Tuesday, October 2, 2012

OCTOBER, 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)

LIFE RAGE by L.L. Soares (2012 Nightscape Press / 228 pp / tp)

Colleen is living a wasted life, sleeping with a different guy every night and wandering aimlessly through her daily routines. But when she reconnects with an old friend, a glimmer of hope arises, but it's short-lived: she witnesses him being torn apart by a maniac whose face she can't seem to see. In a panic, she runs for her life and finds herself on a private section of beach. She is friended by the owner of the property (a former Hollywood playboy) and his strange roommate, Viv, and is invited to stay until things settle down.

Across town, Sam Wayne is a psychologist who deals with anger management. He has unique methods for treating his patients and seems to have his life in order...but the countless people he has treated is beginning to affect him in ways he could've never imagined. He also wonders if the mass-murdering madman was/is a patient of his, and if not, could he possibly help him?

And when the mysterious maniac attempts to kill himself, he's only empowered more to release his rage in ways that could mean the end of life itself.

Soares' debut novel is a blend of sexually-charged psychological, supernatural, and extreme horror. We're introduced to people who may or may not be demons and some seriously hurting characters who are dealing with different levels of rage, anxiety, and depression. While LIFE RAGE spends perhaps a bit too much time developing its characters, the concluding payoff is worth the wait. The antagonist's rage begins with "mini-massacres" of small groups of people, then the rage itself starts to spread like a virus, infecting those around him, causing innocent bystanders to beat one another to death in some cringe-inducing scenes. It's like an apocalyptic take on the serial killer thing, complete with almost half the United States falling victim to the proceedings.

Now where's the Hulk when you need him? LIFE RAGE is NOT for the squeamish!

BLEED ON ME by Shane McKenzie (2012 Abbatoir Press / 106 pp / tp)

When it comes to grotesque metamorphoses, Shane McKenzie’s definitely got the kind of imagination that would make Hieronymus Bosch blink. Yeesh. I mean, YEESH. The transformation scenes in BLEED ON ME … well, let’s let the novella’s main character share some of the experience in his own words:

“Regardless of what happened, I saw a corpse’s intestines try and drag you into its chest mouth. Did you hear what I just said? Nobody should ever have to say that!

And that, folks, is one of the milder spectacles in store for our hapless hero. Meet Chris, whose life is crappy enough even before all Hell breaks loose in the apartment downstairs. At first, he thinks it’s his inconsiderate neighbors having just another noisy party. Then he thinks it’s a drug deal gone bad. Oh, if only. If only!

What follows is a living nightmare as Chris and the sole survivor of the carnage find themselves on the run from demonic reshaped corpses, not to mention Chris’ own infuriated stepfather … or the thing that used to BE Chris’ own infuriated stepfather …

But then they discover there’s something different about Chris, something unusual, something that makes him a walking weapon against these monstrosities. If, that is, he can survive long enough to use it.

BLEED ON ME is a wild read and a wild ride, from its sudden plunge-in-the-middle-of-things start to its messy finish, with the descriptions alone well worth the price of admission.

-Christine Morgan

UNDERCURRENTS by Robert Buettner (2011 Baen Books / 402 pp / tp & mmp)

The second in Buettner's Jazen Parker military sci-fi series takes place two years after the events of OVERKILL. Parker's now a saloon owner in a space station, when he's enlisted back into action after one of his former partners, Kit, goes missing on a corrupt, primitive planet where his father has much history.

The action comes fast and furious (as it should in this subgenre) and rarely lets up. But there's plenty of meat here, too; fans of Buettner's previous Jason Wander ORPHANGE series will be in geek heaven as much of that series is referenced. We learn more about Parker's father, and as always Buettner's way of bringing vintage military vehicles/weapons into a futuristic story gives the whole thing a unique spin. One scene inside an abandoned church's bell tower is to die-for exciting.

With crab monsters, all types of aquatic creatures, warring factions, traitors, a tough-as-nails 11 year-old girl (!) and some old-school tanks thrown in for good measure, UNDERCURRENTS is yet another bone-crunching good time, and nicely sets up the forthcoming third novel (BALANCE POINT).

I'm absolutely loving this series.

Smell Rating: 5

POPULATION ZERO by Wrath James White (2010 Deadite Press / 112 pp / tp, hc, and eBook)

I made the mistake of settling down to read POPULATION ZERO just after writing a nice scene in which an expectant couple discusses their future. But at least I didn’t make the greater mistake of reading it BEFORE that …

As you might guess from the title, the theme of this one is overpopulation and birth control. As you might guess from the author, well, let’s just say it takes things to a bit of an extreme.

Todd Hammerstein is very committed to saving the planet from its greatest hazard – us. Working as he does in the welfare office, he day in and day out sees a steady stream of humanity at far less than its best – poverty, abuse, drugs, neglect, and an endless cycle of breeding, breeding, breeding. Someone’s got to do something. Even if it’s just one small gesture, one good deed at a time.

In a way, he’s the most terrible kind of villain, because it’s hard at first not to kind of see his point, sympathize, even agree with him. Until he puts his plans into action. Sure, it might start off with talking crack-whores into abortions … but soon Todd’s on the slippery slope to involuntary sterilizations and worse.

All written, of course, with vivid, graphic, up-close-and-personal, very very very TMI attention to detail guaranteed to leave you curled up in a corner, whimpering.

-Christine Morgan

CEMETERY CLUB by JG Faherty (2012 Journalstone / 252 pp / tp)

20 years ago (here we go!), 4 high school friends unknowingly woke evil spirits by playing with a ouija board in a cemetery while smoking pot. Violent deaths broke out, but one of the teens took the rap for the murders and went to a Sanitarium.

Todd is now released and back in his small hometown of Rocky Point. Coincidentally, similar murders as those that happened all those years ago have started again, and the town eyes Todd as the main suspect. But Todd and his 3 old friends (who had named themselves The Cemtery Club) soon reunite to once again battle the evil that nearly killed them all.

CEMETERY CLUB is a fun, fast, creepy tale that throws every horror trope into the mix: mad doctors, zombies, possessions, and demonic spirits all set against a small town mentality. When our Club researches what they're up against, they discover the town's dark past goes back much further than 20 years, and each of their families had battled these spirits before.

I'd give this more than 3 out of 5 stars if not for the fact the whole thing is just so...familiar.

This is well written pulp horror, but probably won't appeal to genre fans looking for something different.

Smell Rating: 1

MONSTER LAKE by Edward Lee (2005 Little Devil Books / 208 pp / tp)

“This book is for readers ages 8-12” is, frankly, NOT something one might normally expect to see on the cover of anything with Edward Lee’s name on it! Yet, boom, there it is. Edward Lee, best known for backwoods depravity, diabolical perversity, and Lovecraftian horrors that would have made Lovecraft’s own eyes pop … Edward Lee wrote a kids’ book? Seriously?

Seriously. MONSTER LAKE is the story of Terri, a normal enough girl doing her best to enjoy what she can of summer vacation despite her parents’ recent divorce and her dad losing his job and how she hasn’t even SEEN him in months.

Then, there’s her mom and uncle spending so much time at work on whatever it is they work on down in the boathouse she’s forbidden to go near … which naturally throws down the gauntlet of temptation for curious pre-teens like Terri and her friend Patricia. And there’s the icky wildlife that keeps turning up. Toads and salamanders. BIG toads and salamanders. With TEETH.

So, yes, a spooky kids’ book by Edward Lee. And, yes, even without the graphic language, sex, or gore, it’s a great story, well-written, intense, pushing to the edge of what might be the scare-limit for this age group without going too far.

Then again, I’m the mom whose daughter did a book report on CITY INFERNAL her freshman year in high school, so, my ideas about age-appropriate fiction might be slightly askew …

Still, for teens and tweens who like the gross stuff, with squishy toothy slimy critters and intense shivers, MONSTER LAKE will be a winner!

-Christine Morgan

SORROW CREEK by Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes (2012 Delirium Books / 62 pp / eBook and limited edition hardcover)

Cassandra and her husband Max move to an isolated swamp region in Louisiana on the advice of Max’s therapist. The victim of an unexplained breakdown, Max is now on hiatus from his teaching position at LSU.

Soon after Cassandra finds their dog mutilated in a box, Max begins seeing a young woman running through the woods on their property. Cassandra thinks she has seen her too, but chalks it up to her imagination. When she leaves Max for a couple of days, Max has an encounter with the strange woman that leads to his abduction.

With the help of the local mailman and an anonymous note, Cassandra searches for her husband through treacherous swamplands and eventually comes face to face with something much more terrifying than your average ghost.

SORROW CREEK is another solid spook-fest from the husband and wife team of Fulbright and Hawkes, this time giving their take on a classic voodoo tale, complete with plenty of chills and atmosphere so genuine you’ll be swatting mosquitoes from your neck as you read.

Another winner from Delirium’s always reliable novella series.

(NOTE: This review originally appeared at THE CROW'S CAW )

And now, another look at a fan favorite...

A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES by Peter N. Dudar (2012 Nightscape Press / 292 pp / tp & eBook)

When Lester and Gordon are just kids, they are sent to stay with their grandmother at her farm due to their mother’s miscarriage. Expecting a fun summer with their loving grandmother, it turns out to be the most terrifying summer of their young lives.

Battle View Farm used to be a fun place, but that all changed that fateful summer when Grandma Vivian went mad. She becomes convinced dead flies are communicating with her. As Grandma Vivian gets worse, the boys’ lives are threatened - but is it their grandmother trying to harm them, or one of the farm’s ghosts?

Now adults, Lester and Gordon return to the farm to start a bourbon-making business. But the farm is still haunted, the dead flies still communicating. And the MacAuley brothers are in danger once again.

A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES is Pete Dudar’s first novel, but you’d never know it.  The story had me hooked from the first page and wouldn’t let me go until I reached the end. There are some horrifying and intense scenes - you may not want to venture into a dark basement again. The twists and turns throughout will keep you guessing until the last page.

This is a fantastic book, one of the best I’ve read this year so far.

-Sheri White


TWICE SHY by Patrick Freivald (to be released 10/26/2012 by JournalStone / hc, tp, and eBook)

TWICE SHY is a YA novel packed with teenage angst … cliques and outcasts … social life drama … drinking and drugs … romance problems … grades, school, teachers … parents, rules, rebellion …

Oh yeah, and zombies. Which, when you ARE one, makes dealing with all those other issues even more complicated.

Meet Ani Romero, teen zombie. If anybody knew the truth, she’d be shot and incinerated, since hers is a world where the outbreak happened years ago, scientists busy ever since trying to contain the infection.

Scientists such as Ani’s mom, who’s dedicated herself to the search for treatments and a possible cure. For Ani, this means regular regimes of injections to keep her hungers under control, formaldehyde baths to prevent decay, and a thousand different tricks designed to keep her secret and allow her to lead a normal-seeming life.

The trouble is, Ani doesn’t want a normal-seeming life. She doesn’t like having to pretend she’s into the whole Goth scene as a coverup for her pallor and scars, or being friends with the weirdos instead of the cool crowd. It doesn’t help that the guy she really likes is dating a bitchy-but-popular girl, or that a creepy death-obsessed stalker has fixated on her.

All in all, it makes for a nice twist on the usual tropes. If it struggles in places over things that could easily be resolved by characters just TALKING to each other, well, that fits too; kids that age tend to believe nobody will understand what they’re going through, and adults tend to underestimate what teens can handle.

-Christine Morgan

MAD MANNEQUINS FROM HELL by August V. Fahren (2012 Broken Star Books / 80 pp / eBook)

Burton's a special effects artist in Portland with his young son Max. A ritual gone out of control causes demons to inhabit mannequins. Burton--with a handy flame thrower--meets up with 3 sexy nuns (one a hermaphrodite) and together they battle possessed mannequins, sex dolls, and even a Satanic nativity set.

Like a bad b-movie, MAD MANNEQUINS FROM HELL is a lot of fun, although much of the dialogue is Saturday morning cartoon-silly and a lot of early filler (that explains scenes from Burton's videos) were unnecessary. Lots of characters show up for no other reason than to become mannequin chow, causing us not to care too much for what little we learn about the main cast.

I like Fahren's imagination and sense of cult-movie fun, and at times this is quite funny. I enjoyed this quick novella despite it being all over the place; I have my eye on Fahren in the hopes his next book is a bit more focused.

UNCOMMON ASSASSINS edited by Weldon Burge (2012 Smart Rhino Publications / 290 pp / tp and dBook)

It’s shameless, but, when I keep getting accepted into these awesome anthologies, I want to brag, and I want to give shout-outs to my fellow contributors, so, here’s another review of one that not only do I have a story in myself (“Thyf’s Tale,” yay Vikings!), but a friend of mine got into as well (Doug Blakeslee’s “Madame,” his first sale!) after I pestered him into submitting!

So. Assassins. But not just ANY assassins. Not just any cold-blooded hitmen, black widows or killers-for-hire. These 23 stories are all about the quirky murders and bizarre deaths … from the ones carried out on top-tier governmental orders to the very personal.

My personal favorites of the bunch (not counting mine and my buddy’s, of course!) include:

“Everybody Wins,” Lisa Manetti’s twisted look at suicide hotlines VERY determined to help.

J. Gregory Smith’s “The Pepper Tyrant,” an eye-watering, stomach-burning foray into high-stakes competitive eating.

Matt Hilton’s noirish “Misconceptions” in which an atypical femme fatale looks to hire someone for a case.

“For the Love of Boys” by Rob M. Miller, even when you think you know where it’s going, you’re in for some surprises.

Laura DiSilvero’s “Mercy Killing,” which is just beautifully and creepily done with some amazingly light touches.

All that and lots more, lots more, stories by F. Paul Wilson and Monica O’Rourke and a dozen others, a grab-bag variety pack of death on demand!

-Christine Morgan

THE FINAL FAILURE OF A PROFESSIONAL SMALL ANIMAL INSIDE-OUTER by MP Johnson (2012 Cloud City Press / 40 pp / chapbook)

I've been enjoying Johnson's quirky tales for some time now, and his latest chapbook offers 3 more stories of darkly humorous bizarro horror.

The title tale deals with a Norman bates-like taxidermist (of sorts) who lives with his grandmother. He takes on his first willing, live human project--a flute-player named Elizabeth--to oddly funny results. This is genuinely weird fiction done right.

'Crabaroo in Lesbo Vamp Land' looks at the creator of a Spongebob-like cartoon character and how he deals with his creation being more famous than himself in the wake of a new Crabaroo film/series. Needless to say, things get way out of hand...

'Through Time, Knuckles First' is a wickedly funny and original story about Geoff Cooper, a guy who owns a talking alien head that he keeps on his turntable. To explain any more would be a disservice to the author!

Johnson's one writer I enjoy watching grow. His tales continue to get more inventive and at this point his voice is all his own. Great stuff.


STILL LIFE: NINE STORIES by Nicholas Kaufmann (2012 NECon E-Books / 185 pp / eBook)

Author James A. Moore gives one of those introductions that seems to good to be true. But by the time I finished the third of these nine tales, I was in complete agreement with him: these stories are absolutely masterful.

Collecting tales that go back eleven years, this is an excellent primer for those looking for a taste of a truly underrated writer. Opening story 'Under the Skin' is one of a couple of tales that blends the author's Jewish background with horror, this time to gruesome effect in a disturbing piece about a goth-chick and her twin sister. Kaufmann weaves a tale of kid looking for acceptance as her father attempts to hold the family together around a Seder. 'Mysteries of the Cure' centers around a man who meets a strange woman who helps him deal with his cheating wife. Picture an old EC horror comic with better story-telling.

'Street Cred' gets major kudos here, mainly because I'm beyond sick of zombie stories and this urban street-gang tale gives the subgenre a truly unique spin. The one piece that impressed me the most is 'The Beat of Her Wings,' not only due to it's intracacies, but that a tale featuring a prehistoric creature can actually be scary is nothing short of amazing. This one's worth the price of the book alone.

At first, 'Toad Lily' seems like a standard ghost story, about a mother thinking she sees her dead child everywhere she looks. But Kaufmann turns it into a parent's revenge tale that's second to none. 'The Jew of Prague' is the author's take on the noir thing, yet it still manages to get the goosebumps going as well as bring a classic Jewish folklore creature into the mix.

Former porn starlet Amber Fox is the subject of Kaufmann's erotica entry, 'Comeback,' and while I'm not a big fan of the erotica genre, this one ends on a supernatural note that gives meaning to the sex that proceeds it. Brilliant stuff.  'Go' tells the tale of an intelligent lab baboon who manages to teach the others to escape from their cages. Kaufmann brings the claustrophobic chills on and makes us cheer for the protagonist as he attempts to save his son and the other children stuck in the lab's daycare center. The author notes most of his readers hated the ending, but I thought it worked just fine.

STILL LIFE ends with a tribute to Asian horror titled '(F)earless,' about an author concerned the film version of his best-selling manga will ruin not only his book, but a historic Japanese folk tale. Fans of 'J-Horror' won't be able to get enough of this one.

Having only read Kaurmann's novella CHASING THE DRAGON, this was my first look at his short stories, and I have to say I haven't enjoyed a collection this much since Joe Hill's phenomenal 20th CENTURY GHOSTS (2005), and that, my friends, is truly saying something.

Don't miss this.


We're finally getting to the end of this past summer's HUGE batch of review submissions, so chances are you'll see YOUR book here within the next two months...submissions, however, are still closed. Please see the bottom of the main page for updated information.