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Reviewers note: Okay, so, there was some tension regarding these first two books (to put it mildly). Whether you chose to view them through a competitive lens, a rebuttal one, or something more personal, the result was a pair of anthologies that I found worked surprisingly well together as companion volumes, complementing each other in a nice round-things-out kind of way. I read and reviewed them back to back, and really would urge people to give both a try rather than picking sides; that way, we all win!
FLIGHT OR FRIGHT edited by Stephen King and Bev Vincent (to be released 9/4/18 by Cemetery Dance / 332 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)
Here we have seventeen stories of aviation and aeronautical horror drawn from across a span of decades, genre giants and long-time classics as well as newer stuff by more recent superstars, each with a brief introduction by Stephen King.
To my shame, I’d never actually read Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” only knew it through Twilight Zone and cultural osmosis; turns out, the story itself is packed with legit anxiety-inducing tension and chills.
Speaking of chills, “Cargo” by E. Michael Lewis opens the book with a plane laden with coffins, transporting the tragic remains of an infamous cult massacre; if ever a flight were haunted, it must’ve been that one.
Dan Simmons pokes an icy finger right into acrophobia’s nerve endings with “Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds;” it’s not so much the fear of heights or the inevitable landing, but that terrifying span of just (shiver) falling and falling.
“Warbirds,” by the ever-awesome David J. Schow, particularly resonated with me because my grandfather was a navigator during WWII … this glimpse of what it could’ve been like made me miss him all over again.
In E.C. Tubb’s “Lucifer,” an item of incredible power turns out to be as much curse as blessing in the end, and you might even find yourself feeling sorry for a not-so-nice character.
With a lineup also including heavy hitters like John Varley, Cody Goodfellow, Joe Hill and King himself, it’s hard to go wrong!
FRIGHT INTO FLIGHT edited by Amber Fallon (to be released 9/4/18 by Word Horde / 246 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Sixteen stories of flight featured here, many of them revolving less around airplanes and commercial air traffic as the element and experience of flight itself in various forms from the magical to the metaphorical.
A few of my top picks:
“The Floating Girls: A Documentary” by Damien Angelica Walters (who is downright incapable of writing anything less than fantastic). This one could have come right out of a true mysteries / In Search Of type exposee, while also bringing a haunting and poignant personal touch.
Another favorite would have to be “Every Angel,” by Gemma Files, a gritty tale of obsession in which a crime boss wants to get some answers to eternal questions by whatever means necessary.
“And When She Was Bad,” by Nadia Bulkin is a darkly insightful take on the ‘final girl’ trope that may seem like an odd fit, but gets there in the end.
Izzy Lee’s “I Did It For The Art,” involving a fashion photographer with a thing for very young models, is a well-written but uncomfortable read; reminiscent of Lolita, it’s skillful but squicky, very likely to leave the brain wanting a scalding-hot scouring shower.
Nancy Kilpatrick’s “I Am No Longer” is also uncomfortable, a difficult harrowing story of helplessness even before the other horrors set in.
Funny, when you think about it, how strongly flying and the feminine are associated in myth and folklore. Witches, harpies, the typical angel, etc. Hmm.
HALCYON by Rio Youers (2018 St. Martin's Press / 384 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)
Youers has been a must read author for me since his incredible 2012 novel WESTLAKE SOUL, and here he continues his streak of page-turning chillers that are incredibly hard to put down.
HALCYON is the name of an island run by a new age guru (of sorts). Valerie (a.k.a. "Mother Moon") and her crew, tired of where the world is apparently headed, envision a world free of crime and the usual negativity that hinders us from nirvana on earth.
Martin Lovegrove and his wife are learning to deal with their young daughter Edith, who, after having visions of a terrorist bombing, consult a psychic who helps Edith control her premonitions. But when a death rocks the Lovegrove family, Martin and his two daughters move to Halcyon in hopes of starting over, but of course it doesn't take long for Martin to realize the island isn't all what it seems.
I'm a sucker for stories about cults, and here Youers delivers a fresh one, complete with a likeable, mysterious (and supernatural) leader. But what made HALCYON work for me (besides the constant tension) is the relationship between sisters Edith and Shirley: it's not often a mainstream thriller offers such a bizarre union, and here Youers lets his imagination fly, bringing us into their otherworldly connection.
This novel may be promoted as a "thriller," but Youers' use of the paranormal, along with a small-press level of brutal violence, makes HALCYON a solid horror novel with a lot to say about our society and how families cope with tragedy. I loved it.
ISLAND OF BONES by Gaby Triana (2018 Alienhead Press / 211 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Must say, right up front, that I was *thiiiiis* close to ditching the book after the first chapter, where a character does something I find so cruel and unthinkable, I (as the kids say) can’t even. As intriguing as the setup, as promising the story, that bit almost did it for me. If things had continued with that character as the protagonist, I wouldn’t have been able to get over my rancor for her enough to view her as sympathetic at all. You just don’t DO that, Leanne! Made me mad in King’s Cell, made me mad here.
However, the first chapter’s the prologue, set in 1951, and then we skip ahead two generations to Leanne’s granddaughter Ellie, a young woman who’s kind of at loose ends, between jobs, post-breakup, trying to sort out what to do with her life. She decides that a trip to Florida, to scatter her grandmother’s ashes at the house the family had to leave so long ago, will be a good place to start.
So, with a see-what-happens lack of planning that’d make my own overly fussy side of the family nearly scream, she hops a flight, rents a car, and heads for the Keys. Without reserving a room or investigating prices, without checking the weather forecasts, without making sure she’s adequately stocked up on her medications. Just up and go.
The medications are because Ellie’s always had, well, issues. Seeing things, hearing things. She’s about to find out, back on ancestral turf, what those are really all about. She inherited something more from her grandma than just a modest cash bonus, and is swiftly drawn into the dangerous mysteries of the past.
She’s also pretty much stranded on the island, with a storm barreling in. The owner of the decrepit inn where she snagged a room is less than friendly, to say the least. Eerie occurrences quickly commence, complete with haunting apparitions and rumors of hidden treasure.
Very well written, highly engaging throughout (once I got past that initial oh-no-you-DIN’T!), enjoyable and fun, defying several genre expectations. And I see there’s a second in the series, not a direct sequel, but it’s got pirates and ghost hunters … no doubt I’ll be picking it up soon!
WELCOME TO THE SHOW: 17 HORROR STORIES - ONE LEGENDARY VENUE edited by Matt Hayward and Doug Murano (2018 Crystal Lake Publishing / 304 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Alright, folks. Let’s pack up some fatty horror snacks and grab a soda or two for the open road as we take a trip out to a legendary music venue on the West Coast in sunny San Francisco, CA, The Shantyman. Aside from me not personally being a fan of the given name for the fictional venue, there really is a lot to offer once you arrive at the location, and it turns out to be a great setting for the overall theme of the anthology. It’s a perfectly versatile place for all of your horror needs with stories varying from psychological thrillers, dark fiction, black comedy, and even a little bit of that post-apocalyptic dread we all know and love. With stories by Brian Keene, John Skipp, Mary SanGiovanni, Robert Ford, Max Booth III, Glenn Rolfe, Matt Hayward, Bryan Smith, Matt Serafini, Kelli Owen, Jonathan Janz, Patrick Lacey, Adam Cesare, Alan M Clark, Somer Canon, Rachel Autumn Deering and Jeff Strand, tere is a little bit of something for everyone to be found here when the show begins.
My personal favorites were 'In the Winter of No Love' by John Skipp, a haunting tale of a beautiful hippie who hitches a ride to California to chase her dreams of freedom and life full of peace, love, and happiness, only to find out that the rest of the world had the same dream. After a rough falling out with her lover, she is sucked into the surrounding doom and gloom when she pays a respectful visit to her ex’s first gig at the legendary music venue. In 'Running Free' by Brian Keene, a big bad mafia man begins exercising regularly in hopes of dying of a heart attack to provide and qualify for his family to receive his life insurance money. 'Parody,' by Jeff Strand, is a riotous romp about a phony musician who gives Weird Al Yankovic fan faction a run for its bloody blood money, when the main character literally steals the stage and gives it his all one first and last time, all at the same time, while the crowd stares back in boredom and awe of what they just witnessed. 'Ascending' by Robert Ford is a very clever tale about an online relationship that picks up and ends at the exact same time and place as the other stories in this anthology. The main character packs up in the East Coast and heads out West to join the show.
Welcome to the show. Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls. Step right up. Check it out for yourself!
-Jon R. Meyers
PUPPETEER OF THE DEAD 2, CONAVEN ISLAND by Troy McCombs (2018 Abominabooks / 257 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Starting with the second book is always a gamble. In this case, I missed the initial outbreak and zombie apocalypse, but the recap by surviving characters made it easy enough to catch up to speed. Definitely one of those cases where the standard tropes can be helpful. We don’t need a whole lot of explanation and backstory when it comes to zombies these days.
And, by now, as we all should know, oftentimes the zombies themselves aren’t even the main problem … it’s those pesky fellow live-types in the aftermath. Conlaven Island is a compound established for just such global emergencies, where refugees from all over gather under military protection.
Maynard Dunn and his family (those that made it) are among the newest batch of arrivals, but they quickly realize the island is far from the sanctuary it seems. Control freaks on power trips run the show, murderous maniacs roam free, scientists conduct dubious experiments in secret bunkers, and some sinister force is behind the entire uprising.
I did find the writing here to be far heavier on the ‘tell’ than the ‘show’ side for my taste, the actions and reactions of several characters a little hard to believe, and, sorry, but, gotta say it, the level of casual sexism if not outright misogyny got under my skin. There’s, like, two named female characters in the entire book, both of whom serve mainly to be victimized, and it was really off-putting. Three if you count the dog, who has a heroic moment but who’s left as such a loose end, I couldn’t help wondering if the author simply forgot.
Anyway, it’s got military action, conspiracies, gunplay, and power-struggles (and, occasionally, zombies with hints of something more). I’ll probably give the others in the series a miss, though, mostly for the reasons mentioned above.