Sunday, June 30, 2019

Reviews for the Week of July 1, 2019

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ONE FOR THE ROAD by Wesley Southard (2019 Deadite Press / 100 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’d only recently (and finally!) gotten around to watching the excellent movie GREEN ROOM, so as soon as I started reading this book, a set of expectations built themselves up in my mind. A struggling indie band going from gig to gig, ending up in deadly trouble … well, can you blame me?

But I got much more than I bargained for from this fast, fun, headbanging wild ride. Much, much more. Told up-front-admittedly unreliable narrator style in the form of a crayon-scribbled journal, guitarist Spencer chronicles the final tour of metalheads Rot in Hell as their situation goes from bad to worse to downright unthinkable.

It doesn’t help that the six of them are already having problems amongst themselves … personality clashes, jealousy, dislikes, secrets. Spencer and Vinnie are planning to quit, just as frontman and all-around jerk Steve announces a big career-making opportunity … Steve’s girl Shelly has the hots for Spencer and woe to them if anyone finds out … add in spoiled rich-kid bassist Les and the silent, violent D-rail, and the drama’s approaching full boil even before they find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere.

But this is no ordinary middle-of-nowhere. This is a place that changes from sandy desert to dense jungle to frozen wasteland without warning. And forget merely running afoul of an enclave of violent, heavily-armed skinheads in the remote backwoods; there are nightmarish creatures here that would make heavily-armed skinheads look cuddly.

So yeah, those initial expectations and comparisons to Green Room are pretty quickly right out the window. The members of Rot in Hell all too soon find themselves at risk of living up to their actual band name. Or maybe ‘living up to’ is the wrong phrase. Living at all might be optimistic!

-Christine Morgan

THE MURDER OF JESUS CHRIST by John R. Little (2019 Bad Moon Books / 309 pp / trade paperback)

This one came to me as an uncorrected proof, and was still cleaner than a lot of finished final editions, so, start off with mad kudos to everyone involved on that! I’m kind of curious to see what the eventual cover design will be, but, weirdly, at the same time, this stark and plain no-frills look works surprisingly well.

The story is a strikingly weird mix of genres, hard to classify. A paranormal religious thriller with sci-fi, historical, and psychological elements … a time-travel “what if” with repercussions changing everything for two thousand years.

Photographer David Abelman has always been a science guy. He’s never gotten into his ancestral Jewish faith, he broke up with his astronaut girlfriend over matters of her faith, and he certainly never would have expected to experience first-hand proof of past lives.

Yet, when his grandmother bequeaths him a host of family lore – including how many relatives met their fates in concentration camps – and shares a magical secret, he’s compelled to investigate despite his skepticism.

He discovers he can visit his previous selves, going back through the ages. He can change things. He can change history. Now, the classic question is usually to do with Hitler, obvious choice would seem obvious, but David takes it much further. If no Christianity, no Holocaust, right?

But, of course, as is the way with changing history, sometimes even with the best of intentions, you make things worse. That’s what happens to David, who then also discovers his deed coming back to haunt him in an entirely new way – a teenage black girl claiming she’s the messiah, with modern technology and social media to spread her message.

I love extrapolatory stuff like this, where the author’s clearly given thought to the fallout and repercussions. My main nit was that I wanted to see more of it, such as, what about the various other polytheistic faiths displaced by Christianity? (okay and a very minor nit about the reference to Santa).

Wowser of a book; fascinating and well written. Dan Brown should eat his heart out.

-Christine Morgan

BROKEN SHELLS by Michael Hicks (2018 High Fever Books / 124 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Sometimes, you just know it’s a scam, it’s a deal too good to be true, but you can’t help looking into it anyway. For Antoine DeWitt, it arrives in the form of a mailbox scratch-off ticket from a local car dealership, suggesting he’s won five thousand dollars.

He sure could use it. Not only is he already struggling to make ends meet, not only does he have a kid and baby-mama depending on him, but he just lost his job (for, btw, reasons that make him an immediately sympathetic and satisfying protagonist). So, he decides to go check out this offer, even though he figures it’ll only lead to a big sales pitch.

It leads to something much worse than a sales pitch. Turns out, the guy who runs the dealership is also custodian of a deadly ancient evil hive of monsters. When hopeful candidates show up to ask about their five grand, he determines if they’re likely to be missed … and he makes that determination about Antoine.

Next thing Antoine knows, he’s waking up bruised and battered in the dark, cocooned into some horrible nightmare. He manages to break loose, only to find himself surrounded by previous victims, and hellish creatures ready to eat him … or worse.

With overtones of Lovecraftian/Aliens and tons of good ol’ gonzo creature-feature skittering bloodbath action gore, it’s a fun quick wild ride of a read. Definite treat; I will be on the lookout for more from this author in the future.

-Christine Morgan

DARK RIDE by Iain Rob Wright (2019 Amazon Digital Services, LLC / 203 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

DARK RIDE: A Novel of Horror & Suspense? Check. Yep. You can say that again. And it’s funny because I wasn’t sure at first because we started out with some pretty stereotypical horror tropes in the beginning, but, let’s face it, for a successful story an author needs to deliver us the story goods, and, as the reader, we need to be able to engage with our characters, relate to and have empathy for. Love, hate, or even worse loathe entirely. Once the story is setup this is where the author really begins to shine and he knocks it out of the park, so to speak. This book pretty much has it all, as well as one of the most intense endings I’ve read in a while. I could honestly actually see this being a decent new wave horror movie and I really enjoyed the latter parts. 

A pro wrestler has more than a secret to share with his friends when they embark on one last trip of a lifetime together. The crew packs up without a spare tire, heeding all warnings, and visit an old, abandoned amusement park, where one ride specifically has a more than tragic history. The notorious Frenzy, a Viking helmet shaped water-ride like a rollercoaster. But, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch, right? It’s haunted as all get out years after a crazed employee set fire to the building, leaving nine people dead, and nothing is quite like it seems. After the ride was condemned and the amusement park closed, the building has sat vacant and overgrown in the middle of the woods. That is, until now when AJ and his friends cut the fence, climb through, and have a terror filled anti-party of a lifetime. Is their friendship strong enough to make it to the end of the Dark Ride? 

Do yourself a favor, check it out and find out for yourself.

-Jon R Meyers

TWIN LAKES: AUTUMN FIRES by Melissa Lason & Michelle Garza (2018 Sinister Grin Press / 238 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It is, of course, very fitting that the Sisters of Slaughter should have a setting called Twin Lakes … and that it should also be a rather Twin Peaks kind of place: a small, remote, quaint Washington town where things aren’t always as they seem.

AUTUMN FIRES takes place as everyone is gearing up for the annual harvest festival, but alongside the old traditions, a new evil has cropped up. Several mutilated bodies have been discovered out in the surrounding woods, with evidence suggesting ritualistic natures to the murders.

As it happens, though, whispers of the paranormal are nothing so strange around here. Bring in a consulting medium to help with the case? The local sheriff himself secretly being no ordinary lawman? An entire secret town council of elders with their own long histories and uncanny gifts? Maybe the everyday citizens of Twin Lakes have no idea, but the inner circle is ready to take a supernatural threat in stride.

Liz is neither. Liz is a rambling young hitchhiker who accepts a ride from a not-so-nice guy, only to escape and stumble onto the scene of an even-worser guy. Thinking she’s found help at a campfire, instead she finds a body, and horrible dark tentacles intent on claiming her next.

Overall, the story’s entertaining, the descriptions are good. There’s a bit much telling rather than showing for my tastes, a lot of background info and a lot of sometimes-hard-to-distinguish characters, and the dialogue at times feels fairly stiff and lacking personality. The potential’s still there, though, and each book I see by this duo gets progressively better.

-Christine Morgan

LASER HOUSE ON THE PRARIE by David W. Barbee (2019 Excession Press / 164 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Every geek on the internet is going to feel personally attacked in this book, and it’s hilarious. I’m not sure if the author used a random fandom generator or what, but, as absurd as everything gets, it’s really only holding a funhouse mirror to what we already have.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because that wackiness comes later … and the wackiness the book starts off with is also deserving of admiring note. Whatever you might expect from the title, trust me, you have NO idea. It’s SO much further out there. I mean, the kind of thing that would have to be animated by the Futurama team or illustrated by Phil Foglio, and either way cranked past eleven.

On the surface, it’s sunset Western meets sunset heist, when a retired former-badass gunslinger is approached for one last big job. He doesn’t want to take it, he’s happy now with his quiet new life on the prairie with his husband. But his old associates aren’t going to take no for an answer, so he must once again strap on his guns and saddle up (figuratively speaking).

About that ‘surface,’ though? This is a neon dayglo garishly bright world where laser energy powers everything from nature to weapons, where sharks swim through laser grasslands and ramshackle buildings float above it. The colors will make your eyes hurt, even just reading the plain black words.

Our reluctant gunslinger, once known as Sexy Jeph, goes along with Classic Bill’s plan to retrieve the super-powerful Red Orb (gave me Brisco County Jr flashbacks, that), even fully realizing that the other members of the team will kill each other and/or destroy everything to get it.

What Jeph’s not prepared for is their quest to take them far from the prairie. To another dimension, in fact. To the fabulous city of Obscuria, where opinion is everything, everyone’s a cosplayer, grognard, gatekeeper, raging nerd, true-fan warrior, faddish bandwagon jumper, you name it.

And THAT is when Barbee just kicks open the saloon doors of internet fandom culture to start some s***, with riotous if-the-shoe-fits results.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC no. 69 (May-June 2019 / 96 pp / print and digital editions available)

Before this issue's 5 new stories and headlining novelette, Lynda E. Rucker flies the flag high for the future of horror, discussing both fiction and two recent, original films, and Ralph Robert Moore gives an encouraging and uplifting message for horror writers using his own background as an example. Both commentaries will leave fans excited and refreshed about the state of the genre.

This issue's fiction begins with 'Where it Ends, Where it Begins' by Erinn L. Kemper. Mac runs a sea side salvage shop where he sells hand made items. But his serene life has a dark side, which is fueled when he finds an amputated body on the beach. Kemper brings the chills and shows a gruesome story can have a lot of redeeming value.

In Joanna Parypinski's 'Beach People,' Carmella is still mourning the death of her brother as her parents try to get her mind off it with a trip to her aunt's lakeside home. She refuses to join them at the beach and watches her parents interact with others from the house, eventually taking notice of a girl about her age talking with them. But her parents act as if there is no other girl there, and Parypinski takes us on a disturbing ghost ride (of sorts). Easily my favorite story of the issue.

A brother goes in search of his sister on her 18th birthday in 'Hunting by the River,' Daniel Carpenter's look at discovering who your sibling really is. I love shorter pieces that pack a wallop, and this one delivers a real punch to the gut.

'Pomegranate, Pomegranate' by Jack Westlake is an apocalyptic tale ALA 'The Silence' or 'Bird Box,' this time following a girl looking for her sister in a world where speaking can have dire consequences. Familiar, but well done with a heartbreaking conclusion.

'When You Decided to Call' by Daniel Bennett is a subtle, haunting look at a man reconnecting with his father, with the latent help of his neighbor, in a most unique way. Much of Bennett's prose had a dream-like feel, giving the story a surreal edge.

In Simon Avery's 'Messages from Weirdland,' we meet Franklyn, a widower for the past year. While walking his dog Luna on the beach he finds a bottle with a note inside, and is startled to see it is written in his late wife's handwriting. Stranger yet, the note is a short story that reads like his own published fiction, and he soon discovers a couple of more bottles also written by his wife. A lot of stories in BLACK STATIC have dealt with loss and grief, and here Avery gives the subgenre (if you will) his own flavor. Excellent.

In this issue's book reviews, Gary Couzen looks at three film books from Electric Dreamhouse (John Connolly's tome on 1972's cult classic HORROR EXPRESS looks especially promising), Daniel Carpenter has me psyched for Georgina Bruce's debut collection 'This House of Wounds,' and Laura Mauro sold Alma Katsu's take on the Donner Party, 'The Hunger' to me by the third paragraph.

Among Gary Couzen's blu-ray reviews is a detailed look at Arrow Video's box set for the original 'The Ring' series, New Zealand classic 'Death Warmed Up,' a couple of third world cannibal films, and the Second Sight release of Fassbinder's 'World on a Wire' (which was released here in the US a few years ago in a beautiful edition by Criterion).

Another solid issue wrapped in great cover art by Joachim Luetke, order your copy (or subscribe) here: BLACK STATIC

-Nick Cato


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