Monday, October 13, 2014

Reviews for the Week of October 13, 2014

(Note: Please see bottom of main page for submission info)

HALFWAY HOUSE by Weston Ochse (2014 JournalStone / 292 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

The residential treatment facility where I work is often referred to as a halfway house, so, I went into this book with not a little trepidation. It gets weird and creepy enough there anyway, thanks; what, I wondered, would the Weston Ochse treatment add to it?

To my surprise (and indeed relief; I do night shifts by myself), what I found in this Halfway House was quite different to say the least … in all sorts of strange but cool ways. The actual halfway house is there, is mentioned as a neighborhood fixture, but more in the background than center stage at first.

Center stage, you see, is taken up by what feels like the wildest, quirkiest Saint's Row expansion yet. With gang wars. And surfers. And an orphan's quest for validation of his lineage by way of a stolen piece of Elvis memorabilia. And a witch-curse trapping the souls of the dead. And the upside-down footprints of invading WWII soldiers.

In lesser hands, that combination could turn to total confusing mush. But, here, it all fits together, it all makes sense no matter how incongruous some scenes seem at first. The cast of flawed characters are sympathetic even when not particularly likable. The little touches – like the Paper Dogs – carry powerful impact.

Some plot twists and shocking developments left me reeling, saying, “hey, no, wait, what, that didn't just happen!” and going back to make sure I'd read it right (I had, and no amount of re-reading was going to change the harsh reality).

The story extends far beyond the surface, deftly layered to leave the reader with the sense of having gained a whole lot of depth and history without realizing it. Entire ranges of emotional experiences and relationships are well-presented here: family, nobility, loss, redemption, tragedy, the desire to belong.

This book will make you think. It'll make you feel. And you might not even notice right away, because you'll be too busy being entertained.

-Christine Morgan


WHERE ALL LIGHT TENDS TO GO by David Joy (to be released 3/15 by Putnam / 272 pp / hardcover & eBook)

Perhaps not strictly horror, but horrifying to be sure, a realistic and gritty tale of hopelessness, struggle, betrayal, misery and despair … with nary a whiff of the paranormal, just the all-too-normal human condition … yeah, I think it qualifies!

Jacob McNeely is only eighteen but he's already about given up on life. His father is a hill country drug lord, his mother's addicted to the worst of what the operation produces, he's dropped out of school while the only girl he's ever loved is getting ready to chase her college dreams, and he doesn't see any sort of future for himself.

Then things get worse. A fight here, a run-in with the law there, and soon Jacob's being dragged deeper and deeper into the mire and mess that is his father's business. Too deep. Deep, as in deadly-deep, when he's sent to help the Cabe brothers deal with a certain problem client, but things get out of hand.

The title is Where All Light Tends to Go, and that's also where the book goes: into darkness, and nothingness, entropy, and death. Not too shabby for a first novel (though in this case, first novel does not equal novice writer; the author has quite a list of other credits).

Powerful stuff. A difficult read, emotionally taxing. Real-world (TOO real) horrific, the kind of thing that makes a person crave a nice monster movie or zombie book as an escape.

This is some bleak, grim storytelling here. There's none of the good-ol-boy Dukes of Hazzard comedy, none of the brooding V.C. Andrews gothic, no rustic but beautiful Appalachian romance. It's hardship, it's dirt, it's anger and spite, crooked county cops, murder, revenge, and the poison kind of hate that can only build up and boil over.

I can't say I exactly enjoyed it, because it isn't quite that sort of book. But I was certainly hooked by it, and pulled through the emotional wringer.

Look for Where All Light Tends to Go in March of 2015. A film adaptation close on its heels would not surprise me, though, like with THE ROAD, it would not be the feel-good movie of the year.

-Christine Morgan

HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD II edited by Eric Miller (2014 Big Time Books / 374 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

“Twenty-two more tales of Tinseltown terror,” promises the tagline, and it does not disappoint. True, not ALL of the tales are about movies and the silver screen, but most of them are, and even those that aren't are still about the dream-chasing and star-making, the magic and mystery, the glittery facade and the sometimes darker truths behind it.

My personal favorites of the bunch include:

“Culling the Herd,” by Eric Miller, takes many a loving jab at horror fans, the zombie genre, and well-meaning activists who should know better.

Heather E. Ash's “Method” delves into the dubious world of child casting, and how to walk the fine line between encouragement and exploitation.

In “Hot Tub,” the ever-entertaining Hal Bodner serves up a steamy endless feast of eager young hardbodies to whet the sinister appetites of a spirit nothing like I Dream of Jeannie.

“Mexican Clown Hands” by R. B. Payne is set contemporary but has an older feel, a gritty sepia-toned noir feel, resulting in a creepy and effective whodunit.

The archetypal sleazy director gets taken to new lows in “The Devil's Friends” by Ron Zwang, when a guy can't even sell his soul to get ahead in this town.

Daniel P. Coughlin's “From Script to Scream” will resonate with the writers who yearn to see their creations made real (and show all those doubters, ha!).

“Buried!” by Kelly Kurtzhals is all about desperation and the lengths some fading stars will go to in hopes of regaining some fame and fortune.

Eric J. Guignard's “Dreams of a Little Suicide” ends the book on a poignant kind of downer set against the grand backdrop of the making of a legendary classic.

As usual, I have to make myself stop listing favorites or I might as well just hand over the entire table of contents.

It's twenty-two very diverse tales, twenty-two different takes on various elements ranging from script-writing to special effects, from old-school stage plays to the latest in 'reality' television.

Some are funny, some are scary, some are disturbing, some are sad. All are memorable, lingering in the mind like the evocative and unique aroma of movie-theater popcorn. So, settle into your seat and let's start the show.

-Christine Morgan

THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW will return in November, 2014...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Reviews for the Week of October 6, 2014

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. Thank you.

HELL'S WAITING ROOM by C.V.Hunt (2014 Grindhouse Press / 122 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Greg and his wife (who goes by many names) find themselves without power in their home. Greg,a semi-conspiracy theorist, has been expecting something like this so isn't as worried as his wife. He knows they can live off the food in their garden, and cold showers don't bother him.

But when Greg becomes ill and needs medicine, his wife ventures to a neighbor's house and they make Greg a home remedy. The neighbors are a strange bunch, and no one knows if the power outage is a local thing or a larger problem.

As Greg's health worsens, his wife (whose viewpoint the story is told through) becomes more paranoid and Hunt reveals her true nature through several clever and surreal situations.

HELL'S WAITING ROOM is a nifty take on the end times, conspiracies, and mental health. It's a quick read, full of darkly comic situations and enough weirdness to satisfy anyone looking for an off-the-grid tale.

-Nick Cato

PANDEMONIUM by Warren Fahy (2013 Tor / 320 pp / hardcover, mass market paperback, & eBook)

You know the little joke going around about wanting to take this relationship to the next level, it’s an underwater level, (bleep) I hate those? Except for the hating it part, and if we mostly substitute ‘underground’ for ‘underwater,’ that fits this book. A direct sequel to FRAGMENT, it takes the experience to whole new levels! 

The tricky part for me, the reviewer, here … describing the second book without doing too much in the way of spoilers for the first. Go read it, or at least read my review. I’ll wait. 

Done? All rightie, moving on! We rejoin some of the survivors of the ill-fated explorations of Henders Island (but I won’t name names!) after the spectacular revelations at the end (which I won’t tell you here, neener-neener!). 

They’ve been invited to visit another hidden, separate, almost alien ecosystem on Earth … this one not in the middle of the ocean but half a world away, in a network of incredible caves deep below Russia. It’s more extremophile species to discover, more breathtaking natural wonders and terrors! 

Aaaaaaand it’s run by a megapowerful maniac who would make an excellent Bond villain. Once our protagonists have taken him up on his offer, they find out that leaving the subterranean cave-city complex may be a little harder than they anticipated. 

It is impressive, though. It’s also got a history of enforced labor worked to death, paranoia, revenge, ghosts, and other weirdness. Plus, windows into a vast underground sea where yet more strange bioluminescent life forms cruise through the silent dark. 

Obviously, things have got to go horribly wrong, and they sure do. Not the least of which is when organisms from Henders Island somehow get loose in the caves … and when a conspiracy unfolds to try and take out some of the more noteworthy survivors because of the threats they might represent to humanity. 

I can’t tell you more without giving too much away but it’s thrilling adventure, wild good fun, some squee-worthy moments, and a few bits of shocked “Oh-you-did-NOT-just-DO-that!” 

Get them both. Read them both. Then you’ll see why when I say ALL the thumbs-up, it’s a LOT of thumbs!

-Christine Morgan

BLACK HEART METAL MONSTER by Michael Faun (2014 Dynatox Ministries / 76 pp / limited edition trade paperback)

What does Black Metal and limited edition chapbooks from Dynatox Ministries have in common?  Well, the answer is quite simple. Absolutely nothing. But that’s not entirely true anymore. Not with a copy of Michael Faun’s Black Heart Metal Monster sitting gently in the palm of my hand.

The book description reads, “Black metal meets horror in this novella by Swedish Cult Author, Michael Faun. What inhumane acts cause an unblemished heart to grow black and putrid? How does Satan's influence manifest itself, when invoked where the Christian illusion has cracked? One Band, One House, One Heart Horror Fiction for Black Metal fans.”

But this doesn’t do the book enough justice. As I followed along a gripping tale about some dudes in a Black Metal band, I became aware of something.  One thing. And that is this; Michael Faun is an absolute beast of a writer. The guy eats, sleeps, and dreams visions only some of us wish we had (and the numbers are few and far between). But, not only does he do this, he writes with a heart of gold, expressing as much concern for the reader as necessary, and really knows how to craft a golden tale. He takes the reader on an epic journey alongside the band. Some real class acts by the name of Throatbutcher, Ateranimus, Skinreaper, and Nex. Faun manages to spin a tale as beautiful as it is unsettling, as black as it is metal, page after page. A couple things to expect in this novella would be, flailing guitars, DOOM, serpents, blood and guts, heart, and a soul blacker than perhaps the Devil himself, while snorting a pentagram into one of his nostrils.

If you’re looking for something to read with a literary value that pays refuge to Black Metal music, Darkness, or Satan himself, BLACK HEART METAL MONSTER hits just as hard as Joel Lane’s classic rock and roll/grunge debut BLACK AND BLUE. This dark little gem right here is your jam, especially if you’re in a band.

-Jon R. Meyers

HELL COMES TO HOLLYWOOD II edited by Eric Miller (2014 Big Time Books / 362 pp / trade paperback)

I missed the first volume of this tinsel town-themed anthology, but apparently it did well enough that a second helping of 22 (mostly) new stories was in order. Edited by Eric Miller (whose screenplays include ICE SPIDERS and DOG SOLDIERS II), most of the contributors here are screenwriters, but a few names will be familiar to horror fiction fans.

Among my favorites are 'The Crimson Marquee,' about a woman who finds her destiny at an old Hollywood revival theater (written by Anthony C. Ferrante, director of the infamous SHARKNADO films: he wields his pen much better than his camera). In Lisa Morton's slick 'She Devil a Go-Go,' a director with a secret meets his match, and in 'The Voice Coach Cometh,' an actress meets a strict voice coach and her failed students in one of the creepier stories of the lot.

In 'Buried!" a washed up actor gets another chance on a crazy new reality show. If you're claustrophobic stay far away from this, but man is it good. 'The Devil's Friends' is a hilarious comedic horror tale about a b-movie director making a deal with Satan to become one of the greats, while in Hal Bodner's 'Hot Tub' a malevolent entity turns a handsome guy into a star. It's another darkly comic yarn and one of the strongest of the book.

'Welcome to the Jungle' features an actress taking a job on a cheap horror film and discovering why the film's monster looks so authentic, and 'The Scottish Play' follows a couple as they open a haunted theater. It's one of several ghost stories here and also one of the best. Editor Eric Miller strikes with 'Culling the Herd,' where the owner and protege of a zombie ranch confront a creature-rights activist. It's quite funny and just plain fun.

The book ends with 'Dreams of a Little Suicide,' which any fan of THE WIZARD OF OZ will drool over. A midget from Wisconsin goes to Hollywood in 1939 to be a munchkin in the film. He falls in love but things don't work out the way he wished. Written by Eric J. Guignard, it's easily the one tale here you won't soon forget.

I found the majority of the other tales to be so-so and predictable (one titled 'Careful What You Wish For' doesn't even follow the book's theme), but the tales mentioned above are well worth your time. Good stuff, especially those featuring a comedic angle.

-Nick Cato