Monday, September 3, 2012

SEPTEMBER, 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)

TORTURED SPIRITS by Gregory Lamberson (to be released 10/12 by Medallion Press / 471 pp / tp)

Lamberson's private eye Jake Helman returns in his most ambitious entry yet. After battling all types of supernatural monsters and corrupt agencies (not to mention losing an eye in the process), Jake's now off to a small island of the Florida coast called Pavot, where the key to saving his friend Edgar can be found (Edgar had been turned into a raven in a previous novel). Along for the ride is Maria Vasquez, a sexy and tough-as-nails NYC homicide detective, looking to save her partner (who also happens to be Edgar).

Pavot Island is ruled by an iron-fisted dictator, who turns some unlucky citizens into "zonbies" who he uses to grow poppy plants that help create Black Magic, a lethal street drug Helman dealt with back in the 2nd novel, DESPERATE SOULS. When Jake and Maria check into the island as tourists, a romance quickly blossoms, but is put on hold when they begin their quest: before long they're battling a corrupt military, voodoo queens, countless zonbies, and brutal aquatic foes Helman has faced before. There are memorable allies and enemies at every turn, yet no one can be fully trusted.

This is pulp-genre writing in the grand tradition. parts of TORTURED SPIRITS reminded me of classic James Bond novels, while the voodoo (or vodou) aspects brought the ledendary Hugh B. Cave to mind. Plus there's more action than a dozen dime-store novels smashed together, and Helman suffers another physical set back that creates enough tension within the story to strangle a gorilla. 

The 4th installment in Lamberson's 'Jake Helman Files', for lack of a better word, is simply EPIC. (It is strongly suggested you catch up on the series for maximum effect, but new comers shouldn't be too lost).

Smell Rating: 1

WITCH HUNTS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF THE BURNING TIMES by Lisa Morton and Rocky Wood; artwork by Greg Chapman (2012 McFarland /192pp / graphic novel)

WITCH HUNTS is an extremely well-done graphic novel laying out the history of witchcraft as a crime, though not always punishable by death.  It runs through the rise of witchcraft in Medieval Europe and its use by the Inquisition.  It also explains the blatant use of witchcraft as a crime for purposes of greed, scapegoating, and the furtherance of careers.

Wood and Morton did a lot of research for WITCH HUNTS and it shows.  The novel is succinct yet informative and the accompanying artwork brings the history to life.  The misogyny of those involved in the promotion and use of witchcraft as a crime is glaringly evident and shameful, as well as frightening.  If you want a quick history lesson on a crime with many innocent victims, WITCH HUNTS is definitely an entertaining way to go.
-Colleen Wanglund

THE BUFFALO HUNTER by Peter Straub (to be released 10/12 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 160 pp / Trade Hardcover & Signed Limited Edition Hardcover)

Continuing in their current trend of re-releasing previously published short stories as individual novellas, Cemetery Dance brings a most unusual tale from Peter Straub back to life (and thankfully it’s MUCH better than Straub’s previous re-release, MRS. GOD).

Bob Bunting is a mid-Westerner now living in New York City. He works for a data entry company and has his only friend (and his parents) convinced he’s living a wild life, complete with a model-esque girlfriend and parties every night. But Bob is actually a loner suffering from several phobias, and after discovering a baby bottle from his childhood, becomes obsessed with it and begins collecting them, decorating his walls with hundreds of dollars worth of the plastic containers. He also spends much time reading used paperback novels, and is able to become so immersed in the stories he finds days go by before he snaps out of them. Bunting begins to drain his bank account to buy more bottles (which he also drinks vodka and fruit juices from as he reads) and slowly begins to slip out of reality—especially after his friend Hector fixes him up on a date that doesn’t go too well.

As with some of his later novels (this story was originally published in 1990), Straub plays with the idea that fiction and reality—at least in the protagonist’s mind—are similar if not the same. Bunting becomes so comfortable with the world he has created within his one-room apartment that everything else is now meaningless; he eventually leaves his job, and although he could’ve made the aforementioned blind date work, he’d rather immerse himself in the contained worlds of novels while sipping booze from his custom-nippled baby bottles.

In one sequence toward the end, Bunting purchases a used paperback from a street vendor. The vendor tells Bunting why the novel he’s skimming through has captured his attention and is so special, giving THE BUFFALO HUNTER a rare touch of authentic New York City life that’s rarely seen in popular fiction. And that it adds to Bunting’s growing disillusions makes it a brief but powerful scene.

Straub shines when dealing with odd, psychological issues, and this is a best bet for those who enjoy cerebral, quiet horror that manages to haunt long after the final page is read. A thoroughly satisfying story with a haunting conclusion.

Smell Rating: 2

(Note: this review originally appeared on THE CROW'S CAW: The Crow's Caw )

THE LURKERS by Kristopher Rufty (2012 Samhain Publishing / 253 pp / tp & eBook)

You know those stories about whimiscal little people who live in the woods or in underground burrows, playing harmless tricks but being generally benign? Yeah … these aren’t them. Maybe once, when they were on good terms with their human neighbors, back in the day. 

But, once pacts are broken, all deals are off … and the Haunchies (as this goblinesque band are called) aren’t about to forgive and forget. They’ll have what they need, take what they need, by whatever means necessary. 

What do they need? Well, fresh meat, for one thing. They’ve got a lot of hungry mouths to feed. Since, however, they also don’t have as many hungry mouths to feed as they’d like, well, they need new breeding stock. 

Neither of these are exactly comforting fates, as some unwary travelers are about to find out. Amy is on the run from an abusive relationship, while friendzoned Gary and his current girlfriend rush to the rescue … college kids Mary, Shannon, Jake and Steve are on their way home from a concert … Amy’s ex is hot on her trail … and they all end up in Haunchy territory. 

It’s an interesting premise, but the characters (especially the female-POV scenes) leave a lot to be desired, which makes getting into the story something of a challenge. 

All in all, it’s an okay read, not great but not bad, a decent enough time-passer, just not one that particularly grabbed me.

-Christine Morgan

FADING LIGHT: AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE MONSTEROUS edited by Tim Marquitz (2012 Angelic Knight Press / 396 pp /  tp & eBook)

Echoing the destruction of mankind, the stories in FADING LIGHT are frightening and for the most part quite bleak, which is how I like my horror.

Some of my favorite stories include “Parasitic Embrace” by Adam Millard about what’s hiding in the spreading ash cloud of a volcanic eruption; “Wrath” by Lee Mather about God taking away the sunlight for seven days to prove his power to an increasingly skeptical population; “Born of Darkness” by Stacey Turner about the chaos that ensues after the sun is blocked out and God’s possible involvement; “Dust” by Wayne Ligon involving massive dust clouds and aliens; and “The Equivalence Principle” by Nick Cato which is a unique story on what happens when gravity, as a living entity, decides time for humans is up.

Other very good stories include “They Wait Below” by Tom Olbert which is reminiscent of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956); “The Beastly Ninth” by Carl Barker which is a supernatural account of the battle at Waterloo between the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon; “Friends of a Forgotten Man” by Gord Rollo about a man left to die through vigilante justice and the unique manner in which his own death is avenged; and “Light Save Us” by Ryan Lawler about a lighted compound as the only sanctuary from the beasts that live in the darkness—or is it?

As with all anthologies, there are some misses here including “Lottery” by Gene O’Neill which I actually think is a good story but for me just didn’t fit the theme of FADING LIGHT; “Goldilocks Zone” by Gary W. Olson which has an interesting concept on alien dimensions but just kind of lost me a bit; and “Double Walker” by Henry P. Gravelle, which again, I did like but just felt it didn’t fit with the anthology’s theme.

I also received a companion e-book containing five stories that were very good, but left out of the anthology for other reasons.  

I really enjoyed FADING LIGHT and think Tim Marquitz did another amazing editing job—he’s also one of my favorite authors.  A lot of the stories centered on the phenomenon of our sun disappearing, whether by supernatural, religious or scientific occurrences and they are all equally frightening.  There are also quite a few unique stories contained here that are also scary and bleak.  Nothing here is necessarily predictable, even considering the theme, but it is all imaginative and entertaining.  I can definitely recommend FADING LIGHT: AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE MONSTROUS.

-Colleen Wanglund

SATANIC SUMMER by Andersen Prunty (2012 Grindhouse Press / 230 pp / tp)

Doug and Crank are total opposites: Doug's a young Christian trying to live a clean, church-going life while Crank is continually drunk, has sex with anything that moves, and plays guitar in a death metal band. But despite their differences, they're best friends who work in a convienience store in a small Kentucky town called Clover.

As gruesome murders begin, so do sightinigs of a large goat-like beast, and when Crank swears a member of a threesome he was involved with turned into the creature, everything in their isolated town comes into question.

Doug's strange neighbor, Whitney, returns after a stinit in a mental institution, yet is more in tune than anyone else with what's really going on at their local church...a church Doug seems to be the only one committed to.

SATANIC SUMMER is a wickedly fun riff on classic occultic horror novels, spiked with Prunty's brand of dry humor and more sex than your standard porn film. With monsters, redneck pyrotechnics, devil orgies, chain-smoking church moms, Satanic driving instructors, and one seriously horny policeman, this b-movie brought-to-the-page demands to be read in one sitting. Add a plus for a finale that's as hysterical as it is sex-tanically depraved.

Kudos to Matthew Revert's MERCYFUL FATE-meets-PORKY'S cover design that's absolutely perfect for what waits within.

Smell Rating: 2

SICK CHICK FLICKS by John Skipp (to be released 9/15/12 by Cemetery Dabce Publications / 400 pages / tp)

Sometimes it is what it says on the cover, and this is one of those times. Flicks? Yes indeed, three screenplays. Chicks? Absolutely, strong female lead characters all! Sick? Suffice to say, you probably will NOT be seeing Jennifer Aniston or any of those SEX AND THE CITY ladies starring in one of these. 

“Afterparty” is an unconventional tale of the paranormal, where several young people are invited out to visit a haunted house, their host an eccentric occultist libertine seeking to surround himself with life’s pleasures well beyond the grave. He’s chosen Marcia for his next partner, a talented young sensitive whose main goal is in helping others. There’s a few catches, of course. For instance, Marcia’s friends and boyfriend need to be put out of the way … and Marcia herself needs to die in order to join the party.

“The Legend of Honey Love” is the story of a woman whose very life begins in action-movie violence. She grows up into a feisty scrapper more than capable of standing up to unruly bar patrons and bad-news boyfriends, but when one of them comes back with a vengeance, Honey’s defiance makes her a media sensation. Soon, she’s famous, a nationwide hero and role model. She’s hounded by reporters, agents, offers from television shows, the works. As if that’s not hassle enough, her creep-magnet factor has gone off the charts. Soon, Honey hits the road just to try and escape the publicity, but it’s never that easy when everybody recognizes you, and wants you one way or another. 

“Rose” brings the wacky to the zombie apocalypse, broadcasting her cable/internet wacky puppet world of skits and songs to her fellow survivors even as the dead are battering at the doors. She’s a beacon of information, inspiration and lunacy in a time of chaotic crisis. She’s also got a wicked swing with a baseball bat and is a great example of how, when the rational world takes a hike, certain kinds of craziness can make for awesome coping skills. This one deserves to be the next big cult classic, and it’s already off to a good start. Learn more here:

Personally, I think everyone who went into ecstatic ravings about how something like SUCKER PUNCH was “female empowering” ought to be whapped upside the head a few times with this book. These characters are strong, sassy, sexy, occasionally screwed-up, and kickass, WITHOUT being a bunch of stroke-fantasy fanservice bimbos. 

We need more of that.

-Christine Morgan

MACHINES OF THE DEAD by David Bernstein (2012 Severed Press / 196 pp / tp & eBook)

Jack Warren finds himself in a nightmare when the dead start to rise in Manhattan. Once his wife becomes infected, life as Jack knows it ceases to exist. He is kidnapped by the military, along with this wife, and taken to an underground bunker. There he discovers his wife is dead, although she still walks. But she is no longer human.

Still reeling from the news about his wife, knowing she’ll never be cured, Jack decides to leave the bunker and see if there are any survivors in his building. He finds his friend Zaun, and takes him back to the bunker. This turns out to be the wrong move, because the doctor in charge of the project that caused the infection, Reynolds, has plans to use them as test subjects. They escape the bunker, hooking up with Maria, a badass soldier, and try to make their way out of the city. But there are too many zombies, and they end up back in Jack’s building.

There is a lot of action in MACHINES OF THE DEAD. And while I know some people are getting tired of the zombie genre, MACHINES adds a new twist to the story. The dead aren’t just zombies, but something else as well. And being bitten isn’t necessarily a death sentence any longer.

MACHINES OF THE DEAD is the first book in what looks to be a very interesting and fun series. The author has created some great characters and you will root for them throughout the book. The action is exciting and the ending will leave you wanting more, so hopefully the next book in the series will be available soon.

Take a chance on a new author; you won’t be disappointed.

-Sheri White

THE APOCALYPSE CODEX by Charles Stross (2012 Ace Books / 326 pp / hc)

In Stross' 4th Bob Howard 'Laundry' adventure, our favorite computational necromancing demonologist spy is sent to America after a wealthy televangelist visits the UK and shows off his healing skills...and manages to get a bit too close to the Prime Minister. And as fate would have it, there's much more going on at the Rev. Ray Schiller's Colorado-based megachurch than meets the eye.

(For those who don't know, Bob Howard works for the Laundry, a super-secret British agency commissioned to protect the world from Lovecraftian and demonic threats--think 007 with magickal powers).

This time Howard is aided by lone-wolf agent Persephone Hazard (MAN do I hate that name!) and her buddy Johhny (who wields two very nifty soul-sucking knives) as they go up against Schiller and his deceived flock of alien-parasite-possessed converts. Most of the action takes place in a snow-bound Colorado town, and unlike the previous novels there isn't much humor, and we actually see Howard maturing in his ways (somewhat, anyway).  He's not as goofy as before, although he still makes decisions that are a bit less than desirable. Despite this slightly more serious tone, Stross brings the fun fans of the Laundry series have come to expect--although it seems to come in shorter spurts than before, especially the finale that seemed to end WAY too quickly.

While I found THE APOCALYPSE CODEX a satisfying Laudry tale, Stross seems to have forgotten about the Laundry itself, which provided much tension and humor in the past; here they only show up sporadically, and it seems that THEY now rely on Howard more than he relies on them (and to prove it, Howard is given a fine promotion at the conclusion). I'm hoping their mysterious nature will be seen better in the next book.

My main gripe, however, is with Ray Schiller: here's an antagonist bent on unleashing an ancient alien God upon the earth, yet I found him about as threatening as Joel Osteen (I'm assuming Stross was trying to make some point here on the plastic-nature of most megachurches). Thankfully, Stross employs the aforementioned parasites as well as Russian civil war zombies (!) to attack our heroes in another dimension, otherwise there'd be very little threat going on here.

If you haven't read a Laundry novel before, I suggest catching up before coming here. You won't be lost, but you'll see a Bob Howard who's a bit different from the one we fans have come to love.

Smell Rating: 5

VORACIOUS by Patrick Worden (2012 Book Locker / 166 pp / tp & eBook)

Okay, the back cover text does not do this book justice. The back cover text makes it sound like a lukewarm variation on THE STRAIN, a comparison not fair to either. I’m glad I decided to give VORACIOUS a try anyway, because it turns out to be a really nifty, clever little book. 

And … “hemavores” … how/why had I not run across that one before? It’s so obvious, and so right! More scientific-sounding than “vampires,” without the assorted mystical and supernatural connotations … more formal than “bloodsuckers” … it works!

Okay, sure, in many ways they ARE vampires, and they like to effect the whole uber-suave stylish thing with black velvet, vanity and oozing egomania. 

Donovan is a CIA operative who’s been going up against the hemavores since Vietnam. These days, he works less as a hunter and more as a bodyguard for diplomats trying to uphold a treaty between us and them. His latest assignment is Sandy Kempthorn/e (her last name appears spelled both ways throughout, an editing continuity glitch?), whose meeting with hemavore leader Sergei doesn’t go so well. 

The story’s told in a series of reports written in the field by Donovan and Kempthorn/e, as they end up on the run and hiding out from the growing, increasingly angry and determined hemavore menace. It makes for a unique style that is gripping, immediate and very readable.

-Christine Morgan

HOUSE OF QUIET MADNESS by Mikita Brottman (2012 Ravenous Shadows / 237 pp / tp & eBook)

A private retreat for women, Windfall Lodge is a place where they can get some rest and therapy to help them through their difficult times.  Interestingly, all of the recommendations for the Lodge come from other women’s husbands.
Ruth is a stressed and unhappy vicar’s wife who loves the gardens, but wonders about the sudden departure of women who she became friendly with.  Danielle was found after riding the subway for hours with no memory of who she is or how she got on the train in the first place.  Polly has suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder for most of her life and is stressed by the fact that her husband is in prison.

Anne, Ruth’s daughter is living her own life in London but becomes increasing worried about her mother when she cannot get in touch with her.  Anne’s suspicions are partially confirmed when she goes home to see her father.

With a vibe similar to THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975), HOUSE OF QUIET MADNESS is a creepy and thoroughly claustrophobic story.  The horrors are very subtle, sneaking up on the reader when least expected.  Brottman’s writing flows beautifully and her characters are smartly crafted.  This is one of those few books that I would read more than once for the fact that it made my hair stand on end.  The end is totally unpredictable and just as subtle as the rest of the story.  This is no gut punch but a slow trickle of fear that creeps up the spine and chills you to the bone. 

-Colleen Wanglund

APPARITION by Michaelbrent Collings (2012 CreateSpace / 424 pp / tp & eBook)

This is the third book I’ve read by Michaelbrent Collings, and, having learned from my previous two experiences, I made quite sure to plan it so as to leave adequate time to read the entire thing at one sitting. Which turned out to be the smart move. Start to finish in four hours, with breaks only long enough to attend to coffee and other necessities. 

Un-put-down-able. Riveting. Captivating. Mesmerizing. Can’t look away. Those are descriptions that come close. WHY has this guy not been snapped up by a major house, with dizzying advances, book tours and the whole enchilada? He’s a natural, a prodigy, a born storyteller! Either that, or he’s so honed and fine-tuned his skills as to make it look that way. He writes from the heart and soul and gut, in an honesty that feels like part conversation and part confession. 

However, and maybe this is part of that WHY, he writes those heart-soul-gut conversation/confession stories from a deep and unsettling place, holding up a dark mirror to our most hidden inner fears. That can make someone uncomfortable, and, for most of the typical reading public, being made uncomfortable isn’t what they’re looking for in their leisure time. 

Like much of Collings’ work, Apparition deals with the subject of child-loss. It’s the worst thing imaginable, the death of a child the worst tragedy a parent can face, the child-killers the worst monsters of all … but in this case, the worst thing imaginable is pushed to the very limit by taking a look at filicide … the murder of a child by a parent. No other cases on the news have that capacity to revolt and horrify, especially when it’s the mother. How could a mother DO that?!? we ask, aghast. But it happens. It’s always happened. 

In APPARITION, it happens to the Wills family, when mom Kari wakes in the middle of the night with a terrible, obsessive urge to get a knife and go slaughter her children in their beds. Her husband Shan intervenes, but, wounded, is unable to stop Kari from redirecting her deadly impulse onto herself. 

A year later, Shane and the kids are still struggling to put their lives back together. They’ve moved to a new place, but they all know nothing will ever be the same … wouldn’t be the same even if they didn’t now live in a house seemingly haunted, disturbed by strange events. And as if that’s not enough, it soon seems that whatever evil madness possessed Kari is going to work on Shane. 

The genuineness and realism of the characters is a hallmark of Collings’ stories. He writes children extremely well, both as a parent and as someone who remembers being and empathizes with children. I’d bet that some of the book’s cuter scenes were drawn from real life, eliciting bleats of “Hey! You wrote about THAT?” from his own kids or people he knew as kids. 

This is NOT a feel-good read. This is one that will leave you anxious and queasy … tenfold if you’re a parent … a hundredfold if your children are young. 

It IS an effective, emotional, nerve-twisting read, another amazingly well-written one from a top-notch writer.

-Christine Morgan

DIE, YOU BASTARD, DIE! by Jan Kozlowski (2012 Ravenous Shadows /120 pp /  tp & eBook)

Claire, who moved away from home as soon as she could, works an EMT and has seen many horrors.  One night she receives a phone call from her high school friend Olivia who informs her that Claire’s father Ben has had an accident and is in the hospital.  Claire does not want to return home, but Olivia convinces her to at least meet with her and discuss the situation.  

Claire and Olivia meet at a local diner and reminisce about their past—both the good and bad.  We discover that the girls were sexually abused by Claire’s father, who is one sick and sadistic individual.  Olivia feels the situation is the perfect time for the women to get their revenge for what they went through.  What Claire doesn’t realize until it is too late is that Olivia has an agenda of her own and is angry with Claire for leaving her behind all those years ago.  Will Claire find the strength to survive both her father and Olivia?

DIE, YOU BASTARD, DIE! is a fast-paced gut punch that will leave you reeling from the horrors of both Claire’s past and present.  She—and we—are shocked to discover what’s really going on after she returns home.  Kozlowski’s prose is horrifying in its directness and detail of the physical and mental abuse suffered by Ben’s victims.  What’s just as disturbing is that Ben hasn’t given up his “hobby”.  I absolutely loved this book, but it is definitely not for the squeamish.

-Colleen Wanglund

WELCOME TO HELL edited by Eric S. Brown (2012 E-Volve Books / 330 pp / tp & eBook)

Oh, the West, the weird, wild West … if there’s any genre that is about as purely American as you can get, it’s that. It’s locational, it’s temporal, it’s cultural. The word alone evokes strong, resonant common images, while ranging across a spectrum from comedy and oat operas to grim-and-gritty blood in the dust. 

It also lends itself extremely well to crossovers and mash-ups, and goes very well with horror. This fourteen-tale “anthology of Western Weirdness” does a good job of demonstrating that. 

I’ll admit to the usual bias when it comes to these projects in which I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a contributor. Mine, “The Crossing at Bony Ford,” stepped into my head like a gunslinger pushing through the batwing doors of a saloon, and gave me no peace until the smoke cleared.

Judging by the rest of these stories, I wasn’t the only one to feel that way, wallowing in the sheer fun of the craft. Among my personal favorite reads of the bunch are Gina Ranalli’s “Coffin Stuffers,” “Bigfoot Walsh” by Ed Erdelac, “Black” by Max Booth, and Lindsey Beth Goddard’s “The Moonlight Swamp Monster.” 

But none of them are duds, and there’s sure to be something to please any fan of scares by sagebrush. You’ll find cowboys and curses, shape-shifters, legends come to life and revenge from beyond the grave, walking corpses, strange monsters, and more. 

So, belly on up to the bar, pardner, and pick your poison!

-Christine Morgan


SEX, DEATH & HONEY by Brian Knight (2012 Genius Publishing /185 pp / tp)

Butch Quick is a man with a past who remains a loner.  Working as a bounty hunter, repo man, parts runner and bouncer at various times for his uncle, Butch has gotten himself neck-deep into some major trouble while trying to repossess a car one night.  Not only did he get the car, but a body in the trunk of a young prostitute.  Cameron Finke, who the car belonged to, wants his car back and his crime hidden.  Cameron is a gangster with many friends on the police force, who uses those friends to try to stop Butch from exposing him.  With the help of the dead girl’s friend Honey—who may also be in danger—Butch attempts to report the murder while keeping his own ass out of trouble.

The first in a series, SEX, DEATH & HONEY is a fast and fun ride that takes place over the course of one night in Butch’s life.  Knight’s character development is excellent, leaving some questions to be answered as his series moves along.  Butch is likeable and sympathetic, and there are other characters that I hope to see again.  More a suspense thriller than horror, Brian Knight keeps his writing tight and the story interesting.  SEX, DEATH & HONEY is an entertaining read with a not-so-predictable ending, and I like that.

-Colleen Wanglund

Butch Quick, a repo man who works for his Uncle Higheagle’s company, just wants to earn a living as a regular guy, but unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work out that way for him. Butch is a self-described big and ugly American Indian and very intimidating, which serves him well on his various adventures.

On a job to repossess a Mustang one night, Butch runs afoul of drug kingpin Cameron Finke. Before he realizes what’s going on, he’s on the run from various scumbags and bad guys, and also finds a dead hooker. He hooks up with a Russian prostitute named Honey and a foul-mouthed bird, and tries to stay alive throughout the night. Staying alive includes staying away from dirty cops and drug dealers.

SEX, DEATH, AND HONEY is a wild ride of a book, by turns hilarious and suspenseful. The bird, “Trouble,” as Butch calls him, is a freaking riot and adds a lot of humor to the story. Butch Quick is a great character, very likeable and funny, someone you’d love to sit and have a beer with in some out-of-the-way dive bar.

I’ve always enjoyed Brian’s writing, but this is the mystery-comedy I’ve read by him. I’d love to see more of Butch and “Trouble,” and hope this becomes an ongoing series for a long time.

-Sheri White

THE KILLING FLOOR by Craig DiLouie (2012 Permuted Press / 302 pp / tp & eBook)

This follow-up to THE INFECTION continues dealing with the zombie apocalypse from a military standpoint. The story maybe starts off a little slow, but, once it gets going, it really picks up speed. 

Various groups of armed forces, some professional, some mercenary, and some who were just regular citizens until the world ended, are doing their best to save what’s left of society. The non-combatants huddle in refugee camps while others venture out on search-and-rescue or salvage operations. The latest push is a large-scale effort to retake Washington, D.C., as much as a symbolic victory as anything else. 

But the survivors face the usual uphill battle in these scenarios, being outnumbered by an ever-increasing enemy with no fear or sense of self-preservation. The Infected exist only to spread their plague. Worst of all, it’s not just zombies anymore. Other creatures have developed out of the biological chaos. The hoppers are among the most hated and feared, injecting and implanting people with seeds that will grow into new hoppers. 

Ray Young, stung by a hopper, is surprised to find himself still alive. Not only that, but the Infected are no longer interested in him as prey. He makes his way to what he thinks is safety, only to be further surprised by discovering that he’s not immune so much as a carrier. Where he goes, the Infection – and the Infected – follow. 

Needless to say, this makes Ray a person of considerable interest. Might his immunity hold the key to a cure? Or a new superweapon? Should he be brought in and studied? Or eliminated as a threat capable of doing even more damage? 

Packed with interesting, sympathetic characters and compelling sub-plots, THE KILLING FLOOR is an exciting read that gets especially unrelenting from about the halfway mark right up until the all-too-soon/when’s-the-NEXT-one? ending.

-Christine Morgan

SKIN TRADE: A HISTORICAL HORROR by Tonia Brown (2012 Create Space / 236 pp / tp)

The Western Frontier of the United States was devastated by the Great Undead Uprising in the 1870s.  Many died and many fled to what was left on the East Coast of the country.  Some people ignoring the danger moved to that frontier, including Sam, a girl living as a boy to escape her horrible and abusive past.  She is unwittingly thrust into the skin trade—where revenants are hunted for their skin.  It is highly prized by the wealthy and extremely lucrative for those who are successful.

In her quest to start her life over, Sam becomes involved with Boudreaux, a man with no qualms about turning strong young men into revenants to get the best skin possible.  She also ends up with Mr. Theo who teaches her the trade as it was meant to be carried out in a lawful manner.  Her adventures ultimately lead her to Dillon, a little man who wishes to be feared and respected, but has a most twisted way of achieving his goals.

In a genre where zombie books are a dime a dozen and can be wholly disappointing, SKIN TRADE brings a fresh new narrative to the sub-genre of zombies.  Tonia Brown has crafted a compelling and very interesting story that is not so much about the zombies themselves but more about the need for reinvention and the human weakness of greed.  Well-written with a nice pace that keeps you wanting to turn those pages, the book also has some excellent character development.  Zombies have always been my favorite creatures in horror but admittedly even I can get bored.  Boredom is definitely NOT a word I use to describe SKIN TRADE.  Tonia Brown is definitely a zombie author whose work should be sought out.

-Colleen Wanglund


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