Sunday, May 6, 2018

Reviews for the Week of May 7, 2018

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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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