Thursday, November 1, 2012

NOVEMBER, 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)

I'M NOT SAM by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee (to be released 12/12 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 127 pp / hc)

Patrick has an ideal life. He's a full-time graphic novel artist married to a beautiful medical examiner named Sam. They live in a beautiful, isolated house with their rescue cat, Zoey. After eight years of marriage, the couple is still crazy over each other.

But one morning--after a particularly passionate night of sex--Patrick finds Sam cowering in the corner of their room...and she claims to be Lily. Lily is a young girl (around six years old) and Patrick does all in his power to "bring" his wife back. A visit to the doctor reveals little...all medical tests return negative. But Patrick refuses to take Lily/Sam to a therapist, hoping he can help her on his own.

I'M NOT SAM is a riveting trip dealing with selective memory loss and age regression--not so much a horror story although it manages to be horrific enough in ways the author's fans have come to expect.

Take my advice--pay attention to the author's request in his introduction; the second co-story, WHO'S LILY?, works better after letting the main tale work into your psyche for a while. This is yet another dose of real-life terror Ketchum fans will surely enjoy (and I'm assuming McKee's fans will, too).

HIS PAIN by Wrath James White (2011 Deadite Press / 88 pp / tp)

I remember thinking, way back when I first read “The Fall of the House of Usher,” what an awful ailment that hypersensitivity thing must be, what constant torture, what misery. Only soft fabrics, low lighting, bland food, hushed noises. 

Now, after reading HIS PAIN, it’s clear to me that Roderick Usher was a total crybaby wuss. 

Thanks, or no thanks, to being born with a nerve disorder, Jason experiences everything as pain. EVERYTHING. As PAIN. Screeching, agonizing, kill-me-now kind of PAIN. The mildest interaction of any sense is like starring in a real-life unending SAW movie marathon. 

Speaking as a parent, it’s a rotten feeling when your kid is hurting and there’s nothing you can do. The younger they are, and the less they understand, the worse it is. Mine’s almost eighteen now and I still flinch to remember taking her to get her first sets of shots. 

Jason’s parents had to deal with that a millionfold. Constantly. Making all possible adjustments and accomodations. Even the most potent narcotics and sensory deprivation can’t provide much of a reprieve. How anybody could deal with that … living with that … putting their child through that … I can barely wrap my mind around it. 

Then Jason’s desperate mom discovers a yogi who claims to have made some breakthroughs in pain management. Under his tutelage, Jason is finally able to change his perception of pain … to channel sensation into a kind of pleasure … and it turns out to be not such a good thing after all. At least, not for the people around Jason, when he wants to help them experience what he now does. 

After reading this book, you’ll probably want some narcotics and a sensory deprivation chamber of your own, just to help you get over it.

-Christine Morgan

BOGGY CREEK: THE LEGEND IS TRUE by Eric S. Brown and Jennifer Minar-Jaynes  (2012 Inkbug Media / 119 pp / tp and eBook)

Jennifer’s father has died suddenly and violently, so to get some closure she goes to his cabin in Boggy Creek, Texas, taking some of her friends along for a vacation.  But something has been happening to the residents of the town.  For over thirty years men have been killed and mutilated and women have been disappearing.  Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Klein knows what is responsible but the Sheriff either won’t believe it or chooses to ignore it.  Mark decides to enlist the help of his friend Lyle to finally put an end to the brutality. 
Dustin has been staying in a cabin nearby and tells Jennifer the story of how his wife was carried off by something.  He intends to find it and his wife, if she is still alive.  Dustin warns Jennifer that she and her friends should leave before they are attacked.  Jennifer thinks he’s crazy and ignores his warning.

What Mark, Lyle and Dustin believe is that a Bigfoot is roaming the heavily-wooded camp site of Boggy Creek.  What is really happening is far worse than anyone could have imagined.

BOGGY CREEK: THE LEGEND IS TRUE is the novelization of a movie of the same name that was released in 2010 direct-to-video.  It was directed by Brian T. Jaynes and the screenplay was written by Jaynes and Jennifer Minar-Jaynes.  While I have not seen the movie, I can attest to the brutality and goriness of the story.  And like most books by Eric S. Brown, it is extremely bleak and unpredictable in its ending.   While elements of the story are a bit cliché—teens in a cabin in the woods—the story is a solid one and satisfying to read.  It’s scary, bloody and well-paced and has piqued my interest in the film.  Character development was well-done overall and I did find myself caring about what happened to Mark, Dustin and Jennifer in particular.  BOGGY CREEK is a quick and entertaining read and I recommend it to any horror fan—unless you don’t like Bigfoot.

-Colleen Wanglund

IF GOD DOESN'T SHOW by R. Thomas Riley and John Grover (2012 Permuted Press / 215 pp / tp and eBook)

Not so much a sequel as a "further adventures" of, Riley returns with new co-writer John Grover to spin another tale with supernatural monster-hunter Gibson Blount (last seen in the novella THE FLESH OF FALLEN ANGELS with Roy C. Booth).

This time a cult has kidnapped the daughter of Thaddeus Archer, a secret service agent assigned to protect the President of the United States. The cult is attempting to revive Cthulhu himself through a series of human sacrifices, and Archer is torn between his assignment and rescuing his daughter. The cult inadvertantly unleashes a swarm of shadow-creatures who possess the living and turn them into homicidal maniacs, and a strange island appears in the Pacific ocean, causing a tsunami to wipe out Mexico and cover most of the earth's islands. As if this wasn't enough, the tsunamis also  help to trigger off a World War 3-like international nuclear exchange. Talk about pre-armageddon madness!

Enter Gibson Blount, who lands on the mysterious island with his specially selected team. He eventually teams with Thaddeus, making for a doubly-exciting 'Cthulhu-possession-end-of-the-world' thriller that moves at an insane pace. But the pace is SO quick you might have to slow down to keep up with the ever changing cast, but that's only a small complaint. Some of the dialogue gets a bit "comic book" at times, but with everything going on I don't think too many readers will mind.

I like the "new" modern-day Gibson Blount and hope to see more of him. The authors reveal little on how he jumps from generation to generation (the FLESH/FALLEN ANGELS novella took place in the old West) but this mystery keeps his character engaging. And while I wish there was more Cthulhu here (he barely makes an appearance), the shadow creatures and cult happenings make IF GOD DOESN'T SHOW a best bet for apocalyptic fiction fans.

THE CHOSEN by Edward Lee (2012 Necro Publications / 300 pp / tp)

Bit of an oldie but a goodie, originally from 1993 but reprinted this year, THE CHOSEN is classic Edward Lee throughout. It’s got the sex, the kink, the gore, the psychos, the diabolical influences, and is just a whole lot of fiendish fun.

The Inn, newest in a chain of exclusive resorts, aims to cater to a very elite clientele, offering them all the luxury, privacy, and discretion they could desire. Naturally, the management wants the best in the biz to operate the restaurant, and the best in the biz is Vera Abbot. She’s initially reluctant to relocate, but the offer is tempting (generous salary, room and board, company car), and when her engagement takes an unfortunate turn, she decides starting over might be the best option. 

With a sky’s-the-limit budget, state of the art kitchens, and complete control over hiring, ordering, menus and other details, she’s convinced she could make a real success of the place. Except, her boss doesn’t seem to WANT that. Advertising is discouraged. Evening after evening sees Vera’s frustration grow as so few patrons visit to enjoy the fruits of her labors. 

Meanwhile, that bastard Kyle who runs the room service section of the Inn, is doing great business and loves rubbing Vera’s nose in it. She despises him, but he’s also hot, and the increasingly erotic dreams she finds herself having are disturbing to say the least. 

It’s not just Vera, either. Something is not right about the Inn. Her employees notice it too, having their own troubling experiences. The chambermaids are peculiar. There’s frequent complaints from the guests. Before long, it’s clear that the Inn’s influences are more than just strange. They’re downright evil. 

But, with no job or life to go back to, with a boss that doesn’t want to let her go, with an ex-fiance who insists he was duped and set-up into the scene that led to Vera walking out on him, what is she to do? 

Woven through her story is another in which a pair of killers, Zyra and Lemi, traipse happily around finding couples who are looking for a good time and have no idea what nasty, bloody surprises are in store. 

I’d missed out on this one before, so, was glad to have the opportunity to pick it up and read it. Very enjoyable, satisfying, not overly squicky, and one of my new favorites!

-Christine Morgan

BOTTLED ABYSS by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (2012 Redrum Horror / 332 pp / tp and eBook)

Herman and Janet are spiraling out of control in the year since losing their daughter to a hit-and-run accident when she was just a toddler.  Janet is a raging alcoholic and Herman has become apathetic to all around him.  One day while out looking for his dog, Herman meets a man with a strange bottle containing something that saved the dog’s life, after being attacked by wolves.  When he returns home to find that Janet has attempted suicide, Herman goes looking for the man so he can save her life. 
Janet recovers but finds that Herman has disappeared and the dog has brought a strange looking bottle home.  Janet discovers that the bottle contains some very unusual properties, not the least of which includes curing Janet of her alcoholism and her suicidal tendencies—but those cures come at a high price.  The bottle itself is connected to the fabled River Styx but something new is happening and a new ferryman is needed.

An excellent and entertaining read, BOTTLED ABYSS mixes modern horror and ancient Greek mythology with a nod to THE SENTINEL by Jeffrey Konvitz.  The characters are well-developed as I could easily empathize with Janet and fully understand the motives behind her actions.  They are all flawed people.  The story itself is excellent, moving through a range of emotions and taking a bizarre but thrilling turn.  Etheridge had a hit with his first novel, BLACK AND ORANGE (Crossroads Press and Bad Moon Books) and in my opinion BOTTLED ABYSS has gone a step further.  It’s a fantastic story and one you should definitely seek out.

-Colleen Wanglund

MOTHMAN EMERGED by Gina Ranalli (2012 Coscom Entertainment / 143 pp / tp and eBook)

Although best known for her bizarro fiction, Ranalli is quickly becoming the Queen of the Insectoid Creature Features; okay, that's not really a title, but in the wake of her previous novel DARK SURGE and novella UNEARTHED, it's apparent she has a way with creepy crawlers, and although her latest, MOTHMAN EMERGED, is based on a legendary creature, it's still rich in bug-icky goodness.

This one wastes absolutely NO time getting down to business: the residents of a small Washington town (that's surrounded by forest)  begin to spot fast-moving, winged creatures, first running around their property and then flying all over the place. Over-sized cocoons are discovered in the woods and in people's attics and basements. And just when the small police department starts to get involved, an 'X-Files'-like FBI duo show up with a scientist to see what's happening.

The man-sized moth creatures seem to be made out of some kind of ash that causes people's hands to melt if they come into contact...and some who have been attacked are starting to transform. Conspiracy theories begin to spread...

MOTHMAN EMERGED is jam-packed with action, suspense, and reads like a cross between a 50s creature-feature and an 80s John Halkin novel (Google him). My only gripe is the story seems like it's just starting when it ends, so hopeflly we'll have another MOTHMAN adventure somewhere down the line.

Loads of creepy monster fun and a GREAT read for Halloween.

Smell Rating: 1

INK by Damien Walters Grintalis (to be released 12/4/12 by Samhain Publishing / 312 pp / tp and eBook)

INK, the book, is a gorgeous piece of work, with a rich and enticing cover. INK, the story on the inside, is also a gorgeous piece of work. 

And so’s the ink, the tattoo, that protagonist Jason gets the night his wife walks out on him. He’d always wanted one, but she disapproved, and Shelley’s word in their marriage was law. The tattoo is as much a rebellious retort as it is self-expression. 

The artist does an amazing job, at amazing speed, for an amazingly low rate. Almost before he realizes what he’s done, Jason walks out with a green-eyed golden griffin riding on his arm. So intricate, so detailed, so lifelike you’d almost believe it could fly right out of his skin.  

At first, Jason feels like he’s taken the first liberating steps into a new life. Everything that was forbidden and off-limits, all the way down to the books he liked to read, is available to him again. He finds a fresh confidence that lets him not only square some issues with his family but find a new love interest. Things are going great, and the griffin would seem to be a good luck charm. 

Except, of course, it isn’t. It’s much more than decorative body art. It, and the artist who put it there, are far from ordinary, and the ultimate price is going to be much higher than the bargain Jason thought he got on his tattoo. 

The negative reactions of children and pets are only the start. A gruesome souvenir here, a nightmare there, some disappearances … even when you might think you know where the story’s going, you’ll be in for some clever and nasty surprises. 

Debut novels should not be this good. Keep an eye on Damien Walters Grintalis. She’s starting off strong and probably headed right for the top!

-Christine Morgan

CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? DARK METAHUMAN FICTION edited by Lincoln Crisler (2012 Damnation Books / 216 pp / tp and eBook)

Ever wonder what would happen if you or someone you know developed superpowers in our reality?  Would they be good or evil?  Would they hide it or seek out the spotlight?  Would that power indeed corrupt?  CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? Is a collection of short stories posing those same questions, as well as others.

Among my favorite stories is “Mental Man” by William Todd Rose which follows a man who used his powers as a youth to commit petty crimes; he is now in therapy for stress and anxiety and is working toward the capture of a serial killer—but there is quite the twist.  Another favorite is “The Origin of Slashy” by Jeff Strand about a girl who is raped and while attempting suicide discovers she has healing abilities; now a damaged girl is set loose on an unsuspecting world.  “Max and Rose” by Andrew Bourelle is about how Max’s acquired powers eventually tear his relationship apart—and Rose wants him to know it.  

Other fantastic stories include “Hero” by Joe McKinney about a man who can predict the future by exactly 7 minutes and 22 seconds, but he is housed in a mental institution as a lunatic with a narcissistic doctor treating him; “Conviction” by Edward M. Erdelac about a young boy who walks around as a victim until a respected teacher tells him to believe in himself, with some bizarre consequences; “Retribution” by Tim Marquitz about a man seeking revenge for the loss of his family on 9/11 who is given a gift, of sorts, by the government; and many others.

As with any anthology there are usually a few misses within the hits.  “Static” by Jason Gehlert is a good story about a cop who seems to suddenly develop superpowers, but it felt incomplete.  “Fixed” by Trisha J. Wooldridge started off really good but in the end it didn’t impress me; it was a bit anticlimactic.  Finally “Pride” by Wayne Ligon was just an average story of metahumans being treated as second-class citizens.

Overall I do recommend CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? DARK METAHUMAN FICTION because the bulk of the stories are imaginative, well-written and Lincoln Crisler did an amazing editing job.  Most of the stories are pretty quick reads and very entertaining.  Characters and settings differ greatly and the stories are not necessarily your standard comic book fare.  CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? is definitely worth the read.

-Colleen Wanglund

ZOMBIES, WEREWOLVES, WHORES AND MORE! by Jerrod Balzer (2012 Skullvines Press / 205 pp / eBook)

This collection of mostly humorous horror stories features a lot of bonus material and other surprises...and at times things get very funny.

While I'm biased toward toward the first two stories (a novella and a short originally published by my own small press), I forgot just how funny 'Zombie Bastard' and especially 'Wolf Plugs' are. It's rare for comedic pieces to hold up to reepated readings, but these do and then some.

'More Than a Woman' is a hysterical tale about a bachelor party gone off the deep end after a hooker with Multiple Personality Disorder shows up. 'Bad Church' is a bit more serious but still brings some chuckles. 'No Returns' deals with a prostitute who unknowingly contracts a strange form of venereal disease from a customer who happens to be a zombie (Sweet Moses do I love Balzer's ideas!); arguably the funniest idea yet for an undead outbreak. 'Tom Sawyer's Lost Adventure' features Twain's classic crew battling ghoul-like creatures. It's a lot of fun but not as funny as what preceeds it.

Then we get to the bonus material: first up are the first seven chapters of Balzer's forthcoming novel FEAR THE WOODS, which is a re-vamped/updated version of his novel THE OAK CLAN. Having never read CLAN, this lengthy preview has me looking forward to the finished product. Then there's a couple more mini-previews in the second bonus, further taunting us readers.

The third bonus section (titled "Complete Silliness") begins with a riotous story of a young Antichrist facing off with a hippie (or is he?) in a fast food joint titled 'Armageddon in the Snappy Snack Shack.' Balzer then hits us with a really funny poem before launching into 'The Adventures of Sidney and Rodney,' a laugh-out-loud bizarro fantasy written while the author was on hallucinogenic mushrooms: and if he wasn't, he needs to be committed.

The collection concludes with over 40 pages of entertaining "Shroom Haiku," which range from goofy to weird to LOL to just plain head-scratchingly STRANGE.

ZOMBIES, WEREWOLVES, WHORES AND MORE! is a must read for horror fans who like the funny stuff, and the novel preview shows Balzer has some serious chops when he isn't tripping out.

EX-PATRIOTS (EX-HEROES BOOK 2) by Peter Clines (2011 Permuted Press / 312 pp / tp and eBook)

EX-PATRIOTS continues the story of the zombie apocalypse and the heroes who tried to help people survive.  It is two years since the end of world happened and we find a large number of survivors living in the Mount—a fortified section of Los Angeles protected by super humans St. George/Mighty Dragon, Stealth and Zzzap, along with Cerberus, a weapons platform designed for the military.  While out on a scouting and foraging mission, the group makes contact with a drone and sends a message back to what they hope is some help. 
Eventually representatives from the United States military show up from a base outside of Yuma.  Among the soldiers are a group of super soldiers created under Project Krypton.  When the heroes arrive at the military base in the desert, things begin to fall apart.  St. George and Stealth learn the truth about experiments being performed on ex-humans (zombies) and the corruption of certain people involved.

Let me start out by saying that I did not read book 1, although for me EX-PATRIOTS worked easily as a stand-alone story.  The characters are well-written although I felt St. George was a bit too goody-two-shoes (think Clark Kent/Superman back in the day).  The story was a good one, with some interesting twists on the basic zombie plot and the ending was not as predictable as I thought.  I recommend EX-PATRIOTS, but I’m going to follow my own advice and get my hands on the first book, EX-HEROES.

-Colleen Wanglund

BLOOD RELATED by William Cook (2012 Black Bed Sheet Books / 323 pp / tp and eBook)

Caleb and Charlie Cunningham are twin brothers who each inherited a serial killer pathology.  Their father was a suspected serial killer and their mother was insane, a drunk, and possibly an accomplice.  After Charlie goes to prison and their father commits suicide, the full truth of the Cunningham’s legacy begins to present itself and Caleb’s turns his bloody fantasies into reality.

BLOOD RELATED is told primarily from the point of view of Caleb in the form of journal entries given to a forensic psychiatrist who handled Charlie’s case.  There are also news stories and police reports to support Caleb’s claims about his family.  The story is graphic and the brothers are violent and relentless, although at times I found myself wanting to like Caleb.  The characters are well-developed and tremendously disturbed.  William Cook has written a frightening story that poses the question “is it nature or nurture that determines the birth of a serial killer?”  The only issue I had with the book was that at times I was confused as to the time line of events.  Other than that, I highly recommend BLOOD RELATED, unless you are a bit on the squeamish side.  I would definitely categorize the book as extreme horror.

-Colleen Wanglund

HOMESTEAD by James A. Moore  (to be released 11/12 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 84 pp / signed limited edition hardcover)

A small town in Texas with six unsolved missing children cases, one the best friend of Kathy who has begun drawing some disturbing pictures.  She has begun having quick flashes of some of the dead children as well as some bizarre memories from that time thirty years ago.  Why did she stop looking for her friend?  Kathy will eventually make a horrible discovery on her family’s farm that will unlock the truth about what happened to those six kids.

HOMESTEAD is a quick but frightening read about suppressed memories of the worst kind.  Kathy has her own young children and is distressed over her growing obsession with the disappearances.  Character development is succinct and to the point, leaving the reader empathizing with Kathy and understanding the ghosts that have come to haunt her.  Pick up this book and you won’t be sorry.

-Colleen Wanglund


It's hard to believe but we're STILL making our way through last spring's/early summer 's influx of review copies! We'll have a new batch for you for December, PLUS some upcoming titles. PLEASE see bottom of our main page for submission info.