/18 by Grindhouse Press / 89 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Porn star Jesse Jinx day dreams of starting her own film company. She spends her days acting in adult features and her nights hanging out with fellow porn stars, thinking of ways to get the money to make her dream a reality.

Porn stars begin showing up dead, choked to death by (oh MAN do you have to read this! Sorry, not going to spoil it!). It turns out someone is waging a holier-than-thou war, trying to clean up the scum infesting the world. And when Jesse's close friends are attacked, she comes up with an idea to protect them with the help of a male porn star, one that leads to a finale resembling an XXX version of KILL BILL.

Cole's novella is like an amped-up Troma film, complete with shady characters, ample sex, a weird cult, a behind the scenes look at adult movie making, and a healthy does of 80s slasher-film style axe-mayhem that helped me finish in a single sitting. A genuine cult film on the printed page.

TRIPLE AXE is arguably the wildest tale of 2018 with one hell of a cool title!

-Nick Cato



ERIE TALES 666 edited by MontiLee Stormer, Nicole Castle Kelly & David C. Hayes (2013 Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers / 120 pp / trade paperback)

Not everyone’s going to be comfy with an entire anthology of 666-themed horror, the darker sides of religion, devils and demons, biblical prophecies, and so on. But, if you don’t mind a little blasphemy here and there, this book is a lot of fun. Its eleven stories run the gamut from real-worldly to otherworldly, from grim to goofy, an entertaining variety of well-written tales (and creepy/cute illustrations!)

First up is “It’s Not What You Think” by Peggy Christie, in which several students fall sick and begin behaving strangely, and one of their teachers has an obvious explanation. Next, a pilot’s revelation during a routine refueling mission threatens to bring on doomsday in Shad Kelly’s “Sound the Trumpet.”

M.E. VonBindig’s “Swine Flu Blues” gives one of the classic cases of possession a clever, updated whirl. On the quieter side, there’s a little deal-with-the-devil temptation in Ron P. Maxwell’s “The Dark In The Night.” On the gorier side, “Jigsaw Jimmy” by Justin Holley sends a workplace shooting in unexpected directions.

For funnier fare, “Which One Of You Guys Is 666?” by John Pirog takes the Maury/Springer afternoon trash talk show approach, while Michael Cieslack’s “The Numbers Don’t Lie” has an orphan in for a big surprise when a demoness drops in for a visit.

Numbers also feature strongly in Ken MacGregor’s “Danica’s Inferno,” when all those six-six-sixes turning up stops seeming like coincidence; and the allure of random chance leads to temptation and obsession in “The Wheel,” by Trico Lutkins.

Nicole Castle’s “Standing Watch On A Hot Summer Night” puts a dire twist on kids-vs-small-town supernatural coming-of-age nostalgia. And speaking of coming-of-age, the final story is my favorite … Rachel Weisserman’s delightfully wry “Birthday Party of the Beast” reminded me favorably of a mash-up between The Omen and “The End of the F***ing World.”

This is the first anthology I’ve read from these Great Lakes Association folks, but if this is what they’re up to, I’m glad I have the next couple volumes waiting in the wings!

-Christine Morgan



A WINTER SLEEP by Greg F. Gifune (2018 Independent Legions Publishing / 226 pp / trade [paperback & eBook) 

This book easily made its way into my top 5 favorite books read so far this year list, and, I have a feeling that it’s going to be hard to beat. Not only is the author’s writing, storytelling, and craftsmanship so top notch here, it’s engaging, sexy, haunting, eerie, unique, discomforting, emotional, suspenseful and all the above times a million. It’s a perfect modern-day horror story with enough darkness and suspense to last for days and then some. There’s even a bit of an underlying sci-fi twist present that cryptically adds to the overall tension, leaving behind a beautifully horrific and tragic tale of lost love affairs, regrets, disloyalty and betrayal, psychosis, and madness. The author does an absolutely stellar job keeping us turning the pages at all times. Just remember not everything is always as it seems. There may be a lot more than meets the eye going on in this one. And even then, you might not know exactly where to turn or who to trust, even yourself and your sanity is on the line here.

Ben Hooper is traveling in a snow storm on a dark highway after catching his wife sleeping with his neighbor. After the storm appears to be picking up and getting worse, he stops off at an unknown tavern for a drink, where he meets a rude bartender and a strange elder man who tells him of a nearby hotel he may want to seek refuge in, as the winter storm is about to get worse. After cocktail hour is over, Ben goes to leave but can’t help noticing the elderly drunkard stumbling for his keys through the snow, before vomiting, and literally falling over before him face down in a snow bank. In no shape to drive, Ben offers to give him a ride home and low and behold he stays at the same hotel that he’d recommended to him. As the story unfolds we learn of Ben’s tragic background with his wife and their neighbor, but that’s not the only thing holding him back from happiness right now. There’s a whole gang of eclectic weirdos seeking refuge at the hotel. And, it’s beginning to look like they don’t want him to leave … ever. In fact, aside from blaming the roads being too bad to drive, his car is drifted over with snow, the hotel seems to be taking hold of him and his mind; the nightmares are getting worse and more frequent, he can’t think straight, and the guests begin getting stranger by the second. He’s not even so sure as to what exactly happened with his wife after leaving, perhaps there was more to the story he’s not coming to terms with, lying about his past and motives like everyone else in this godforsaken and strange hotel.

Everyone plays their part. There’s no other way. Once you’re chosen, you cannot leave. Death is the only thing that is certain. Be quiet and don’t wake mother. What’s that? Are those impregnated hives in the cellar? Another generation? There’s a new Queen Bee in town and she’s nobody’s goddamn business? I guess you’ll have to check this out, read the book, and find out a whole lot more for yourself.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers



DAY OF ATONEMENT by Martin Berman-Gorvine (2018 Silver Leaf Books / 326 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The third in the Days of Ascension series continues the adventures and misadventures of a world in which each new rising god (or demon) seeks to take over, and the people caught in the middle of the ongoing conflicts.

Suzie, Vickie, and Amos, who were high school students back in the days when Moloch reigned – when jocks and cheerleaders were supreme, and nerds were the lowest – are now part of a small band of survivors in the wilderness beyond Chatham’s Forge. They have allies, enemies, children of their own, and live with constant dangers both from outside and within their own circle.

Things have changed in the intervening years. These days, the goddess Asherah is in charge, though her rule has its own harsh drawbacks. The social order of high school and society has been upended, with poets and math nerds the top castes. Yearly ‘virgin’ sacrifices have been replaced with matriarchal fertility festivals. Asherah’s priestesses are quick to wreak Her vicious wrath upon those who transgress.

But Asherah’s got competition; bad old Ba’al wants a shot at the spotlight. He’s ready to recruit followers, raise the dead, and punish anyone in the way. Some are eager to welcome another shift in power. Bitter grudges and none-too-hidden jealousies come to the forefront, sparking betrayal and revenge.

Meanwhile, a young bottom-of-the-pecking-order Cheerleader has the temerity to develop a crush on the school’s premiere Poet, sparking an unlikely association that will lead to the heart of Asherah’s very own inner circle and beyond. A star Mathlete’s secret is exposed. Renegade priestesses try to atone for their deeds and break free from an unforgiving goddess. And more!

There’s a lot going on, a lot of characters and cross-plots to keep track of, but everything’s well-handled and intriguing. Good action scenes, great descriptions, all-too-solid ghosts, vivid gore, fraught emotions … a solid, engaging read.

-Christine Morgan

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Reviews for the Week of June 4, 2018

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







CLICKERS FOREVER edited by Brian Keene (2018 Deadite Press / 440 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

F*** cancer. On that, I think we can all be agreed, and it’s a sentiment repeated several times in the course of this book. It’s taken too many, damaged too many more, and one of the recent devastating losses to the genre was when it took J.F. Gonzalez. He was a mentor to many, a horror historian, and the author of one of the most soul-shattering extreme novels of all time. Between his SURVIVOR and Jack Ketchum’s (also-taken-too-soon, f*** cancer again) THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, the genre would never be the same.

It’s no wonder his closest friends and most dedicated admirers were quick to rally to the call for this project, sharing their personal memories and stories about J.F., as well as tales set in the chompy creature-feature world of CLICKERS.

What’s a Clicker, you might ask? If so, tsk shame on you get reading! I mean, seriously, giant crab/lobster monsters with scorpion tails and acidic venom? Swarming out of the sea to sting, claw-pinch, melt, and eat people? And that’s only the beginning? Yes please! Clickers go cosmic, Clickers do crossovers, Clickers are just plain awesome cool and fun.

Reading this book, though, was a heart-wrenching rollercoaster of emotions. I’m one who regrettably never had a chance to meet the man in person, only knowing him through his work and reputation, and even at that distance, the loss hits cruelly hard. Several of these anecdotes manage that rare trick of making you laugh and cry simultaneously, the ultimate bittersweet.

The fictional stories are, in their way, just as touching and affectionate. There’s a special magic in being allowed to play with someone else’s toys, a desire to do right by them, and that comes through on every page. These folks wanted to do J.F. proud, wanted to live up to being the writers he believed they could be.

If I made particular mention of every section that stood out, I’d basically be listing the entire table of contents and this review would be ten pages long. Just … just get it and read it, You WILL laugh and cry and need to drop everything and go hug your loved ones. So, do it. (and once again, f*** cancer).

-Christine Morgan


PREVIEW:

THE MOORE HOUSE by Tony Tremblay (to be released 7/23/18 by Haverhill House Publushing / 238 pp/ hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

Tremblay, author of the 2016 short story collection THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES, delivers his first novel.

Agnes, Nora, and Celeste are excommunicated nuns, each with a dark past, yet they still manage to be used by the church in a special paranormal investigation team that’s headed by Father John MacLeod, himself a hot mess of profanity, womanizing, and drinking. You may be wondering why the Catholic Church would give their blessing to this group, but Tremblay makes it work.

Our three ex nuns are empaths, which they use to tell if people are possessed or just in a bad mental state. Father MacLeod assigns them to use their powers outside of a seriously evil house (that’d be The Moore House) after a wealthy man hires them to find out if his granddaughter is among the seven people who were murdered within its walls. But what they discover is an evil much darker than any they’ve encountered before (this place gives even Doug Clegg’s ‘Harrow House’ a run for its money).

I’m a big fan of religious-themed horror, and I enjoyed Tremblay’s approach to it. Father MacLeod is the last priest on earth who should be performing exorcisms, but when he does we cheer him on despite his hypocritical lifestyle. It’s also refreshing to see a couple of religious women (Agnes and Nora) still striving to serve God regardless of their excommunication and the fact they’re lovers. Celeste becomes a major player here despite being the newest member of the team, and what becomes of her and Father MacLeod in the final pages is quite disturbing.

With plenty of haunted house mayhem (I was reminded of Simon Clark’s THE TOWER a couple of times), an interesting cast (I’d like to see more of the mysterious pawn store owner), and a flawed but likable crew of demon hunters, THE MOORE HOUSE is a fine debut and a quick read to get the chills going.


-Nick Cato



SHILOH by Philip Fracassi (2018 Lovecraft eZine Press / 70 pp / trade paperback & eBook) 

The author of this book has easily made his way into my top five favorite newer Weird Fiction/ Horror authors of the last five years or so. This is not an easy feat to accomplish on my end, but, here’s a couple of reasons why: He’s just that good of a writer. The author has an uncanny ability to write about subjects the reader is able to visualize and feel, with well-written characters sharing real emotions as the story unfolds. Also, the author doesn’t just tell us a story: He shows us the story. He puts us into the heart of the story and then takes us on a slow-burn journey full of creeping dread and cosmic horror that ends up spiraling madly out of control into some form of darkness, chaos, and disorder.

This book is no exception. And to what better setting to pull this off this time around than the infamous Civil War: Battle of Shiloh, also referred to by some as the first modern war. The author instantly puts us behind the eyes of two brothers as they’re in the midst of fighting a gruesome battle during the war. Not only is this a scarily accurate portrayal of violence and war in general, but Fracassi is able to build tension and dread through all the action, through the scars and the pains of the characters at hand, as we sit alongside them while bullets fly by on the battlefield, as children and innocent bystanders get blown to shreds, as limbs burn, rip, and tear in agony. The two brothers continue looking out for each other, questioning their own sanity amongst such a gruesome setting, as the casualties of war begin to pile up high on both sides. This is when things start to get more interesting and supernatural as the author throws us into the darkness with chaos and disorder. There’s always a bigger picture to be taken.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers



C.H.U.D. LIVES! edited by Eric S. Brown and Joe Mynhardt (2018 Crystal Lake Publishing / 396 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Oh, C.H.U.D., you wacky trashtastic 80’s classic! Near and dear and unforgettable to the oozy radioactive-green hearts of many a monster-movie fan! And really, how could it not be? Hideous mutations, ethos, pathos, carnage and gore … conspiracy coverup, cautionary tale, human drama … C.H.U.D. had it all!

But, since when has “all” ever been “enough” for anyone? Beyond the sequel, beyond various references in shows and video games and pop culture, the C.H.U.D. universe still had plenty of room to grow. Hence, this anthology, a fun and loving tribute from both big names and rising stars, nineteen stories interwoven or expanding upon the original.

If you somehow don’t know, the basic premise is sewers + toxic waste + homeless people = Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers, mutated infectious brutes with claws and teeth and ravenous hunger, who aren’t content to stay underground when so much tasty food is available topside.

Perhaps needless to say, there’s lots of gooshy violence within these action-packed pages, lots of people meeting very bad and messy ends. Even well-armed police and military forces have their hands full, let alone hapless ordinary folks. Cults form, family bonds are tested, unlikely heroes discover themselves, noble and ignoble sacrifices are made. There’s horror and humor and grim reality, revenge and redemption, and more.

The book also includes an introduction by military-fic legend David Drake, interviews with producer Andrew Bonime and screenplay-writer Parnell Hall, and art by Luke Spooner. If you’re a fan of the film, you’ll get a kick out of these stories, and if you’re new to C.H.U.D., then there’s your next movie night sorted!

-Christine Morgan


PREVIEW:

THE POINT by John Dixon (to be released 8/7/18 by Random House / 320 pp / hardcover & eBook)

Dixon’s third sci-fi thriller finds a group of misfits being trained at West Point in a top secret program to harness their unique powers, often to the disdain of the “regular” cadets.

Scarlett Winter comes from a military family but would rather live her rebellious life cliff diving and taking risks of all types. She has been hiding her super power, one she doesn’t understand, but through a series of incidents is forced to take her place in the West Point program. She has the ability to store and project energy, and if she can learn to control it, could become the most powerful force on earth.

When Scarlett enters the program, she learns there are others like her, fellow students with all kinds of abilities from telekinesis to being able to invade people’s dreams. Picture X-MEN meets TAPS, only unlike the later, THE POINT then becomes a non-stop action adventure full of double crosses (from both humans and “posthumans”), truly evil villains (an attack on Times Square during a New Year’s Eve celebration is as grim as it is fantastic) and complex heroes who will surely appeal to fans of speculative fiction.

Like his previous novels PHOENIX ISLAND and DEVIL’S POCKET (both unrelated to THE POINT), Dixon once again serves up a likable team of fighters and places them in an impossible situation that will keep readers flipping the pages. A fun, exciting, cross-genre read that’ll make your time at the beach fly by.

-Nick Cato



DARKWALKER 3: THE DEEP CITY by John Urbancik (2018 Amazon Digital / 215 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In the third installment of John Urbancik’s engrossing DARKWALKER series, we rejoin Jack Harlow as he and the acolyte known as Naomi are being driven to a place called Silver Blade, once an old mining town. A vampire-hunter friend of Jack’s is reportedly being held there, but right out of the gate Silver Blade proves to be anything but normal.

The town is nestled in a valley so steep the sun hardly ever reaches it, which makes it an ideal location for several supernatural beings and denizens of the night. And the town is just the top; Jack’s been summoned lower still, into the city built into the mine shafts and tunnels.

He isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do, still dealing with the losses and battles from previous books. He’s been confronted with disturbing revelations about his family, and learning that his father was somehow instrumental in establishing Silver Blade doesn’t help. Nor does the little poison-rigged booby traps with which Harlow Senior had Jack and Naomi implanted.

You might think that, after journeying through several levels of actual Hell itself, a subterranean city leading to caves and bottomless chasms wouldn’t be so hard to handle, but this place proves ancient, deep, dark, and deadly enough to qualify as its own enclosed Hell. Jack soon finds himself the unwilling guest of a sinister seer, about to witness his friend Nick in an arena battle, while Naomi’s fallen into the clutches of a witch-woman with glowing green blood.

There’s a lot going on, a lot to keep track of, and Jack Harlow himself takes something of a back seat protagonist-wise – then again, he’s always thought of himself as a ‘watcher.’ The reader gets to follow the action with Nick and Naomi, each trying to escape their seemingly inescapable fates … while Jack is brought to an even older, stranger, and deeper part of the caverns.

So, when is part four already???

-Christine Morgan



WHISPERS OF THE APOC: TALES FROM THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (APOC SERIES BOOK 1) edited by Martin Wilsey (2018 Tannhauser Press / 323 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Zombies may have become the popcorn of the horror genre, but so what? Popcorn is munchy-crunchy, tasty, satisfying fun. And, these days more than ever, it’s available in nearly infinite flavor varieties, while still being that same iconic snack underneath … which can also be said about zombies.

Anthologies such as this one only help prove the case. The little differences, the sweet or spicy twists, the unique experiences set against a larger but comfortingly familiar backdrop, are what makes them work. Instead of a whole book of the same old same old bland outbreak and survival, these authors take some fresh perspectives and find new ways to reinvent or play with established tropes.

As is evident from the very first amusing tale, “The Markie Mark” by T.R. Dillon … when suddenly everyone’s panicking about getting bitten, the guy who’s gotten used to it isn’t immediately going to be all that concerned.


Stephen Kozeniewski’s demented talents are on display in “All Dolled Up,” in which would-be raiders pick the wrong house and get themselves invited to one nightmare of a tea party.

In “Zombie Stress” by David Duperre, as if the prospects of turning into a flesh-eating zombie aren’t bad enough, imagine how much worse the vegans must feel!

Stanley B. Webb’s “The Treehouse” combines classic elements of teen comedies and coming-of-age tales when a group of boys planning an overnight campout adventure find themselves in for more adventure than they’d counted on.


“Crave New World” by Adrian Ludens takes things dark and then even darker with one woman’s discovery of a particularly powerful and addictive new kind of drug; this one made my skin creep and, at the end, made a hollow open up in my guts.

In “Rocking C,” J.L. Curtis takes an astute sideways look at planning for the longer-term effects, addressing often-overlooked reality check aspects.

And those are only a few examples; there are sixteen to sample and enjoy. Gritty military action … desperation turning even the mildest into monsters … well-intentioned preppers and planners … scientists trying to save the day against insurmountable odds … hapless people flung into chaos … there’s a little of everything. Popcorn for all!

-Christine Morgan

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Reviews for the Week of May 21, 2018

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


THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW

2003-2018
NOW IN OUR 15th YEAR!




LAST DAY by Bryan Smith (2018 Bitter Ale Press / 298 / eBook)

This pre-apocalyptic blood bath poses the question: If the earth had less than a day before a massive asteroid strike promised extinction, what would the lunatics be doing in their final hours? Hint: in Smith’s world, repenting at a church rally isn’t it. Quite the opposite, actually.

LAST DAY follows three sets of people whose lives (and fates) meet during a gut-wrenching finale right before earth is struck. And the ride there is as brutal as anything Richard Laymon or Ed Lee ever dreamed of (hence, if you’re squeamish, beware).

Uptight office worker Reece, caught in an eternal traffic jam en route to work after the news breaks, is rescued by bad girl/stunt woman Daisy on her motorcycle. She tells him they’re now in this together wether he likes it or not, and while weary he figures what does he have to lose?

Caleb and his sister Ella discover their successful, clean cut parents are much different than their outer selves appear to be: their dad turns out to be a ruthless serial killer, and their mom, his helper. Smith takes this part of the novel to places that will surely bring nightmares to some.

And finally Shawna, tired of her stale relationship with boyfriend Adam, decides to spend her final hours torturing him and murdering her neighbors. She’s an off balanced girl who sees the end as an excuse to let her darkest desires run wild.

While the world erupts into chaos (we’re given glimpses via news reports), Smith dedicates each chapter to these three scenarios until fate brings them all together in the final moments. Somehow, among the endless carnage, Smith employs some dark humor, especially in Chapter 23, but any laughs to be had are quickly quieted by the ever-grueling story.

LAST DAYS is a sick, hyper-violent, at times terrifying, and lightning-paced descent into madness. I actually held on to my junk a few times and winced, causing me to finish some sections through one eye. The violence gets so extreme it borders on the absurd, but Smith’s characters are relatible (whether we want to admit so or not) and it forces us to read on.

I can only imagine, if anyone survives the asteroid strike, what Smith’s POST apocalyptic world will be like.

Be very afraid.

-Nick Cato



DARKWALKER 2: INFERNO by John Urbancik (2018 Amazon Digital / 204 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Picking up a few months after the first book left off, we join Jack Harlow struggling to deal with the tragic loss of his lover as well as coming to terms with his new not-just-a-watcher role in the world of the supernatural.

His main goal is to find Lisa and bring her back from whichever afterlife may have claimed her, so he’s taken up questioning the various ghosts he meets. But their answers aren’t very helpful, and when he’s contacted by a former acquaintance with an offer, Jack can’t help but agree.

Accompanied by an acolyte of magical arts, he sets off on a strange journey, with no idea just how strange it’s going to get. We’re talking Dante-level strange, niftily paralleling that Inferno as Jack – without a Virgil to play tour guide – fights his way through various realms of actual Hell in hopes of finding his Beatrice.

The depictions of eternal torment are harrowing and effective, with suffering damned souls, fallen angels, cruel demons, and entities darker than anything Jack’s run into before. His efforts just to get back to the mortal plane again will shake the underworld to its very foundations, not to mention letting some real nasties slip through.

And, as if that’s not enough, powerful adversaries are closing in, some with connections to Jack’s past, forcing him to deal with multiple problems at once. Or, to put it in a zingier way, EPIC DEMON GHOST NINJA BATTLES!!! Which, if that’s not enough for you, I don’t know what more I can say.


-Christine Morgan



TIDE OF STONE by Kaaron Warren (2018 Omnium Gatherum / 427 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The Time Ball Tower is located on a small island off the coast of Australia. It's a prison where criminals are sent who have made the choice to live within it's walls eternally rather than suffer the death penalty. Of course the majority of these prisoners quickly regret not taking the other option, and although we only get quick glimpses of these criminal's lives, Warren gives us just enough that we feel little (if any) pity for them.

TIDE OF STONE centers around Phillipa Muskett, who is about to become the latest "Keeper" to work at the Time Ball Tower. Keepers pledge to work for one year, alone, among the prisoners, and in turn they'll be set for life when they get out ... if they survive the year of loneliness and taunting from the desperate inmates. The prisoners are so weak and brittle (some hundreds of years old) that even a young woman like Phillipa can handle the physical tasks of the job, but we're never quite sure how she's faring on the mental end until the final pages.

A big section of the book is made up of brief annual reports from other keepers, as far back as 1868, that Phillipa reads to prepare herself for the job. She gains insights into some of the prisoner's minds as well as what her fellow Keepers had to go through, yet even all this doesn't fully prepare her for the task ahead.

Philippa's own journal takes place in 2014, and if you've never read Warren before you're in for a treat of deep psychological head games, supernatural spookiness, and some of the finest prose the genre has to offer. It was interesting seeing these criminals attempt to bribe and mess with Phillipa, who turns out to be a lot stronger than anyone would've imagined. I'd love to see a story about her life post-Time Ball Tower.

TIDE OF STONE is a sublime fever dream of ever-building dread with some fantastic atmosphere and a dark fantasy slant that's only given to us in tiny bites as to keep the tale grounded in reality (the odd condition of the prisoners, for example, kept me flipping the pages to find out more). I haven't enjoyed a "quiet horror novel" this much since the classic T.M. Wright novels of the early 80s.

I've been a fan of Warren since her 2009 debut SLIGHTS, and can say this is her finest novel yet. Don't miss it.

The Ball dropped.*


-Nick Cato 



SPLINTERED ICE by Stuart G. Yates (2016 Creativia / 279 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Jed Meres is just having one of those lives … bullies at school, exams coming up, a grouchy headmaster … oh, and his mother just up and left, presumably with a lover, which neither Jed nor his dad are dealing with very well.

It’s a lot to deal with all at once, but for Jed, this is just the start. His good deed of rescuing a fisherman fallen through the ice makes him a local celebrity, except there’s something odd about the man he saved. Something ultra-charismatic, almost hypnotic, almost controlling. Meeting him makes Jed fall under his sway, doing things he can barely remember.

It leads to trouble, of course. Trouble at home, trouble with the law, trouble at school, trouble with a girl. It leads to trouble for his dad with a neighborhood widow. There are mysteries and questions – why is the man Jed rescued believed to be dead? How does the violent murder of Jed’s only friend fit into things? What about Jed’s estranged half-brother, who says this isn’t the first time their mother’s abandoned her family?

Poor Jed is one of those characters in over his head, used and misused, played with and strung along. Those who seem to know what’s going on won’t give him straight answers. Frustration abounds, not just for him but a bit for the reader (at least for this reader; the urge to grab characters and shake them until they quit the smug teasy games is a strong one).

With whispers and chills and hints of the paranormal, I found SPLINTERED ICE an occasionally muddled but overall engaging read that held my interest until the end.

-Christine Morgan



FEAR OF FREE STANDING OBJECTS by Doug Rinaldi (2018 Mayhem Street Media / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’d read a couple of the stories from this collection before, in their original appearances, but it’s always nice to reconnect, as well as being able to enjoy the tales I hadn’t yet seen. They total thirteen, a nice devil’s dozen, spanning a range of horrors from the quietly artful to the whole-hog gory.

First up is “Unfurl,” a brief but haunting piece with some darkly beautiful descriptors and turns of phrase. It’s followed by the part-medical / part-diabolical invasive body horror of “Osteogenesis,” and the fun chaos and destruction of “An Incident in Central Village.”

The protagonist of “Bequeathed,” searching for answers about his deceased mother, finds more than he bargained for. In “Alchemy of Faith,” a priest follows a wounded angel’s last request and creates a new life … to the outrage of his fellow clergymen.

Urban exploration and poking into places best left alone feature in the next two – “The Yattering” has ghost-hunting in a derelict bookstore become all too real, while in “Egregore,” a fraternity initiation turns out to have far more sinister purpose.

“The Sickening” veers off into more historical epic dark fantasy territory as a lone man braves an ancient cavern in hopes of finding the source of a plague. “And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’” serves a professional killer a very unwelcome surprise.

In “Lotus Petals: Liminal Personae,” the quest for physical perfection outweighs all other concerns, even flinchworthy mutilations. And you know it’s a bad day at the office when someone unleashes a deadly curse on a co-worker, as happens in “The Jatinga Effect.”

“Sybarites: Or, The Enmity of Perverse Existence,” follows a desperate father trying to rescue his daughter from a depraved sex-cult. Finishing things off is the longest work, “A Different Kind of Slumber,” pitting cop against no ordinary kind of killer.

-Christine Morgan



HARVEST NIGHT by Darren Madigan (2014 Amazon Digital / 674 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If an extreme horror short story is a quick, brutal 100-yard dash, then this book is a marathon of steadily-paced ongoing relentless atrocities with no rest and little reprieve along the way. Also like a marathon, others might wonder why you’d subject yourself to such grueling punishment just to end up feeling grimy and exhausted by the finish line; is the endorphin rush and sense of satisfaction worth it?

Well, if you’re a die-hard sicko like me, the answer to that question is a decided YES. As much mental fortitude as it took to keep on reading, to push through the depravity … I can only imagine how much was required to sustain the writing at such an unflinching level.

We’re talking serious nastiness here. Remember the stuff about devil-worshiping child molesters? Welcome to Redhaven, where there isn’t just a small secretive cult lurking behind the scenes while the rest go blissfully unaware. In Redhaven, most of the town IS the secretive cult, and it’s been that way for generations and centuries. Newcomers quickly learn things aren’t right, and often learn just as quickly to simply keep their heads down and look the other way.

Nor is it only Redhaven; the cult is widespread and powerful, a conspiracy reaching to the highest levels. And why not? It’s more than just mindwashing, total control, an endless supply of sex slaves, wealth, and political power. The members of the ‘congregation’ each have patron entities, demons and demigods representing many mythologies, who grant their followers favors of various paranormal kinds.

For much of the year, the denizens of Redhaven try to keep things mostly low-key, but when Harvest Time rolls around, those newcomers and non-congregation types are really in for it. It’s hunting season, killing season. But, any conspiracy so far-ranging is going to have those fighting it, working to bring it down … and this year may be a bloodier Harvest Time than anyone anticipated.

-Christine Morgan




*-private "joke" for readers of TIDE OF STONE.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Reviews for the Week of May 7, 2018

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


THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW

2003-2018
NOW IN OUR 15th YEAR!





FISHING IN BRAINS FOR AN EYE WITH TEETH by William Markley O’Neal (2014 Lightning Strike Press / 348 pp / eBook)

Seeing this collection, you might think, “Wow, that is one freakyweird title; I wonder what it means!” Then you might start reading the stories and be so drawn in and captivated you forget … until the moment when, in a deft bolt-from-the-blue, you’re hit with the answer. You know what it means, it suddenly makes perfect sense. And, if you’re like me, you’ll have to just stop for a moment of headshaking admiration (perhaps tinged with self-chagrin for not seeing it sooner).

The stories themselves are fantastic. Among them, you’ll find murderers and monsters and vampires, poetry and painting, how local legends develop and what happens to those who don’t heed them, sleep-talk secrets, and even a brief foray into the robozoid future.

First up is “Sensory Desolation,” in which a drunken sheriff berating himself for his failure to catch a serial killer receives an offer of help from some mysterious ladies, only to find out too late the cost of solving the crime. Intensely unsettling and creepy for sure.

Some particularly sinister fun is to be found in “www.$sellYerSoul2Satan.hel,” when a listener to a radio call-in show realizes HE’S the stalker the caller is talking about, and takes drastic measures to save their relationship and his reputation.

“I Was A Teenage Beehive” sent me into the screamy bug-dance; I know we’re supposed to be protecting the bees to save the planet etc., but phobia is as phobia does and yeeeeesh … my skin will hopefully stop crawling one of these days.

Closing the book out is “Bob Bodey’s Body Parts,” which may make you think twice about those little coin-op novelty dispensers; its up-close-and-personal vivid detail and descriptions are simultaneously hilarious and horrific.

Top-notch writing laden with clever twists and original takes. Serious good stuff. I don’t know how I’d managed to miss out on this author for so long.

-Christine Morgan



FICTION by Ryan Lieske (2018 Burning Willie Press / 300 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

There have been plenty of tales where an artist or writer’s creations come to life, and here, in his debut novel no less, Lieske manages to give it his own flavor.

Caitlín, under the tutoring of her ever-excited mentor, learns some characters from her stories are coming to life. One happens to be a killer who manages to photograph the souls of his victims at the time of their deaths (and some of the murders are quite gruesome). They wind up in a sort-of limbo, and when they realize Caitlín is responsible for their current whereabouts, they become hell bent on revenge.

Caitlin’s latest story leads to one of her close friends waking up with almost no recollection of his life, and the aforementioned lost souls discover a way to act out their ever-lusting vengeance.

Things build at a nice pace, and a few seemingly confusing elements are tightly wound up in the satisfying finale.

FICTION, despite it’s blah-sounding title, offers a feast of the horrific, with some edge of your seat moments and a couple of terrifying ideas. There’s plenty of twists and enough ghoulish mayhem to keep any genre fan flipping the pages. (And I really shouldn't rag the title...at least it doesn't have DARK or GIRL in it!).

An impressive debut that leans heavily on the dark side.


-Nick Cato



ALPHABET SOUP edited by Tobias Wade (2018 Haunted House Publishing / 234 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, first of all, this anthology ended up being a little better than I thought it was going to be. We have a little psychological horror, gross out horror, and even some well-constructed conspiracy theories. The editor and authors involved in the project put together a timeless horror anthology that should hold up for many years to come. The concept of the overall project is what interested me to check it out in the first place. We’ve all seen the ABCs of Death, right? Right!? That video anthology where different horror directors picked or were assigned a letter of the alphabet and then they filmed a bunch of those badass little horror shorts. Same concept here. 27 authors. 27 stories. Awesome artwork for each story. The project started on a reddit forum and was put together and placed into our dirty, little horror hands.

Another thing I found surprisingly pleasant was all the stories seemed to go together very well and every single one of them were well written. Usually, with the larger horror anthologies there are too many hit or miss stories, with perhaps a couple stand-outs here and there, but occasionally we luck out and find gems like this one, where all the stories are well put together, extremely versatile, and properly executed.

Some of my personal favorites were 'D is for Daniel' by Dover Hawk, a tale, in which, the main character is haunted by an alien hand syndrome: an uncontrollable alien force is possessing his left hand. After it takes the wheel and tries to kill him in a car accident, the doctor performs another surgery, amputates his left arm, which sets the malevolent force free. In 'F is for Formaldehyde' by Kyle Alexander, an old lady winds up dead and nobody knows because the smoke from the tenants’ downstairs leaks up into her apartment, where her windows are open during the winter time, and her body is preserved with no stench for over twenty-six days. And, 'N is for Necrosis' by J.Y., a tale, in which, a student drops out of college to take care of his mother, who just so happens to be suffering from necrosis. As her condition worsens he finds it harder and harder to confront her about some of the disgusting things she does. Even after she dies, the memories are hard to erase.

Definitely recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers



LOST AND LONELY by Brian James Freeman (2018 Cemetery Dance / 175 pp / hardcover)

I should know better than to think “I’ll just read a little before sleep.” I can ‘one more chapter’ or ‘one more story’ myself beyond the point of no return, and then hours go by or I reach the end of the book, or both.

With this sleek collection, my only saving grace was that it is a slim book. Only five stories. I could read them all without losing out on too much of my sleep time. Good thing too, because yeah, as soon as I started, I was going to be ‘one more story’-ing myself all the way home.

“Losing Everything Defines You” is done in the form of a transcript of a recording, opening with the ever-compelling line, “If you’re listening to this, I must be dead.” Between that, and the information the recorder is a writer, and the question we all must be asking about whether he killed his wife and son … who couldn’t keep reading?!?

In “Loving Roger,” a wife is determined to save her marriage with a romantic surprise, but gets a shocking surprise of her own.

I really liked “How the Wind Lies,” a historical frontier tale in which a malevolent force follows the settlers to their new homesteads.

“Perfect Little Snowflakes” follows a couple of desperate teenage lovers as they try to decide what to do about a certain not-uncommon problem.

Last but not least is the chilling “The Plague of Sadness,” in which a 911 dispatcher can’t shake the effects of a troubling call.

As bonuses, the book also includes an intro by Simon Clark, and some spooky-lovely interior art by Glenn Chadbourne. Well worth a look!

-Christine Morgan



RED DIAMOND by Michales Joy (2018 Bloodshot Books / 378 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I went into this one knowing nothing but the title, kind of like a blind date with a book. Unlike most blind dates you hear horror stories about, these ones – horror story blind dates! – tend to work out better.

RED DIAMOND is definitely one of those worked-out-better. It combines several killer elements: the small town suddenly isolated and trapped, the rapid unraveling of societal structure, a shady conspiracy, a vicious monster on the loose … and adds the extra kick of a reality show.

Imagine getting a call to inform you that, congrats, your town’s been flagged ‘red diamond,’ selected for the next surprise monster rampage! In half an hour, the walls go up; anybody who wants out better get out pronto, and anybody still inside is fair game! Imagine having to deliver that news, oversee the panicked evacuation, and deal with the fallout. No pressure, right?

Sheriff Yan Corban of Pikeburn is the one who gets that call. The clock is ticking and the scramble is on. His sense of duty won’t let him abandon his post, even when several of his deputies prove not so noble. Soon, he’s trying to keep people alive – not only the people who couldn’t escape in time, but the ones who choose to stay and ride it out … and the ones for whom it’s gung-ho get-the-guns monster-hunting time!

Factions quickly form, and it doesn’t help that the leaders of some are not exactly Corban’s friends or fans. As if he doesn’t have enough to worry about, a couple of outsiders have also ended up in Pikeburn. One is a superfan, the Red Diamond reality show expert. Another is a technician who got caught (or abandoned) on the wrong side of the wall.

All, of course, while the latest genetically engineered killing machine taking its debut field test. It’s exciting plunge-right-in action with no reprieve, barely a chance to catch your breath, tons of crazy mayhem and fun.

-Christine Morgan



THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle (2017 Spiegel & Grau / 432 pp / all formats)

One of the most highly praised novels of 2017, I finally got around to this wonderful fairy tale-type horror yarn and it lived up to the hype and then some. And no, this has nothing to do with the 1980 horror film of the same name (I was asked this by a few friends).

Apollo (who helps support his wife and son as a rare book seller) is determined to be the father he never had. His own dad abandoned him at a young age, leaving him with only a box of books and continually haunting his dreams. And now as an adult, those dreams are back, stronger than ever, each one acting as an omen of sorts. His wife Emma starts acting odd, and despite their seemingly happy home, Apollo finds himself tied up by her hands one day as she commits an act of atrocity against their infant son in the next room.

The rest of THE CHANGELING finds Apollo on a quest to find his missing wife and come to terms with the murder of his son. But at each turn Apollo discovers things in New York City and its surrounding boroughs aren’t what they seem as he comes face to face with witches, folklore that’s all too real, as well as his own role as a father and a human being.

LaValle has delivered an irresistible tale, turning local NYC areas into sights of wonder, making us believe the fantastic is lurking right under our noses (and in that regard this, at times, reminded me of Tim Lebbon's RELICS). Everyone here shines, from Apollo to his wife to his business partner Patrice, even characters who play small (but pivotal) roles such as Cal, the leader on a secluded island of protected women. This may be a fairy tale for adults, but it is undeniably a horror novel, full of emotion and questions that may haunt the reader for days.

So, yep, all the praise heaped on THE CHANGELING was well deserved. A novel not to be missed and one you’ll devour in no time despite its 400+ pages.

-Nick Cato



As promised last issue, another look at...


GODS OF THE DARK WEB by Lucas Mangum (2018 Deadite Press / 108 pp / eBook)

I’m fairly sure I was one of those reviewers who named Lucas Mangum as an up-and-coming talent to watch … in this book’s intro, Gabino Iglesias says we can all stop saying that now; he’s not on his way anymore, but has solidly arrived. And I agree. Mangum’s Deadite debut is a winner, a smash hit.

Ah, the internet. What was once a shady frontier has become the everyday world for a lot of us. We’re so accustomed to it, comfortable with it. But, you know what? It’s still a shady frontier. In fact, forget shady. It’s downright DARK. There are parts of it so vile, so sordid and nasty … the bad stuff, the stuff that should be unimaginable, except, to paraphrase a savvy space guy, we’ve got quite the imagination. The most heinous, horrible things ARE out there.

Leon and his pal Shiloh consider themselves on the side of righteous activism, but even righteous activists can get nervous about their safety, and so they go exploring the “dark web” in hopes of clandestinely purchasing some defense, and end up falling down the deepest, most twisted rabbit hole instead. And those on the other side? They know. They know everything, can find out anything, can get to you anywhere.

When Leon goes missing, his older brother Niles, a true-crime writer, undertakes a little sleuthing himself. Wading through torture and depravity, he finds a possible lead to Leon’s location … but not before drawing the wrong kind of attention.

My only problem with it was that it’s SO DANG SHORT! I wanted more, lots more. I was upset at how soon I reached the ending (I may have sworn out loud in protestation and disbelief). Because this book is a sleek, sinister, chillingly plausible piece of work.

-Christine Morgan

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