Friday, July 5, 2013

July, 2013 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)

WAITING FOR MR. COOL by Gerard Houarner (2013 Crossroads Press / 122 pp / eBook)

Houarner's Max the Assassin character returns in this novella that's chock-full of surprises and the expected gruesome violence. But we also see a side of Max we haven't in previous novels and short stories.

For those who may not know, Max is a super-assassin hired by the government to take on unusual and extreme cases. He also has a brutal demon living inside him who has an unstoppable blood lust, making Max a nearly indestructable killing machine when he lets the "beast" take over.

This time Max (along with his buddy Lee and two young neices who also happen to go on violent killing sprees--trust me, it works!) is sent in to break up a religious cult who have taken over a secret military compound. But Max is mistaken for another assassin, and as if this group of zealots aren't bad enough, there's also an underground group of pedophiles who have discovered the military compound houses a strange supernatural force, which they have managed to tap into to turn their young victims into soul-less killers.

For a novella, Houarner packs this one with epic levels of action, fighting, and splatter that will test even the most jaded of gorehounds. Yet on top of all the fun, what makes this story (and the entire series) work is the author's ability to make us care for both Max and the twisted demon that lives inside him. We hate ourselves for liking him/them, but like other classic anti-heroes, we just can't help it. Max fans will love this one to death.

You can start here if you've never read a Max tale before, but it hits harder if you've read some of his past stories (a great place to start is in Houarner's fantastic collection, A BLOOD OF KILLERS, which features several Max tales).

STRANGERS by Michaelbrent Collings (2013 Amazon Digital / 372 pp / eBook)

Who do you know? Who can you trust? How many of your ‘friends’ have you never met face to face? What about your neighbors, do you know them by name? What about your own family? Your nearest and dearest? Do you know them? Do you? Really?

We live in a world simultaneously both more connected and more isolated than ever before, and that’s the theme getting driven painfully home in the latest chilling thriller by the always-awesome Michaelbrent Collings (dude, seriously, you’re having spinal surgery in the middle of all this and you still write this well? unfair!)

STRANGERS is the story of Jerry Hughes, an ordinary upper-middle-class citizen, a doctor, a productive member of society, who’s living the American Dream with the nice house and wife and kids and dog and all the mod-cons anybody could wish for.

But, sometimes, the American Dream is a fa├žade with pain underneath. Since the death of one of their children, the Hughes family have drifted further and further apart, just going through the motions. Relationships are strained. There’s excessive drinking, coldness, distance, arguments.

The only neighbor Jerry knows even by first name is Ted, the guy next door who complains about the kids’ music. The only regular visitor is Rosa, the cleaning lady. Privacy fences and security gates keep the rest of the world out, and that seems just the way they like it.

Until, after a night of forced dinner-and-TV family time, the Hugheses wake up to find that they can’t get out of their so-safe and so-private house. All the exits are blocked. All the communications gadgets on which we so rely these days have been sabotaged. The house is under someone else’s control, someone who is watching them and toying with them in a series of evil games.

If they hope to survive and escape, they’ll have to open up to each other, trust each other, reveal their darkest and innermost secrets. They’ll have to confront the truth, no matter how shocking and painful, no matter how much it might ruin everything they’ve ever cared about.

STRANGERS is another white-knuckled journey that demands to be read in one sitting. It’s all too plausible, and almost guaranteed to make you take some uneasy, paranoid looks at your live and the lives of those around you. Top-notch creepy, a win all the way!

-Christine Morgan

WORM by Tim Curran (2013 Dark Fuse / Kindle eBook)

In the town of Camberly, a black muck has begun to flood the streets and back up through the plumbing of the homes of its residents. As the stinking muck rises, the residents soon learn what is hiding in the black mess—giant worms and they are hungry. A handful of survivors on Pine Street make it to the old brick farmhouse of Marv O’Connor where they try to hold off the seething hoard with guns and bleach, but can they survive until morning?
WORM takes place over the course of one day in the lives of the unsuspecting residents of Camberly. It is hinted that the cause of the worm invasion is decades of all human waste—both manmade and organic. We see some of the residents in their final moments as they are devoured by the mutated creatures and cheer for the survivors as they discover how the worms can be defeated before it’s too late. Tim Curran has once again managed to make my skin crawl with this well-written and fast-paced novella. The action begins on page one and doesn’t let up until the final sentence. There is a reason Tim Curran is one of my favorite writers.
-Colleen Wanglund

REDEMPTION OF THE DEAD by A.P. Fuchs (2012 Cosco, Entertainment / 205 pp / tp & eBook)

The third installment in Fuchs' 'Undead World Trilogy' pits a group of survivors in Winnipeg against flesh-hungry zombies (some which are giants) while scrambling for shelter in the wake of the destruction of a safety bunker. The action comes fast and gory and a romantic side-plot isn't even able to slow things down.

What makes this one a bit different from the other zillion zombie novels out there is the origin of the undead: we discover an army of Satan's demons have found a portal to earth in which they create a storm that turns people into the living dead (make that the possessed living dead). The trilogy ends with a take on armageddon and the eternal struggle between angels and demons.

Despite some Hollywood-ish scenes dealing with Satan and hell, Fuchs makes it work in this fun combo of the LEFT BEHIND novels and any gut-ripping zombie film, complete with some heavy fire-power (both physical and spiritual) and lots of thoughts on the afterlife. A fine way to cap off the series.

PAGES TORN FROM A TRAVEL JOURNAL by Ed Lee (2013 Deadite Press / 98 pp / limited edition hc & tp)

Said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but it just can’t be said often enough … Ed Lee is a freakin’ genius. One of the most brilliant and erudite writers out there.

"But, grindhouse hillbilly torture porn," you might point out. "But, twisted unholy demonic perversity."

Yes, well, yes, okay, there’s that. However, it’s hardly just ANY grindhouse hillbilly torture porn and/or twisted unholy demonic perversity. Lee has a style, a wit, a vocabulary, and a way with characters and words, that takes his work far beyond that.

His Lovecraftian stuff, for instance. Maintaining the language and feel of the genre while adding to it such elements that about melt the brain.

Now, consider … Lovecraftian terms like ‘squamous’ and ‘cthonian’ and all those dense ten-dollar words, the stuffy and lofty style, the New Englandish puritanism.

And consider the rural backwoods, populated with good ol’ boys and Creekers and memorable Lee-isms along the lines of: "Yee-haw, I’se’re’gonna HUMP that HAID!!!"

Combine them. No, really. Combine them.

PAGES TORN FROM A TRAVEL JOURNAL is the result. In which a certain author, whilst on vacation, keeps a diary while facing an unscheduled stopover … deep in the heart of classic Lee country.

Welcome to Luntville, Mr. Lovecraft. Hope you enjoy your visit. Maybe drop by the carnival, where rumor has it a fellow can get more than just a look at the sideshow attractions. Maybe enjoy the local scenery, and partake of some quaint local customs. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people, that’s for sure. Probably get some ideas for new stories … if you get out.

Oh, Howie, Howie, Howie … you should have just stayed on the broken-down bus until the mechanic got there.

This one, packed full of easter eggs and references as it is, may not be the best recommendation for a new-to-Lee reader. But, to the veterans, it is page after page of cackling fanservice goodness in all its descriptive – oh, so very very descriptive – glory.

-Christine Morgan


OAK HOLLOW by Kristopher Rufty (to be released 8/6/13 by Samhain Publishing / 289 pp / tp & eBook)

Seventeen-year-old Tracey Parks has just discovered she’s pregnant and her boyfriend Brace has blown her off and left her on her own. Not long after, Tracey’s mother is brutally murdered and Tracey must now face an unsure future without her mom. Tracey’s dad has stepped into the role as sole parent, even though they haven’t had the closest relationship. Tracey’s grandmother Pamela has also shown up—a woman Tracey has never really met as her mother and Pamela had a very strained relationship. Pamela and her lawyer have informed Tracey and her dad that according to a document signed by Tracey’s mother years ago, Pamela is now Tracey’s legal guardian until her eighteenth birthday. The funeral is held in the weird little town of Oak Hollow and dad vows to do what he can to bring Tracey home to him.

Tracey meets some of the residents of her mother’s home town, including the sheriff, Harry, and Nick, a seemingly nice but quirky young man who shows a quick interest in Tracey. In his quest to bring Tracey home, dad discovers some unsettling things about Oak Hollow and its residents, including a demon-worshipping cult who need Tracey’s baby to reverse a curse placed on them all some years before. Dad and boyfriend Brace, who has had a change of heart, race to Oak Hollow to save Tracey, but can they make it in time?

OAK HOLLOW is a pretty good story with some very frightening aspects and some suitably bloody scenes.  While demon worship is a common trope in horror, Rufty adds an interesting twist to his novel, although I thought the execution was a bit lacking.  My biggest problem centered on Tracey.  It is stressed repeatedly that she is underage, yet there were sex scenes that focused on her, as well as descriptions of fantasies about her by clearly older men and I found them inappropriate.  I also felt that the interactions between Tracey and Nick were unrealistic for a couple of teenagers.

For the most part, character development was good, although I felt Tracey was portrayed as dumb, not realizing there was something wrong until it was too late when there were plenty of red flags for her to spot. Nick’s odd behavior alone should have tipped Tracey off, as well as the behavior of Pamela and some of the other residents. I felt it a bit misogynistic in the overall portrayal of Tracey—she could have been a strong heroine. There is one character—Detective Stiltson—who is, in my opinion, unfinished.  There doesn’t seem to be too much involvement of the investigation into mom’s murder and when dad goes to Stiltson for help, he explains that he is involved in another case and can’t spare the time.  Why have dad go to him at all?  It felt like a very big loose end.

The end was violent and dramatic, with plenty of gore and carnage and I appreciated that.  OAK HOLLOW is a quick read and its pacing is good, but I was disappointed with the book and its cohesion.  If you like demon worship then this is an average story that you might enjoy.
-Colleen Wanglund


THE LAST WHISPER IN THE DARK by Tom Piccirilli (to be released 7/13 by Bantam Books / 336 pp / hc & eBook)

In this sequel to THE LAST KIND WORDS, Terry Rand is back trying to find out why his ex-girl's man, Chub, became involved with a botched bank heist that left a few ex-cops dead. As he dives into the Long Island underworld, Terry dukes it out with thugs both old and new, deals with mob bosses and learns of a barbaric hitman whose weapon of choice is a long hyperdermic needle.

On top of his headaches is his sister Dale, who has become part of a hit Internet show that involves illegal activity. Terry tries to set her up with some real acting gigs in Hollywood but his thieving lifestyle and criminal aquaintances keep getting in the way.

We're also given a deeper look at the Rand family, and Piccirilli offers some surprises, especially by way of Terry's mother. There's plenty of slick dialogue, fight scenes, and all the grim happenings the author's fans have come to expect, wrapped around prose that's to die for.

"I wasn't here to make money. I didn't like making money. If I couldn't steal it I didn't want it." These thoughts from Terry Rand epitomize the cool tone of Piccirilli's latest modern noir thriller that will surely have readers thirsting for the third installment.


SAVAGE SPECIES by Jonathan Janz (to be released 9/3/13 by Samhain Publishing / 320 pp / tp & eBook)

It’s the grand opening weekend of a new state park. Everything’s going to be perfect. Campers, RVers, park rangers, partying students, and reporters are all on hand to enjoy the natural beauty, splendor and serenity that is Peaceful Valley.

Or they could be eaten by monsters. In a total messy screaming bloodbath. Which, you must admit, makes for a much more exciting tale than just a relaxing vacation in the woods.

See, something else called Peaceful Valley home before the developers moved in. Something that had lived there a long time, and feasted on previous settlers before being trapped underground. But, nobody pays attention to old legends, or listens, or believes. Not until it’s too late. Now, thanks to the work on the new park, they’ve been released.

Of course, they’re hungry … and not for hot dogs, beer, and s’mores.

One storyline follows Jesse, a journalist supposedly there to cover the event for a newspaper but mainly there to ogle and lust after his colleague, Emma. They get a few interviews in with the park manager, some of the campers, and a pervy old local, then settle in to party with the college kids.

The other storyline follows Charly, a young mother with a no-good bastard of a husband, a crush on the guy who built their house, and the horror of seeing her baby snatched out of his crib by something right out of a nightmare.

The two storylines intersect when Jesse and a handful of survivors of the campground massacre, and a rescue party helping Charly look for her baby, both end up in the subterranean lair of the creatures.

The descriptions of the action and carnage are gloriously gory, but the characters themselves are mostly irritating and their interactions often don’t make a lot of sense or ring very true. I found myself disliking pretty much all of them and wishing they’d hurry up and get slaughtered.

So, if you’re going to read this one, read it for the right reasons – dismemberments, eviscerations, decapitations, over-the-top violence and a body count well into the triple digits. Sometimes, that’s enough.

-Christine Morgan

SHIVERS VII edited by Richard Chizmar (2013 Cemetery Dance Publications / 410 pp / tp)

This latest anthology from the people at Cemetery Dance includes some very eerie short fiction from some of today’s top horror writers.

Some of my favorites include "Beholder" by Graham Masterton about a young girl believes she is very beautiful until she sees herself in the mirror and then decides how to get her beauty back from the beholders; "Zombie Dreams" by Tim Waggoner which speculates on the dreams of zombies; "The Departed" by Clive Barker, a heartbreaking story about the ghosts left behind in death; "Feel the Nosie" by Lisa Morton about soldiers whose senses are scrambled due to a strange weapon; "Echoes" by Don D’Ammassa about a man’s echoes of himself getting revenge; "Plant Life" by Greg F. Gifune about something growing in a couple’s garden—it’s reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); "Depth" by Rio Youers about a mysterious painting and its implications on a man’s life; and "Bovine" by Joel Arnold about an abusive husband whose wife dies and the body is protected by her herd of cows—this was truly disturbing to me because of those cows.

Other great stories include "Weeds" by Stephen King, the story featured in the film Creepshow (1982) about a weird alien invasion in the form of a meteor; "GPS" by Rick Hautala about a man headed to Florida being haunted by the GPS unit in his car; "The Baby Store" by Ed Gorman, a disturbing story about designer babies; "The Storybook Forest" by Norman Prentiss about what happens to some boys who break into an abandoned amusement park; and "Born Dead" by Lisa Tuttle about a baby born dead but continues to grow as though alive.

All of the stories are well-written and entertaining, although I was a little confused by "Sleeping with the Bower Birds" by Kaaron Warren and "As She Lay There Dying" by Brian James Freeman. Aside from that, SHIVERS VII should be added to any horror fan’s collection.

-Colleen Wanglund

POISONING EROS by Monica J. O’Rourke and Wrath James White (2013 Deadite Press / 232 pp / tp)

Do not be fooled or lulled into a false sense of security by the classy, literary-sounding title of this book.

There is not enough brain-bleach in the world. Not in the world. Not in the whole solar system, even if Jupiter and all the other gas giants were composed entirely of brain-bleach. The first few pages alone … NOTHING WILL ERADICATE THE IMPACT!!!


You know that episode of SOUTH PARK where the boys write the book that makes everyone who reads it barf their guts out? Yeah. No. POISONING EROS would make that book look like HOP ON POP.

If you can get through those first few pages, you might naively think it can’t get any worse. Or that you’ll go numb, be desensitized. Good luck with that.

This is the story of Gloria, former porn-star legend fallen on hard times. Age and addiction have taken their toll, until she’s reduced to doing, shall we say, nature documentaries. If a phrase like ‘dog and donkey show’ disturbs you, then, well, it’s probably already too late. Sorry.

After barnyard adventures, it’s not that much of a step down for Gloria to accept some even weirder jobs. Jobs of the paranormal activity type, for instance. Like ghost and possession porn, or giant demonic worms.

But Vlad, the charming fellow arranging these gigs for her, has something else in mind for Gloria. Something that will result in her ending up quite literally in Hell … and, honestly, for me at least, it was a relief.

Why that should be, I don’t know. The atrocities went on, amped to diabolical and otherwise physically impossible levels of degredation and mutilation; maybe that was part of it, the sheer impossibility and unreality. Or maybe too much of me had died inside by then.

Read it if you dare. You won’t be disappointed. You’ll be many, many other things, you might need therapy and/or self-medication later, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a bucket standing by, but you won’t be disappointed.

-Christine Morgan


NOTE: There were no "smell reviews" this month as everything reviewed by Nick was digital!

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