Monday, July 16, 2018

Reviews for the Week of July 16, 2018

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


COCKBLOCK by C.V. Hunt (2018 Grindhouse Press / 150 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sonya and Callie are looking forward to their date night at a new restaurant. Sick of their jobs, they just need a night away. But on the way to their destination, they become victims of catcalls that get increasingly hostile, and they pick up their pace when they notice women being verbally and physically abused by crazed-looking men. They take refuge in the restaurant and discover the President of the United States is broadcasting a message on a loop that's turning men into crazed rapists.

Our ladies meet military captain Megan Naff and decide to take their chances, but when things get too brutal in the streets a nun waves them over to safety in a church. But things aren't what they seem and our girls are in for one crazy ride, including a mission to storm the White House in an attempt to stop the brainwashing messages.

Hunt continues to deliver some of the craziest ideas in the genre, twisting tropes in ways you’d never expect. COCKBLOCK is full of social and political subtext and an urgent cry for justice, done in an irresistible way. Things may seem absurd one minute, and the next we wonder if this could possibly be where we're headed as a nation.

With 15 titles under her belt, Hunt has become a force to be reckoned with, and COCKBLOCK is easily one of her best. It's an epic tale told in an easily digestible size.

-Nick Cato

NEVERDAY by Carlton Mellick III (2018 Eraserhead Press / 200 pp / trade paperback)

I’m still not caught up on his backlist, and he comes out with new books almost too fast for mere mortals to keep up with. Mellick really is a phenom unto himself, demonstrating a staggering range and talent, from the gonzo to the profound. I did once think QUICKSAND HOUSE was his best … until I read NEVERDAY.

‘Best’ is one of those iffy terms, though. My personal favorite, how about. Of everything of his I’ve thus far read, NEVERDAY knocked me the most for a loop. My only complaint with it was that it ended too soon (or, indeed, ended at all; I could have gone on reading it forever, fittingly enough).

We’re all familiar with the deja vu repetition thing, with Groundhog Day and time resets and living the same sequence of events over and over. Wondering what can be changed, what could be done differently, if there’s a way to break the pattern. Such scenarios are their own special kind of haunting purgatory, but NEVERDAYNEVERDAY … wow. Takes it to such new levels, such extremes. Elevates it, as the cooking show judges say.

As for this particular story summary: Karl Lybeck has been repeating the same day for so long, even he isn’t sure. He has the same food in his house, the same money in the bank, the same books on his shelves. The same critters go through the same routines in his garden. No matter what he does, no matter what he tries, nothing changes. Even when he ends the day by blowing his brains out, he wakes up alive and same as ever at the usual time the same morning, and gets to go through it all again.

Except, then, something does seem to change … Karl notices he’s not alone … there are others reliving the same day. People like January, who’s suddenly caught in a loop of crime and betrayal, on the run from the police. And more than just the police. There are some who know what’s going on and are determined to maintain the eternal status quo.

To say more would be spoilery, so I’ll just repeat myself and reiterate – of everything he’s done so far, NEVERDAY is my all-time fave.

-Christine Morgan

THE NETWORK PEOPLE by Bob Freville (2018 Psychedelic Horror Press / 100 pp / trade paperback)

This book looks exactly like you’d expect a book from something called Psychedelic Horror Press to look like … garish eye-bleedy nightmare colors, freaky fonts, freakier artwork … and then you open it to find the stories and illustrations within are just as weird, if not weirder!

The illustrations, courtesy of Nicholas Patanaude, are of the sort that might get a kid’s parents called in for a special conference with the principal or school counselor. I mean that in a good way, of course. A good-but-seriously-messed-up way.

And the stories? Wildly bizarre. There are three of them, deviously interconnected, sharp with cutting and insightful social commentary, and some wickedly clever word use.

Things start off with “We Buy Souls,” stripping away the plastic facade of modern everyday life when a recently-released ex-con happens across a pawnshop/knickknack-emporium with a peculiar, sinister shopkeeper.

Then comes the unsettling title tale, “The Network People,” in which an actor receives an invitation to a secret society with some unusual hazing rituals and unspeakable secrets, and once you’re in, there’s no way out. How far would you go for fame and fortune?

On a similar note, how far would you go to save your marriage / spice up your love life? That’s the question for Eric and Elle in “Sex Toy,” who visit an adults-only business but don’t find anything exciting … until they notice a secret back room, and something very different catches Elle’s eye …

-Christine Morgan

ANIMALS EAT EACH OTHER by Elle Nash (2018 Dzanc Books / 216 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Well, this book just easily climbed to the top of my ten favorite books read in 2018 list. Here’s why: First of all, let’s take a look at the beautiful, stunning, and artistically skillful pink cover design by the master of the book cover universe, Matthew Revert, am I right? The book looks amazing. But, here’s the even more exciting part: The author’s stunning and unforgettable debut found on the pages within are just as intriguing, creative, sexy, dark, erotic, heartfelt, honest, and amazing. Nash manages to deliver a brutally honest tale on the dark side of love and obsessive relationships through the eyes of Satanism, love, anti-love, and jealousy. ANIMALS EAT EACH OTHER is a sadomasochistic anti-romance novel and modern late teen masterpiece that indirectly pays homage to the likes of Joel Lane’s Queer Punk Rock debut FROM BLUE TO BLACK, GO ASK ALICE, or, maybe even a bit of Chbosky’s perks THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, but instead of making cute and cuddly mixtapes for Patrick, we’re listening to goth superstar Marilyn Manson, and taking fistfuls of synthetic drugs at a Rave Party, before embarking on an emotionally devastating and destructive rollercoaster of a relationship with more than one sexual partner.

From the back cover, “A girl with no name embarks on a fraught three-way relationship with Matt, a Satanist and a tattoo artist, and his girlfriend Hannah, a new mom. The liaison is caged by strict rules and rigid emotional distance. Nonetheless, it’s all too easy to surrender to an attraction so powerful she finds herself erased, abandoning even her own name in favor of a new one: Lilith. As Lilith grows closer to Matt, she begins to recognize the dark undertow of obsession and jealousy that her presence has created between Matt and Hanna, and finds herself balancing on a knife’s edge between pain and pleasure, the promise of the future and the crushing isolation of the present. With stripped-down prose and unflinching clarity, Nash examines madness in the wreckage of love, and the loss of self that accompanies it.”

Whether you like your fiction dark and sexy, heartfelt and emotional, or just plain well-written with a little bit of nitty gritty. There’s a little bit of something for everybody to be found here. Check it out for yourself as I highly recommend it.

P.S. Elle, if you’re ever in the neighborhood and get bored and are, you know, looking for something to do. My phone number is 555-666-6969.


-Jon R. Meyers

THREE A.M. WAKE UP CALL (THE TERROR PROJECT, VOL. 3) by Nick Cato, David Daniel, Rob Watts (2018 Books & Boos Press / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Hmm, volume three, three stories, three authors, three in the title … methinks I spy a theme going on here! The foreword by Rob Smales sets a stage with which we’re all familiar, waking to a ringing phone in the middle of the night and how we can all instantly identify and empathize because you just KNOW it’s going to be bad news. At best, maybe a wrong number or drunkcall, but tell that to your nerves and imagination, hardwired to jump to the worst conclusions.

The stories themselves don’t necessarily include a phone call, but draw upon similar shared universal experiences, such as the related late knock on the door, or “breaking news” bulletins, the kinds of things that interrupt your normal routine, sometimes with the inexplicable or dangerous.

In the dark, fun, twisted “Chew Toys,” by Nick Cato, the emphasis is definitely on both. It’s a take on the infamous ‘Son of Sam’ killings … but what if Berkowitz wasn’t crazy, what if there WAS a talking dog who could influence people to do terrible things? What if Berkowitz had only been a test drive, and now the dog is gathering a whole team? What if the dog’s got a vendetta? Who’s going to believe it?

“Clinton Road” by Rob Watts pulls the rug out from under a woman’s life, flinging her from happily married big-city socialite into pending-divorcee living alone in a rundown cabin on a creepy stretch of road where urban legends outnumber actual neighbors. Must say, I didn’t care for this one as much because Melissa’s character annoyed me; I spent more time wanting to smack her than sympathize.

David Daniel’s “Roons” deftly combines elements of the classic coming-of-age and the return-to-the-hometown. An email about a former neighbor’s funeral stirs Erik’s memories of childhood crushes and frowned-upon friendships, and leads him to a hoarder’s storage unit, where he uncovers some disturbing secrets of the past. Reminiscent of Hill, or King without the bloat; good stuff.

-Christine Morgan

ABODE by Morgan Sylvia (2017 Bloodshot Books / 308 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I love it when an author manages to take a classic trope most people might think has already been played out or done to death, and then blows the doors off by presenting it in an effective, clever way.

Sure, you might think, “oh, another hapless family moves into a spooky old house with a history, here we go again.” But not like this. Even if it was just another haunting – which it isn’t; there’s way more to it – the manner in which it’s told is riveting.

I mean, come on: it’s in the form of emails from a grown man to someone he believes to be the reincarnated sister who died when they were both kids. Hooked me from the get-go. How fascinating is that? How can you NOT need to read and learn what happened?

An unreliable narrator who admits his unreliability up front … a one-sided correspondence with a recipient whose responses aren’t shown … this insane-seeming story of tragedy and past lives … taking stalking to unnerving new levels even as he’s claiming to want to help … yeah. The depth and complexity of emotion going on, half of it off-screen and left to the reader’s imagination, is wonderfully done.

It’s also one of the best ‘haunted house’ stories I’ve seen in a long time, not only for the paranormal elements but because of the way the reactions of the family come across as genuine and believable in their denial and dysfunction.

A big bonus for me was the nostalgia factor; the events our narrator’s telling us about took place when he was a kid in the 1970s. That was some spot-on memory lane stuff, the cultural references, the toys and shows, the interior d├ęcor; I had no trouble at all stepping into that world.

-Christine Morgan


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