Thursday, March 1, 2012

MARCH 2012 Reviews


(NOTE: The "smell ratings" at the end of some reviews rate the actual SMELL of the book and have nothing to do with the story.  Smell Ratings: 5 = excellent, 1 = odorless, 2-4 = you figure it out.  Book Key: hc = hardcover / tp = trade paperback / mmp - mass market paperback / rarer forms described.  Unless otherwise noted, all reviews are by Nick Cato)

DESTROYER OF WORLDS by Daniel G. Koehane (2012 Other Roads Press / 181 pp / tp and eBook)

Corey Union moves his wife and young daughter away from the city to an isolated home.  Paranoid the world is about to end, he forbids newspapers or TV news from coming into the house.  He continues to travel to the city to work, and spends his off-time exploring his new vast, wooded property.  He also locates the key to a family heirloom; an ugly old clock, which eventually plays into his end-times apprehension.

Corey and his wife Samantha's closest neighbor is an attractive woman named Vanessa, whose actions being to trouble Corey.  She seems nice enough, but it becomes apparent she's attracted to both of them and things start to get uncomfortable.

And just why is Corey haunted by a local serial killer who is now locked behind bars for life?

DESTROYER OF WORLDS is a brilliant novel where nothing is as it seems.  The first half reads like a clever take on the end-times thriller genre with a serial killer sub-plot to give it a unique flavor.  But by the second half, Koehane assaults the reader with so many twists, turns, and surprises you won't know which way is up or down.  Add a satisfying conclusion and you have the first must-read novel of 2012.  Don't miss it.

AUDITION by Ryu Murakami (translated by Ralph McCarthy) (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2010 {first American printing}; 190 pgs./ tb)

Aoyama lost his wife to cancer and has raised his son alone for the last seven years.  Now the fifteen-year-old Shige tells his father he thinks it’s time to find a new wife.  Aoyama discusses this with his friend Yoshikawa.  Both men have a background in production so Yoshikawa comes up with the brilliant idea of holding an audition to find Aoyama a wife.

Yoshikawa takes care of all of the details and before long they receive three thousand resumes.  This is subsequently whittled down to 100 and then Aoyama picks a final thirty.  While going through the resumes he comes across one for Asami, a beautiful young woman who sounds perfect to him.  They conduct the audition, but Aoyama is clearly only interested in Asami.  She is smart, educated and trained as a ballerina until an injury forced her to quit.

A relationship develops between Aoyama and Asami.  Aoyama is verging on obsessed….he is like a teenage boy.  Asami makes it clear eventually that she shares the same feelings for Aoyama.  There is some odd behavior that Aoyama overlooks but Yoshikawa thinks there is something wrong with Asami.  They can’t find anyone who actually knows the young woman and can verify her story.  Yosikawa pleads with Aoyama to be careful.

The couple goes away for a weekend, but Aoyama wakes up in the hotel room alone after a long night of sex that he cannot completely remember.  Weeks go by but he still cannot find Asami.  Unfortunately for Aoyama, Asami will come to him when he least expects it…and with a vengeance.

As a sort of disclaimer, AUDITION was made into a movie in 1999 by one of my favorite directors, Takashi Miike, and is one of my favorite movies of all time.  Now that that’s out of the way I can tell you that the book is well-written and a quick read.  The characters of Aoyama and Asami are well-developed throughout the story and though Aoyama and Yoshikawa initially come across as sexist, Murakami makes it clear that Aoyama is thoroughly in love with Asami.  She turns out to be something completely different than he expects.  The story is subtle and builds to a rather gruesome climax that had me cringing.  More than horror, AUDITION is a tragic study in human psychology and what motivates and shapes us.

-Colleen Wanglund

‘NIDS by Ray Garton (2011 / 168 pp / eBook)

Ray Garton is an evil, evil arachnoterrorist! First he wouldn’t stop flooding my facebook with horrific images of spiders until I bought this book, and then I bought this book and read it and what happens? He floods my MIND with horrific images of spiders!!!

If the title, ‘Nids, is the totes kosh new way of referring to arachnids, then I guess that makes me a ‘Phobe, and as a ‘Phobe, the main thing I have to say about this book is AAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIEEEEEE *bugdance*

Okay, I have other things to say, too. As a writer, I cannot help but admire, with however much squeamish revulsion, the artistry of Mr. Garton’s descriptions … most notably in the doghouse scene, where the word ‘blossomed’ has never before been used to such nightmarishly beautiful effect. 

But, yeah. Spiders. This story is a classic in the sense of the black and white 50’s drive in monster movie thrillers. No fuss, no muss, no misdirection. We begin with half a dozen teenagers making out at the local lover’s lane, ka-blam there’s a huge explosion at the top-secret classified biogenetics company at the edge of town, and next thing you know, people are getting messily devoured by a spider roughly the size of a sofa. 

It’s a very hungry spider (which, just typing that, made me think of what a weird children’s book THAT would have been, instead of a caterpillar). Naturally, nobody wants to believe the first witnesses – teenagers with suspiciously minty-fresh breath – but deniability isn’t a luxury the people of Hope Valley can afford. 

The additional characters include the sheriff who has to contend with what’s on the loose in his town, the spider-geek kid brother of one of the teens, and a whole cast of townsfolk we barely get to know before they’re ‘nid bait. 

The carnage is over-the-top fun. It’s a spideriffic schlock horror creature feature in book form. While I have some ethical qualms about supporting and encouraging arachnoterrorism, I have to say, the read was worth it!

So, please, buy this book … save me from having to endure another advertising barrage of spider pics … but not necessarily so many that Ray feels like he has to do a sequel complete with advertisting barrage of spider pics …

Crud. Either way, there’s gonna be spiders, isn’t there? Eek!

-Christine Morgan

SWITCHBLADE GODDESS by Lucy A. Snyder (2011 Del Rey / 323 pp / mmp)

The third in Snyder's Jessie Shimmer series finds our favorite mossberg-toting occult heroine sort-of recouping in a small Texas town after the events of SHOTGUN SORCERESS.  Like the pervious novels, the action kicks right in: Jessie is on a mission to get her familiar, Pal, healed.  He's still in the form of a giant arachnid yet has been sickened from bites by a pack of wererats.  Standing in her way is the brutal demigoddess Miko, who has found a way to enter Jessie's 'hellement,' a personal realm that has now become a torture chamber for Jessie and her boyfriend Cooper.

Jessie is still trying to control her ectoplasm-firing hand as well as her mystic-stone eye.  This time she's aided by her father (who commincates with her through compact mirrors), an energy potion concoted by her brother, and a humorous but sincere old witch who helps to heal Pal (I like what becomes of him).

Miko, the Switchblade Goddess of the title, is as sexy as she is hell-bent for blood and destruction.  Her backstory is one of the finer sections of the novel, and the torments she imputes to Jessie are beyond grim.

I'm loving this fast-moving series that combines modern urban fantasy with generous amounts of horror, action, monsters, and the supernatural.  Another cross-genre winner from Snyder.

Smell Rating: 5

CARNACKI: HEAVEN AND HELL by William Meikle (2011 Ghost House {Dark Regions Press} / 250 pp / tp)

Carnacki is an Edwardian occult detective with and excellent reputation.  CARNACKI: HEAVEN AND HELL is an anthology of the detective exploits, as told to Carnacki’s trusted friends, of whom Dodgson is the storyteller here.

My favorite story is the three part novella “The Dark Island” about Sir John who is destined to die on his 50th birthday, as his father and grandfather before him.  It seems a small island in a loch on Sir John’s land is the home to supposed spirits of dead ancestors.  Carnacki discovers something far worse and more dangerous than some ghosts.  Carnacki is able to call on his past experiences to hopefully help save Sir John from his appointed fate.

Other great stories include “The Lusitania”, about the haunting of the famed cruise ship that proves to be an omen of its tragic future; “The Tomb of Pygea” about an ancient tomb unearthed on a building site that is deadly to the workers who found it; and “The Beast of Glamis” that tells of a Scottish castle haunted by a tragic young woman’s ghost.

All of the stories are scary paranormal tales that seem to center on a place Carnacki refers to as the Outer Regions where all manner of entity can dwell.  I had so much fun reading CARNACKI, as I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, and that is how Meikle’s book reads.  The stories themselves are well-written with excellent character and historical detail.  The “glue” that holds it all together is a group of men sitting in a smoky room with some Scotch and you will feel as though you are that very room listening to Carnacki tell his tales.  I believe Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be pleased with CARNACKI: HEAVEN AND HELL.  I, for one would love to read more stories of the occult detective’s exploits.

-Colleen Wanglund

ZOMBIES AND SHIT by Carlton Mellick III (2010 Deadite Press / 233 pp / tp)

Twenty people wake up in unfamiliar surroundings.  It turns out they’ve been abducted/chosen (depending how you look at it) to appear on a reality TV show called Zombie Survival, a brutal contest that’s the top rated show in a futuristic world overrun by the living dead.  An Asian woman explains their predicament: they have three days to cross the Red Zone, a decayed city where zombies and robotic dogs stand in the way of a helicopter…a helicopter that will take only one person to safety.  And while alliances are formed, each contestant knows this is to-the-death scenario.

The contestants have all come from a surviving city’s poorest Quadrant: in Mellick’s grim post-apocalyptic world, classes live in separated areas, but only those in the exclusive Platinum Quadrant have the benefit of television, where Zombie Survival is the top rated program.
While ZOMBIES AND SHIT is packed to the brim with off-the-wall violence, interesting weapons, action, and zombie attacks, it’s the contestants (many of them street punks) and their quirks/abilities that make this novel so much fun to read.

One thing I enjoy about Mellick’s story telling is I seriously doubt he could ever write a 100% “normal” horror novel…and that’s a compliment.  He infuses just the right amount of his trademark weirdness to give ZOMBIES AND SHIT a different flavor than your typical end-of-the-world undead epic, my favorite being a black character named Laurence who turns out to be a cyborg version of a popular 1980s TV star.

A blend of the seldom-seen 1986 film DEAD END DRIVE-IN and BATTLE ROYALE, Mellick’s “thank you letter to the zombie genre” is a real wild ride that you don’t have to be a zombie fan to enjoy.

(Note: while ZOMBIES AND SHIT is a true, fresh spin on the subgenre, one grossly underrated novel took an amazing look at reality shows and zombies a few years earlier: check out Jason R. Hornsby’s EVERY SIGH, THE END (2006) if you enjoy Mellick’s novel).

THE HAUNTER OF THE THRESHOLD by Edward Lee (2010 Deadite Press / 292 pp / tp)

Okay, who set Edward Lee the dare of “oh yeah, well I bet you can’t fit ALL those fetishes, kinks, perversions and degredations into ONE book”? Whoever it was, I bet you’re sorry now … and dragged the rest of us right along with you! 

The back cover promises that this is Lee’s ‘most pornographic novel to date’ and I for one am pretty much inclined to agree. The stuff that main character Hazel Greene gets off on might be enough to make almost anybody blanch. It’s eye-popping, jaw-dropping, leg-crossing, gag-inducing and downright vile … and that’s not even counting the scenes with Lovecraftian monstrosities. 

Hazel’s also in love with her pregnant best friend, had a secret fling with said best friend’s fiance, just had a huge fight with her boyfriend when he screwed up his lines during her carefully scripted debasement fantasy, and is avoiding the dad who wishes she’d repent and return to the Church. 

THEN she goes to spend a relaxing weekend at a cabin in a creepy little town where her first run-ins with the locals exceed even her imagination. Nightmares that would have sent most people gibbering to the psych ward leave her more turned on than ever. The vacation becomes immersion in a simmering cauldron of icky lust. 

And the more Hazel tries to investigate her friend’s finace’s obsession with a colleague’s discoveries involving terrible destructive otherworldly forces, the deeper she gets drawn into the whole seething squirmy tentacly horror. Can she save her friend and her friend’s unborn baby? Can she save the world? Can she save herself? Does she really want to?

It is, basically, everything you might expect and dread rom Edward Lee at his full-throttle best.  THE HAUNTER OF THE THRESHOLD will haunt you, as well as scar, traumatize and abuse. 

Therefore, I highly recommend it to all bent weirdos like me … the rest of you, I can’t warn away strongly enough … so if you still go and read it, I’d say “sorry” but it might sound a bit like “neener neener muahaha” or “hey, I DID warn you!”

-Christine Morgan

SHADOWS OF THE PAST by Richard Schiver (Abis Books 2012/240 pgs./Tp)

Sam Hardin is a detective with the D.C. police department.  He is also a man with some deep psychological scars.  Sam’s pregnant wife Anne was killed and the baby, Frankie was born with brain damage from the bullet.  Four years on and what’s left of his family is falling apart.  Teenage daughter Cheryl fears her father’s temper, alcoholism, and the possibility of his suicide.  Michelle, Anne’s best friend is the only person keeping it together.

Sam is temporarily brought out of the sorrow of his past by an unusual murder at a warehouse.  The bodies are mutilated in such a way that no human could be responsible.  Sam and his partner Dave are led to a professor of ancient history and a knife that may lie at the center of it all.  The bodies continue to pile up and Sam is thrust into a fight for the very survival of the human race, a fight that his son Frankie seems to have some important part in.

I enjoyed reading SHADOWS OF THE PAST.  The story is an engaging one that for the most part is well-written and suitably frightening.  Character development is good and we are given enough of Sam’s past to pity him, while at the same time wanting to tell him to get it together already!  That being said, I did have some issues with the book.  I wanted more details about the knife and the site it was found at.  There was a conversation that the knife and the civilization that made it were thousands of years older than humans.  Who were they and why did they think they could take back the Earth?  I also didn’t completely understand the significance of the knife.  Was it the knife that brought the entity back or the finding of the site in Antarctica?  I also thought the revelation of abuse in Michelle’s past seemed unimportant, and more of an afterthought to give her character more depth.  There was also an issue with Cheryl and her possible involvement in a crime, but there was no real resolution to that.

The ending is a little predictable, but still very good and even after all of my bitching, it leaves things open a bit.  Maybe there’s a sequel with more background of the evil entity?  I would like reading more about this advanced civilization that disappeared and could supplant humans as the top dog on the food chain.  Just a little more meat is all I ask. Overall SHADOWS OF THE PAST is a very good read and I do recommend it…I just wish it didn’t have all of the loose ends.

-Colleen Wanglund

BADASS ZOMBIE ROAD TRIP by Tonia Brown (2012 Books of the Dead Press / eBook)

Dale and Jonah are on their way to a gig in Nevada when Jonah decides he wants to check out California first.  Dale is vehemently against this, saying he can’t cross into California. But once he falls asleep, Jonah drive to California anyway.  This turns out to be the biggest mistake of Jonah’s life.

The minute they cross the state line, Dale wakes up and freaks out, begging Jonah to go back.  While they are arguing about it, Jonah realizes there’s a cop pulling them over.  Dale tells him to keep going, but Jonah knows he has to pull over.

The cop is actually Satan, who has come to collect Dale’s soul.  Jonah doesn’t believe at first, then gradually has to admit that this is really happening.  He also tries bargaining with Satan to save Dale, but Satan won’t have it.  After much arguing, Satan kills Dale.  Jonah is shocked and angry, leading to his own deal with Satan - he can have Dale’s soul back if he finds it in time.  If not, Satan gets Jonah’s soul as well.

Then the devil reanimates Dale’s corpse, and sends the two on their way to find Dale’s soul before the seven-day time allotment is up.  What follows is complete chaos and insanity as the two blunder their way across the country.  Since Dale is now undead, he rots and stinks throughout the trip, much to Jonah’s dismay.

In addition, they pick up a hitchhiker, Candy, who turns out to be a stripper.  She has her own problems, which end up being mixed up with Jonah’s.

BADASS ZOMBIE ROAD TRIP is a fun, exhilarating read.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times, yet it still has a bit of a heart.  How Jonah and Candy keep Dale from falling apart and stinking up the car is hilarious.  The characters are likeable and the dialog believable.  

Check out Badass Zombie Road Trip; you’ll be glad you did.

-Sheri White

THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND by Paul Braus (2011 River East Press / 228 pp / tp)

In this follow-up to THE CREATURE’S CURSE, Paul Braus continues the story of the creature created by the witchcraft of the mentally unstable Abigail.  Samantha is a cousin of Abigail and is looking for the Sibber Medallion, which can only be used by the women of the Sibber family.  The medallion is with Professor Peter Earnhardt, left with him by Oak Alderson of the Sheriff’s Department.  Alderson was investigating the murders of two people at the old house where Abigail and Eldon Bailey were brutally murdered years before.  Their teenage son Cordus disappeared and is believed to be responsible for his parents’ deaths.

This time the town’s mayor has allowed a television crew to film at the old house.  It is a show about paranormal activity and the story of past murders has drawn the show’s creator to what he hopes is a haunted house.  Unfortunately what they find is so much worse.  Now Alderson has even more murders to solve, but he has an understanding of whom or what is responsible.  With the help of the only survivor of the creature and Samantha, the case will eventually be closed and Alderson will have his answers.

As with the first novel, THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND is well-written and character development is excellent.  Braus doesn’t assume that the reader has read THE CREATURE’S CURSE and gives enough detail to keep the reader engaged.  I really like the supernatural element to Braus’ stories and the frightening nature of the creature.  I also found myself sympathizing with the creature, as his predicament is a cruel punishment that he didn’t deserve.  I highly recommend THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND but definitely read THE CREATURE’S CURSE for the full wild ride.

-Colleen Wanglund

GIGANTIC DEATH WORM by Vince Kramer (2011 Eraserhead Press / 70 pp / tp)

In yet another offering in Eraserhead Press' New Bizarro Author Series, don't expect a singular title monster: not only are there multiple death worms (of various sizes) on the loose in Arizona, there are also hungry bears who spit wolves, rampant brain parasites, and flying Mexican ninjas who aid our protagonist in battling the creatures and saving his big-boobed buddy Suzanne (who has become a worm-headed mutant).  There's also more sex and beer-guzzling than in every 80s teenage comedy combined.

This is Kramer's take on the 2012 Mayan prophecy thing, written like a deranged pre-school teacher allowed her strangest student to experiment with a new form of liqud crack after handing out paper with neon crayons.  If this brief novelette doesn't cause you to laugh 'till your ribs hurt, you're taking life too seriously.

Bizarro doesn't get much funnier (or entertaining) than this.

THE NIGHT ETERNAL by Guilllermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (2011 William Morrow / 382 pp / available in all formats)

In the blockbuster finale to the vampire virus apocalypse begun in THE STRAIN and continued in THE FALL, it is definitely not looking good for humanity. 

They’ve been toppled from their comfy spot at the top of the food chain, overwhelmed by a superior and infectious predator. Their environment has undergone a drastic change – two years of nuclear winter, lack of sunlight, the entire ecology and climate thrown for a loop. 

What survivors there are exist mainly now as good little worker drones who may not exactly welcome their vampiric overlords but submit meekly to the new regime in exchange for the basics like food, stability, and occasional creature comforts. They’ll report suspicious activity and turn in their neighbors in hopes of garnering favor or reward. The infirm and useless are brutally culled. The leader-types are put down hard and fast as an example to others. Many of the healthy are kept in blood camps, the equivalent of factory farms, where they “donate” regularly. The choice blood-types are pampered and bred. Conservation, control, management and renewable resources, yo. 

We might LIKE to think of ourselves as determined survivors and fighter-backers, but honestly, it’s all too easy to believe this is what would actually happen. Especially in America, where, let’s face it, we’re spoiled as hell. Deprivation, fear, struggle? Oh, we’d cave, we’d cave so fast …
Since the “okay” rageface guy image of capitulation and surrender does not make for good heroic storytelling, however, fortunately for us there’s still some pockets of resistance out there. Including the core characters from the previous books, or at least the ones who are among the living and uncorrupted. 

They have one strange but powerful ally in the form of Mr. Quinlan, an anomaly among the vampires. They have one major Achilles’ Heel in the form of Zack Goodweather, son of former CDC threat team leader Dr. Ephram Goodweather, who’s being held hostage by the Master. They have a silver-edged book of ancient lore that could hold the key to the vampires’ undoing, and a backpack nuke just in case. And they keep being told they must have friends in high places to have made it this far, though it’s hard to believe as the personal losses continue to mount. 

Awesome book, very satisfying finale to a very enjoyable trilogy. If a smidge too deus-ex-machina here and there, it’s largely forgiveable, and much less out of nowhere than events in other similar end-times epics I could name. 

So, read it, it’s a good one! Vampires deserve to be scary again!

-Christine Morgan

HOW TO RECOGNIZE A DEMON HAS BECOME YOUR FRIEND by Linda Addison (2011 Necon eBooks / 112 pp / eBook and tp)

Addison's collection of poetry and short stories leans on the dark fantasy/horror side and is sprinkled generously with some nifty (and at times funny) sci-fi.

Among my favorite stories were 'The Power,' about two young girls learning how to use witchcraft via their grandmother in the wake of an attack from granny's old nemesis; 'Excerpts from the Unabridged Traveler's Guide as UFOs in Galaxy A.G.2' is a short but hysterical piece that gives light to some popular UFO myths; 'Just Passing Through' is a cleverly-written short that features a human communicating with a supernatural life form; 'Artificial Unintelligence,' another funny sci-fi romp told in humorous e-mails, and finally 'Boo,' a genuinely terrifying look at paranoia on Halloween night.

My favorite poems include 'Land Sharks,' an inventive and fun urban fantasy of sorts (and originally appeared in an issue of the famous Asimov's SF Magazine), 'Comic Cannibals,' 'Demon Dance,' and the title piece also display the author's skill at dark verse.

 There are many more tales and poems here, and not a slow one in the bunch.  This is a fine introduction to Addison's world and a trip well worth taking.

Smell Rating: 0

CLICKERS by J. F. Gonzalez and Mark WIlliams (2005 Hard Shell Word Factory / 268 PP / TP)

Lucky find at the used bookstore, the 2005 trade paperback edition, couldn’t pass it up after the buzz – well, after the clickzzz! – I’d become aware of over the years. 

And, hey, freaky undersea monsters? I’m in! I love the ocean, but, only when seen from the top. Not a snorkeler. Not a diver. The sea still contains more bizarre undiscovered critters than we can shake a stick at, and, frankly, the idea of running into them gives me the willies. The idea of them strutting ashore to say howdy is bad … that they’d strut ashore in a voracious unstoppable swarm? Eek. 

Needless to say, eek is what this book is all about. Strutting, clicking, pinchery, armor-plated eek with long jabby scorpion tails. If that’s not bad enough, toss in flesh-dissolving acid venom and we hit the escape velocity of EEK. 

So here’s your basic picturesque New England town … quaint, quiet, peaceful. Until the crab-lobster-scorpion-things start scuttling out of the waves. BIG ones, too. The mutant older brother revenge version of all the crustaceans we’ve dunked into boiling water. 

The first person to encounter one is author Rick Sycheck, the newcomer to town, before he even gets to town. Being a long-haired writer type, he’s already got a strike against him as far as the sheriff is concerned. Debuting with a car crash, and then claiming it was because he ran over something that looked like a giant crab?

Rick’s claim ends up vindicated – of course, in the way these things go! – when more of the crab-things appear. Before most of sleepy Phillipsport knows what hit it, the death toll is skyrocketing, the survivors are fighting for their lives, and … it’s about to get even worse. 

The Clickers are just the first wave, so to speak. Something else dwells in the deeps, another species eager to follow their natural prey ashore and chow down on anything or anybody else that happens to get in their way. 

It’s clicky-clacky good fun, if your idea of good fun consists of stings, severed limbs, melting body parts, engaging characters who are not safe from meeting hideous gory ends, desperate action, and monsters. 

If your idea of good fun doesn’t consist of those things, well, really, what are you doing reading this in the first place?

As for me, now I need to track down the sequels!

-Christine Morgan


DON'T PANIC!  We will get to your the middle of February, we've been over-stuffed with review material.  PLEASE be patient...we're only human.

(That month expect a review of LORE, an anthology edited by Rod Heather and Sean O'Leary, as well as William Ollie's latest novel, PITCH...)