Sunday, March 2, 2014

MARCH, 2014 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.)

(NOTE: Authors and/or publishers looking for submission info, please see the very bottom of this blog page. Thank you).
GLIMPSES: THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF RICK HAUTALA (2013 Dark Regions Press / 308 pp / tp & eBook)
These 24 stories are collected here to show off not only Hautala's classic horror, but his dabblings in other genres. While most of the offerings in this career-spanning tome are horror (and all previously published), there are several I had not read before.
Along my favorites are 'Colt .24,' a fresh spin on the deal-with-the-devil story, 'The Hum,' which I found to be one of the creepiest of the book, and 'Blossoms in the WInd,' which I consider an absolutely brilliant take on 9/11.
Like most collections there are a few tales here that just didn't grab me (especially 'A Good Day For Dragons,' a YA-type fantasy tale), and a few were a bit predictable. But Hautala's prose is always sharp, and his ghost stories get some serious chills going (see 'Black Iron' for a fine example).
While I'd still recommend BEDBUGS for those seeking some of Rick's finer short stories, GLIMPSES is a good introduction to the late author's work for those who may be unfamiliar with him.
-Nick Cato
DEATH MACHINES OF DEATH by Vince Kramer (2013 Eraserhead Press / 150 pp / tp)

I got this book when I was supposed to be doing other stuff, made the mistake of glancing inside just to see what I was getting myself into, and had to damn near physically force myself to stop reading. I almost needed an intervention.

Because, come on, anything that opens with an Author’s Note like you’ve never seen before, then launches into Stephen King getting his butt kicked by appliances in a tribute that far exceeds even the most hilarious moments of Maximum Overdrive …

Suffice to say, that sets the stage more than adequately. DEATH MACHINES OF DEATH is the sublime AND the ridiculous in one wild, funny, gory, nasty bundle of LOL. Literally LOL; I had to stop several times to share choice gems with the rest of the household. Which mostly earned me thunderstruck looks and probably them thinking that yes, I did need an intervention after all. One of my housemates was all, "you’re reading this, why?" and I could just reply, "because it’s awesome!"

And indeed it is. It’s written in a delightful tongue-in-cheek fashion, with Narrator interludes and Author interludes and arguments between the Narrator and the Author. The fourth wall doesn’t get broken so much as demolished. The continuity errors are on purpose and for fun, the characters are wacky, the language is often offensive (if "the r-word" bothers you, then you might be in for a bad time here) but very clever.

There’s even a plot – Earth passes through the tail of a comet, machines start killing people, and at the world’s biggest fanciest hotel and convention center, several events are going on with no idea of what’s about to hit them. When the events include a singles mixer for people with mono, a seniors anti-aging and rejuvenation seminar, and "How to Stop Being Retarded, Crippled, Insane, or Gay" (remember that warning above), the usual band of survivors fighting to escape the apocalyptic carnage is anything BUT your usual band of survivors.

Reading this book is not unlike being at a Chuck E Cheese birthday party of hyperactive, caffinated and sugared-up twelve year old boys all trying to tell you about their favorite video games and robot movie fight scenes at once.

So, just remember – you’re reading this, why? Because it’s AWESOME!

-Christine Morgan

HELL HATH NO FURY edited by T.W. Brown (2012 May December Publications / 274 pp / tp)

HELL HATH NO FURY is an amazing collection of zombie stories, all written by women.

Some of my favorite stories include "Pieces" by Rebecca Snow, a heartbreaking story about the dead coming back to deal with unfinished business, and one woman’s attempt to show her past lovers how they broke her heart; "Waking the Dead" by Chantal Boudreau, an effectively creepy story about coffee beans obtained on the black market from Haiti so a local coffee shop can compete with big chains moving in; "Sliding Into Second" by Elsa M. Carruthers, a distinctively scary tale about a sexually transmitted disease turning its victims into zombies; and "The Petitioners" by Rebecca Lloyd, a darkly funny yet cautionary story about zombies showing up at the offices of a greedy and oblivious governor with paperwork in hand to get their benefits.

The stories in HELL HATH NO FURY are off-beat and original, with a unique perspective from the female authors who penned them. The artwork and story intros are a nice touch. All of the stories are entertaining and if you’re a zombie fan, you will love them.

~Colleen Wanglund


NAMELESS: THE DARKNESS COMES by Mercedes M. Yardley (2014 Ragnarok Publications / 310 pp / tp & eBook)

Yardley's first installment in this planned trilogy centers around Luna, a woman who has had the ability to see demons since she was very young. She lives with her brother Seth and together they take care of Seth's daughter Lydia. In THE DARKNESS COMES, Lydia is kidnapped and Luna is on a mission to get her back. She's helped by a demon she calls 'Mouth' (although her stubborness often fights his aid) and her semi love-interest Reed Taylor, a former drug addict.

While I enjoyed the character of Luna (I sense some readers might find her sarcasm and hard-headness a bit tiring at times, although I didn't), I'm hoping in the next two books Yardley reveals a lot more on why Luna is able to see and communicate with demons (although a bit is given when talking about her late father). While Mouth provides a lot of the supernatural interaction here, there's several scenes of Luna doing her thing with other demons that work quite well. These demonic interactions make the novel a bit different from similar urban fantasy tales that I've read, where at times we're not completely sure if Luna is actually talking with the creatures or having some kind of hallucination or flashback: much of her background is kept in the dark, but again I'll just assume this is to bait the reader for the next two books.

NAMELESS moves quickly, and despite being a (mostly) easy read, Yardley throws in a brilliant scene dealing with a suicide attempt that gives this otherwise humorous tale a serious dark edge, and helps prep the reader for a gruesome finale. I'm anticipating the next chapter and am interested to see where the author takes Luna and her little crew of outcasts in this promising dark fantasy/horror-hybrid trilogy.

-Nick Cato


GROWING CONCERNS edited by Alex Hurst (2014 Chupa Cabra House / 180 pp / tp & eBook)

Ever have one of those days where it feels like Mother Nature is getting mighty tired of her bratty kids? Sit down, shut up, quit poking your sister, you better not take that tone with me, don’t make me turn this planet around … that kind of thing? The noise, the mess, some of those stains are never going to wash out!

And really, could you blame her? Mother Nature, the environment, the eco-system, Gaia, the biosphere, the delicate balance, the circle of life, whatever you want to call it … we humans haven’t exactly been on our best behavior these past few centuries. Sooner or later, we’re gonna be sorry, and we’re gonna pay.
The theme of this anthology is just that, ‘eco-horror,’ in which the natural world strikes back. But not with earthquakes and ice ages, viruses, or nuclear war; not with asteroids or aliens or animals run amok. The focus of GROWING CONCERNS is the green stuff, plant life.

Which may start off small, but before you know it … it has a way of spreading, and digging in, and being hard to eradicate.

My favorites of the bunch include "The Wisteria" by Donna A. Leahey (by the time you notice something’s getting out of control, be it the foliage or the marriage, it might be too late for a quick fix), James S. Dorr’s "Seeds" (an inept ‘brown thumb’ myself, I felt for the guy in this one), "Finding His Roots" by Barry Rosenberg (a fun little mad science romp with some surprises), and the odd and eerily haunting "Stalagmite Girl" by Jennifer Clark.
These eighteen tales offer selections as wild, lush and varied as a stroll through the farmer’s market. Whether you’re into delicate flowers or tenacious ground-cover, botanical tinkering taken to the next level or going back to primal forces with pagan sacrifices to the hungry earth, you’ll find it here.

-Christine Morgan


THINGS SLIP THROUGH by Kevin Lucia (2013 Crystal Lake Publishing / 324 pp / tp)

In the small Adirondack town of Clifton Heights, four friends have gathered for their weekly poker night. Chris, the town sheriff, has decided he’d rather have answers than play cards. There have been strange disappearances since Chris came to Clifton Heights a year ago, disappearances that he has been unable to solve. Gavin, a teacher and former writer, is the one who will give Chris the answers he seeks. Gavin hands over a journal with short stories he has written about the strange happenings, from the original shooting that brought the four friends together, to Gavin’s story of alcoholism and redemption, as well as what happened to those who seemingly disappeared into thin air. As Chris reads through the stories, he ends up with even more questions.

THINGS SLIP THROUGH is a short story collection brilliantly disguised as a novel. Kevin Lucia spins an entertaining tale that allows the individual stories to seamlessly coalesce into one story of a very weird and creepy little town and some of its odd residents. The characters are well-developed, and I really empathized with Chris and his unique situation. Lucia’s prose is dark, sharp, and inventive and kept me hooked—I read the book in two sittings. I, for one, hope to see some of these characters again, especially the villainous Dr. Jeffers and his disturbing hospital. I highly recommend it.

~Colleen Wanglund


WORMS IN THE NEEDLE by Jonathan Moon (2014 MorbidbookS / 170 pp / tp & eBook)

Reading and reviewing this one at the height of the Olympics, so, this one scores well for spirit, difficulty of routine (first person present tense, a risky maneuver) and costuming … but it does lose some serious points on some technical issues.

Intriguing premise, fun story, but MAJORLY needed another editorial / proofreading pass. Mostly wrong-word stuff that a spellchecker wouldn’t catch, but prevalent and jarring enough to make the rest difficult to fully appreciate or enjoy.

So, here’s the squirmy-wormy lowdown: the fall of civilization is kind of our own fault, because when a hitherto-unknown species of glowing invertebrate is discovered in some weird ancient underground temple, after a while the scientists are going to run out of sensible experiments and someone’s going to realize they’ve found the newest designer drug.

Before long, most of humanity’s hooked. Productivity goes out the window. Society disintegrates. Governments and familial bonds break down. And, as is often the case in these matters, eventually the demand becomes greater than the supply.

We join our (nameless? I can’t recall a name for him and couldn’t find one on further checking, but maybe I just missed it) protagonist and his girlfriend, crashing after their latest Worm-induced high.

Their quest to secure the next dose takes them out into the decaying cityscape, where they have to navigate all the usual urban hazards plus some new ones – cultists, cyborg militia, fellow desperate strung-out addicts, and what seems to be a mutant strain of Worm with some worse-than-usual side effects.

In what, during the course of the story, seems a quite natural and reasonable progression of events, a simple attempt to find a drug dealer turns into a crazypants running gunbattle through abandoned tenements, armed camps, and cult compounds.

Lots of action, some really nice use of colorful and vivid description, ambitious, and entertaining. But yeah. Little more attention to the edits would be great.

-Christine Morgan

SPLATTERPUNK (Issue 1 / April 2012)

Edited by Jack Bantry, SPLATTERPUNK is a horror fiction magazine that will see just its second issue out this spring. It’s a small magazine but it packs quite a punch.

The short stories include "Love at First Sting" by Dave Benton and DW Gagliani about a man who hires a hitman to kill his wife and it seems as though she may get her revenge with a little help from Mother Nature; "Confession" by Jeff Strand about a psychopath who confesses to a string of serial murders—maybe; "Twisted Reality" by Jack Bantry about a serial killer with a twisted agenda; and "Brats" by Tim Curran about the world being turned upside down at a suburban train station where children seem to have gone feral and animalistic. I felt all of the stories were fantastic.

Included within the pages is a column by Wayne Simmons called Punk on Punk as well as two huge interviews. Jack Bantry interviews Jack Ketchum about his project The Woman with Lucky McGee. Wayne Simmons did a joint interview with Andre Duza and Wrath James White about the meaning of Splatterpunk and their collaborative novella Son of a Bitch. There is also some fine artwork by Adam Hall and Dan Henk. I really like the idea of a small zine that focuses on such great talent and I do recommend you check it out.

You can pick up your copy at

~Colleen Wanglund


PUS JUNKIES by Shane McKenzie (2014 Eraserhead Press / 180 pp / tp & eBook)

I’d been kind of figuring it’d be Wrath James White and/or Monica O’Rourke who fully tested my limits. Then I read this book. Shane McKenzie blasted past my limits so fast the sign was torn off the post and left spinning in the burning tire tracks.

Basically, this may just be the ickiest book of all time. OF ALL TIME. Especially the first ¾ or so … after that, it either eased up or my psyche was so damaged I’d gone numb.

Ickiest book. The title alone should warn you of that. If the title doesn’t, a glimpse of the cover should. Then there’s the author’s reputation. Then there’s reviews like mine here. If, after all that, you read it and still have the nerve to be shocked, surprised or offended by the ooginess, on your own head be it.

The central character of this charming adolescent adventure is Kip, your typical teen loser with no social life and a horrible complexion. Really horrible. Zit City. All over. Whole-body acne. Huge, painful, oozing, volcanic acne.

So bad, in fact, that the other kids call him Toad. But, funny thing, you know how there’s those toads whose skin excretes drugs? Crazy-mad, addictive, probably poisonous drugs? And still, people go around LICKING them?

Guess what Kip’s classmates are about to discover. Guess who’s about to become the most popular guy in school? Guess who’s about to learn the hard way that getting what you always wished for is usually not all it’s cracked up to be?

Kip’s cousin Zack has some ideas about that. Zack’s got looks and charm and bad-boy cred, doesn’t have any problems attracting the ladies, but Zack knows a little about drugs, and addiction, and what happens when people start getting desperate for their fix.

What follows is probably way worse than even your most "oh it can’t be THAT bad" expectations. Because, yes it can. Yes it is. The … sensory descriptions … visual and tactile and otherwise …

Having a Proactiv commercial appear on the TV just as I was finishing didn’t help. Or, it did. There’s an endorsement deal waiting to happen!

-Christine Morgan


FRESH FEAR edited by William Cook (2013 James Ward Kirk Publishing / 366 pp / tp & eBook)

Once again, we’re at the portion of the show where I shamelessly review an anthology in which I have a story, so, bias alert, woop-woop-woop!

Okay. Well. Of course this is a fantastic bunch of stories, 28 of them and from names including Ramsey Campbell, Lincoln Crisler, Billie Sue Mosiman, W.H. Pugmire and J.F. Gonzalez, with an intro from THE ART OF DARKNESS by W.J. Renehan. I defy anybody to tell me you can go wrong with a lineup like that, let alone the rest of the goodies packed between the covers.

I confess that while I normally read anthologies from beginning to end, this time I cheated and jumped ahead to read Shane McKenzie’s first. I couldn’t resist, and I wasn’t let down. If you’re only familiar with him from his more over-the-top works, this one ("So Much Pain, So Much Death") might seem mild by comparison but goes right for the nerve clusters and does this eeeeevil pinchy-twisty thing.

Other particular personal top picks:

"Strange Tastes" by Lily Childs demonstrates how hard it can be to find and keep good help these days.

D.F. Noble’s "Psych" and Dane Hatchell’s "The ‘takers" offer two very different but altogether creepy peeks into similar (and, to me, familiar) settings.

"Out of the Light" by Anna Taborska brings it old-school in several senses of the phrase, while Charlee Jacob’s "Locked Inside The Buzzword Box" tackles a challenging experimental style with aplomp.

"Scare Me" by Brandon Ford is a terrifying but engrossing journey down a road some of us might have traveled a time or two ourselves.

And for insidious revenge stories, Thomas Erb’s "Spencer Weaver Gets Rebooted" and Lindsey Beth Goddard’s "The Tooth Collector" are both very darkly satisfying.

So, yeah … you might not find everything you’re afraid of within these pages … but you’re bound to find a few of your favorite fears … and quite possibly discover some new ones you didn’t even know you had, but sure do now!

-Christine Morgan


BITE CLUB by Hal Bodner (2005/2011 / 320 pp / tp & eBook)

If all "urban fantasy / paranormal romance" was like this, I would read it a LOT more. I mean, sure, I read Patty Briggs, I used to play Vampire: The Masquerade back in the day, I know the tropes (and, having been subjected to some of the Twilight franchise and its even worse derivatives, too much of the tripes).

THIS, this here in BITE CLUB, this is how it should be. This is a universe I’d love to game in. THIS is how ancient hidden societies of vampires and werewolves should function, in their oddball unique ways. And the ghouls? LOVE them!

Seriously. This is great stuff, right here. Funny, scary, exciting, hilarious, naughty, outrageous, the wicked wit of the west, and just all-around FAAAANGULOUS.

Vampires in West Hollywood.

What more, honestly, do I need to say?

Hot guys. Toned bods. Eye candy. Drag queens. Porn stars. Cattiness and bitchfights. Gyms. Clubs. Bath-houses. "Toy" shops. Fashion. History. And vampires. Gay vampires.

They don’t sparkle. Because, honey, they don’t NEED to.

There just are not enough words to express the magnificence of this.

Add a character I could identify with so strongly that I want to play her in the movie – the fat and forty-something city coroner, scalpel in one hand and unhealthy snack in the other … cutting up dead people on the job, BFFs with a brooding mystery man, and surrounded by gorgeous young studs? Where do I sign up?

When a series of bodies (hot, toned, eye candy bodies) start turning up mutilated and drained of blood, the coroner and other city officials have reason to be concerned. Especially with the Halloween party/parade coming up. They need to catch the killer. Which means finding the killer … who, of course, is no ordinary killer.

Neither the humans nor the vampires want the truth to get out about the monster in their midst, so some unlikely team-ups are required.
How weird is it that this is a vampire book I’d recommend to both my mom and my daughter? Yeah, okay, that does sound weird. But, if you knew my mom and my daughter …

I would, though. And to all my gay friends, my horror-fan friends, my … you know, I will recommend this to just about anybody. The people who’ll love it will love it as much as I do, and the people who’ll hate it, well, their heads will explode and good riddance.

BITE CLUB is, as of this reviewing, out of print, but about to be released in a new edition from Crossroads Press. Don’t miss it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the wolfy sequel’s calling to me like a full moon.

-Christine Morgan


FAMILY TRADITION by Edward Lee and John Pelan (2014 Necro Publications / 160 pp / hc, tp, & eBook)

I live in the Pacific Northwest, I love me some nasty-gross books, and we watch a lot of cooking and celebrity chef shows. FAMILY TRADITION, having all three, was therefore a can’t miss, and it more than lived up to expectations!

That said, I’ve lived in Seattle for more than twenty years now and have yet to hear any of the locals cutting loose with pure Ed Lee hillbilly jargon. But then, I also haven’t explored much of the more remote regions of the state … and no matter how beautiful the scenery, stories like this aren’t likely to encourage me.

Besides, eels. The picturesque lake of the setting here just teems with them, rare Crackjaw Eels that are a delicacy and eagerly sought-after by the spendiest restaurants. Fine. Good for them. Nothing like giant toothy ugly slimy EELS to make me want to go swimming or fishing or relaxing on a boat.

Eels. Yuck. Eels plus a pair of island-dwelling brothers – one of whom is into, shall we say, rather experimental haute cuisine. He can’t believe his luck when one of his television idols comes looking for those elusive eels, giving him a chance to fanboy and show off his skills.

The other brother is more prosaic, but no less freakish. And then there’s their grandfather, who has his own peculiar appetites. And deadly feuds between rival restauraneurs, and big-talking guys with dissatisfied girlfriends, and unfortunate hikers and would-be suicidal teens … it turns out to be a very busy weekend at the isolated lake!

The only problem with the book is some weird formatting, punctuation glitches that sneaked by. That is, unless you have problems with twisted sex, torture, cannibalism, and about every bodily function there is. If so, I shouldn’t have to warn you away.

Written with full freewheeling gusto and panache, Family Traditions enthusiastically starts off places nobody should ever want to go, and keeps right on going. Unforgettable. And likely to make you take a couple sidelong looks at your favorite cooking shows or pricey eateries.

-Christine Morgan