Monday, December 15, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 15, 2014

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

JAZZ AGE CTHULHU by Jennifer Brozek, A.D. Cahill,  and Orrin Grey (2015 Innsmouth Free Press / 109 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The intro to this snazzy little number mentions the odd comparative rarity of the novella these days, which is a shame because some things should never go out of style. Books like this give good reasons why, three good reasons from three fine writers.

“Dreams of a Thousand Young” by Jennifer Brozek kicks it off strong, as a very proper British heiress living abroad in Assam wakes to find a strange man in her room. Dead. Bloody. And herself naked, with suspicious bruises but no memory of the preceding events. What follows is a delicate balancing act of trying to preserve her reputation while uncovering the truth. As the mystery unravels, she finds herself drawn into a conspiracy of cults, sex, murder and dark magic.

Next up is Orrin Grey’s “The Lesser Keys,” shifting the scene to a hoppin’ and happenin’ roadhouse outside of Kansas City. A Chicago club owner has sent an envoy to try and recruit the band, but the envoy suspects it’s going to be a lot more challenging than just making the better monetary offer. Meanwhile, a young lady searching for her missing brother finds the trail leads to the same roadhouse, and that whatever weirdness is going on there is about to hit its peak.

“Pomptina Sum” by A.D. Cahill wraps things up with a trip to Italy, as a grifter assumes a new identity to try his luck finding patrons among the wealthy of a quaint little island. He soon discovers that he not only has competition, but that the island and its inhabitants are not at all what they seem. Forget maintaining his cover; he’ll be lucky to escape with his life … not to mention his sanity and soul.

All three are gripping, well-done reads. Besides, I enjoy themed anthologies, I enjoy Lovecraftian tales, and I enjoy the era in question … that’s three MORE reasons. If that’s not enough, well then, I don’t know what else to tell ya.

-Christine Morgan

GHOST CHANT by Gina Ranalli (2014 Grindhouse Press / 90  pp / trade paperback)

Despite having a new boyfriend, Cherie Drew is still mourning the death of her husband. She's also having issues with a little girl named Maggie who lives across the street. It seems Maggie likes to play in her yard and doesn't respond when Cherie tries to talk to her. One night while alone in the house, Cherie even finds Maggie hanging out in her basement, and events begin to snowball that Cherie could've never forseen.

A spooky study of a woman dealing with grief and inner demons, of dark family secrets and paranoia, GHOST CHANT is a quick, intense, and satisfying journey into human darkness that I consumed in one sitting.

-Nick Cato

CRIPPLE WOLF by Jeff Burk (2011 Eraserhead Press / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A bit late to the party on this one, as I piceked it up at the most recent BizarroCon in my ongoing effort to complete my library. An impossible goal, perhaps, but a worthy one I’m enjoying for its own sake. Jeff Burk’s energy and enthusiasm comes across in everything he does, so his writing is no different.

This collection of tales is just fun throughout, swirling weirdness and horror and humor into unexpected (and sometimes inappropriate, even better!) combinations.

For instance, cherished holiday cartoon/carol memories will be forever tarnished by “Frosty and the Full Monty,” in which a certain happy jolly soul ends up down on his luck and having to resort to desperate measures. Pure as the driven snow? Not so much, anymore.

Or witness the title story, which seems simultaneously shocking in its political incorrect offensiveness, but also … well … a good point really, something to think about … what WOULD happen if a paraplegic contracted lycanthropy? On a transoceanic red-eye flight during the full moon? With a planeful of fetishists, kinksters and punks?

I particularly got a kick out of “Cook For Your Life,” a dystopian futuristic take on cooking competition shows. It’s Iron Chef meets Battle Royale, with some clowns and robots and gorillas thrown in. Chefs aren’t just in it for prize money and bragging rights; grim fates await those who get eliminated each round! And as entertaining as the story itself is, you will NOT want to miss the commercial breaks!

The others in this book include the disturbing “House of Cats” (of all the things to choose as construction materials!), the funny-as-hell but also strangely touching “Punk Rock Nursing Home” (it could happen!), “Just Another Day in the Park” for a bit of surreal philosophizing, and “Adrift With Space Badgers” for (what else?) maddened and destructive badgers in space!

-Christine Morgan


Monday, December 8, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 8, 2014

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

SINNERS CIRCLE by Karina Sims (2014 Dark Hall Press  / 147 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

With the holidays just around the corner you might want to stop reading this now and look elsewhere. If you’re searching for happy puppy dog kisses and stuffed animals you might want to go that-a-way as well. But, if you’re sticking around for the blood and guts party and just happen to be in the market for a gruesome, witty debut horror novel with enough rough sex for days, then you just may happen to be in the right place.

SINNERS CIRCLE by Karina Sims is a great and innovative read. It's packed with the right amount of raw materials, brutality, pornography, and dry humor for all of your extreme horror and dark fiction needs. Sims somehow manages to create a book that borders and blurs the lines of psychological and personal horror to the point where it’s easy to forget you’re reading a debut novel in the first place. This one will pull you in and make sure you stick around for a while. At one point I felt like I was holding a literary equivalent to the film Hostel, but with slightly more emotion and a lot more girl on girl action than found in the opening scenes of the flick.  

Sadistic serial killers, porn shops, drug use, violence, this book has it all. This is a great and brutal addition to the world of Horror and Dark Fiction from a new voice. I think it’d be safe to say to watch out for this one folks! Especially during the dark hours at night.

-Jon R. Meyers

IN THE END, ONLY DARKNESS by Monica O’Rourke (2014 Deadite Press / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know, I am always astounded at athletes who will take some brutal hit, some agony-of-defeat type of spill, but pop back up and go on with it, never mind the jagged jutting bone ends and trailing strings of gristle hanging out of their wounds. I cannot believe any sane person would willingly subject themselves to such punishment … the drive to compete, to win, to stay in the game, can only go SO far, folks, really, c’mon.

Then I get a new Monica O’Rourke book and I find myself doing the psychic equivalent of the same damn thing.

Again. Over and over. I never learn. I even, in some sick masochistic way, enjoy the torture. It’s torn ligaments, and dislocated joints of the mind. Plus, I think I pulled whatever muscles control flinching and cringing.

She is vicious. Wrath James White’s intro to this collection warns you. He is a hundred percent correct on all points, from her razor-like precision of prose to the wicked little smiling gleam in her eyes. This is some next-level (bleep) right here.

Do NOT be fooled because it starts off with a couple of poems! Do NOT be one of those people who dismisses poems as frou-frou. They are powerful, effective, and somehow all the creepier because of the spareness of form.

But, if it’s denser, detailed narrative you crave, you’ll find plenty of that too (and might regret it!) Several of these stories will have you crossing your legs or pressing your knees together, no matter what your personal anatomy. “Jasmine and Garlic,” “Asha” and “Attainable Beauty” for the ladies, “Oral Mohel,” “Someone’s Sister” and “An Experiment in Human Nature” for the gents … equal opportunity screaming horror for the fun-bits.

There’s zombies, and babies, and zombie babies … child abuse and cannibalism … freaky fetishes, haunted revenge, hells on earth … just all kinds of evil goodness guaranteed to reduce the strongest spirit to a whimpering wreck.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall resume my usual post-Monica posture of rocking back and forth in the corner ...

-Christine Morgan


OASIS OF THE DAMNED by Greg F. Gifune (to be released 12/9/14 by DarkFuse / 76 pp / eBook)

Former soldiers Owens and Richter find themselves in the Sahara desert. Both became lost during post-military jobs, and are now unable to find a way out of their isolated location.The only thing keeping them alive in the blistering heat is an abandoned outlook post that sits over a spring. The post also has edible military rations and a seemingly endless supply of functional (but old) weapons.

And that's a good thing, because when the sun goes down, shape-shifting creatures rise from the sand, looking to devour our protagonists the same way they did Owens' crew. And the more they learn about them, the more Owens and Richter struggle...

Despite taking place in the desert, OASIS OF THE DAMNED is a claustrophobic nightmare that's as psychologically grueling as it is physically. Gifune blends modern horror with a Twilight Zone feel and delivers an irresistible novella you'll rip through in one heart-pounding sitting. Intense stuff without being overly graphic.

-Nick Cato


TWISTED by Michaelbrent Collings (to be released 12/9/14 by Amazon Digital / 319 pp / eBook)

Those Victorians … so different from us … in their day, ruffled chair skirts were invented to keep those shocking bare furniture legs from display, and the term “stuffing” was considered too vulgar for polite dinner conversation (the things one randomly picks up during holiday season cooking shows). And yet, they were into that whole death photography thing, which strikes most of us these days as morbid to say the least.

Morbid to say the least, and even downright ghoulish when it involves children. Heck, some studio baby portraits are disturbing enough anyway, let alone with dead kids! I mean, okay, on the one hand I can understand it, the use of closure, the wanting something to remember them by, but …

Yeeeesh. And this book starts off with excerpts from a fictional case study of a photographer who was not content merely to pose his unfortunately young models, but ensure their steady supply. Against that historical specter, we have an ordinary modern family, Blake and Alyssa Douglas, their son Mal, and newborn Ruthie.

An ordinary family with ordinary worries – money, job security, a life-threatening neonatal crisis, the looming violent legacy of abuse – that then has to deal with even more extraordinary ones. Like the sudden, inexplicable crawling infestation from under Mal’s bed. It sends them fleeing to temporary lodgings while their home is fumigated, only to quickly discover that the new place is … not quite right.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous house, available for rent at a bargain price, fully furnished with lovely antiques. If the grandfather clock’s ticking reverberates throughout … if the music box has a tendency to start playing for no reason … if objects disappear or reappear, or the occasional strange footstep is heard …

Well, it is only for a few days, right? And it’s not like they can afford a hotel. It’s not like they have many other options. Sure, it’s stressful; the whole situation is stressful, taking its toll on each of them. Some irritability, some personality changes, trouble sleeping, nightmares, these things happen. Nothing to get too worked up over.

Uh-huh. So they keep telling themselves, after Alyssa finds the photo album of the dead, after a courier delivers a package and then totally freaks out at something he sees. Nothing to get worked up over. So they keep telling themselves, until it’s too late.

Part ghost story and part history, part parental terrors made real and part paranormal activity, the resulting combination is all goosebump-raising nerve-squirming chills. Another solid winner from an author who’s yet to miss the mark.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reviews for the Week of December 1, 2014

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

TRIBESMEN by Adam Cesare (2014 Deadite Press / 114 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Oh, the 70’s … their legacy may never leave us … some things will be forever remembered … like disco … and the dawning heyday of trashy, tacky, boobs-and-blood shocksploitation horror movies! The stuff that paved the way for our current crop of cinematic tours-de-force such as the Hostel franchise, and made someone think that a reboot of “I Spit On Your Grave” was a good idea!

And especially those foreign films, the ones that could get away with depths of gore and depravity that might give even the seediest American studios pause. That’s where the premise of this book comes in.

Director Tito Bronze needs to work fast, with a shoestring cast and crew (not to mention budget) if he’s going to get his new ripoff of the latest Italian cannibal-slaughter epic into the theaters. To do so, he’s flying his team to a remote tropical island for location footage and unpaid extras.

Little does he, or do any of them, suspect what’s waiting for them on that island. Even the reader, who might be anticipating violent attacks by the natives, is in for a surprise. The terrible things that happened here started way before their plane drops them off, and all they find at first is an empty village and a mass open grave.

Ordinary, sensible people would leave at that point. But, the plane won’t be back for a few days … and there’s still a movie to be made. They might as well improvise and make the best of their time, right?

Right. Until the curse that’s already taken its toll here goes to work on them. Until they get even more realistic cannibal-slaughter than the best special effects can provide. Until they have all they can do just to survive, even as their director is determined to keep the cameras rolling.

The result is a fast, fun read, as garish and brutal as its inspirational source material. It’s rife with racism and sexism and political incorrectness, too.

So, now, when does this book written about movie-making get made into a movie?

-Christine Morgan


DARK SCREAMS, VOLUME ONE edited by Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar (to be released 12/8/14 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 88 pp / eBook and audiobook)

Cemetery Dance has published many excellent novels, collections, and anthologies since they began publishing in 1992. This anthology of short stories by some of CD’s best authors is no exception.

Included is horror legend Stephen King’s story “Weeds,” which was turned into a segment in the 1982 movie “Creepshow” (retitled “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”). The original story is much darker and creepier than the movie segment, which was more dark comedy than horror. It’s early King at his best.

“The Price You Pay” by Kelley Armstrong begins with a girls’ night out, but descends into murder, stalking, and lots of twists and turns. It’s more a mystery than straight-out horror, and reminded me of the old Coen Brothers movie, “Blood Simple.” It’s a fun read with a satisfying ending.

Bill Pronzini’s “Magic Eyes” takes place in an insane asylum, with a patient writing in his journal about why he was accused of murdering his wife, but tries to explain that isn’t what really happened. He seems crazy throughout, but maybe there’s a chance he’s telling the truth. It’s up to the reader to interpret the end. It’s a familiar plot, but Bill Pronzini is a great author, and does a great job with it.

“Murder in Chains” by Simon Clark puts a man in a bizarre and terrifying situation – he is chained to a huge man by their necks in an underground viaduct. The man doesn’t know how he got there, but knows he needs to fight for his life, which means killing the “goliath.” While he ponders his predicament, he realizes there are other people in the viaduct, also shackled with no memory of how they got there. This is a bloody, action-packed story that kept me riveted.

Ramsey Campbell’s “The Watched” is about a young boy tasked with keeping tabs on his neighbors’ comings and goings by a threatening cop whose daughter was killed by the drug dealers living there. Stressed by this, the boy is eventually told by a teacher that the cop drank and drove, and is no longer living. Yet he is still being watched, and knows he still needs to watch the neighbors’ house and let the lurker know when there is a drug deal happening. This was a creepy little story with a great ending.

DARK SCREAMS, VOLUME is a fantastic anthology, and I’m looking forward to reading more of them in the future.

-Sheri White

HAUNTED FUCKING by Philip LoPresti (2013-14 Dynatox Ministries / 37 pp / trade paperback)

I haven't read or reviewed a book of poetry for this zine in quite some time, but LoPresti's nose-dive into the abyss of despair peaked my interest, and the thirty "spasms" on display here are as dark as they are bizarre.

By the time I was halfway through this collection of sex and violence-filled verse, I felt like I had entered a satanic beatnik's club, and by the time I finished, I became convinced of two things: 1) Philip LoPresti is one sick bastard, and 2) He is a sick bastard who is able to keep this non-poetry fan glued to the pages, which is good because I immediately followed this with ...

I AM SUICICE by Philip LoPresti (2014 Dynatox Ministries / 63 pp / chapbook)

Where to begin with LoPresti's second offering of blasphemous expressions? This volume reads as if it were written by an excommunicated altar boy on a verbal-killing spree. Just check out the first lines of the opening selection:

"Unfrocked priests form circles
around the newly dead.
Their fingers incite a riot
inside the dessicated parts;"

And this is only the tip of the iceberg in what turns out to be a hellish assault of anti-religion, anti-society, and anti-life musings that at times had me cringing and praying for the author's soul ... although that's kind of pointless as he obviously lost it a long time ago.

This is extreme stuff, folks, and not to be read at your local coffee house's open mic poetry night ... unless you want them hauling you away in a straight jacket. You've been warned.

-Nick Cato


TIME OF DEATH: ASYLUM by Shana Festa (to be released 12/9/14 by Permuted Press / 267 pp / eBook)

The second in this sassypants series (think Janet Evanovich writing episodes of The Walking Dead) continues following the struggles of nursing student Emma, her husband Jake, and their little dog Daphne to survive the zombie apocalypse.

It is, and I warned the author I’d have to say so, just about the poopiest book I’ve ever read. All those times we’ve complained that fictional characters never seem to have to take potty breaks? Made up for here and then some. Many crucial scenes revolve around having to take the doggie for a tinkle or a poo, and quite a few of the rest revolve around humans needing to do the same. Getting caught with your pants down by zombies has gotta be about the worst. Also, dogfarts as a deadly weapon, and whether the etiquette of scooping applies even in end-of-the-world situations.

In addition to all that, these are simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest people you’ll ever find. For every wild deus-ex-machina coincidence or rescue, there’s at least one corresponding what-are-the-odds disaster.

The last book saw them seeking and losing various refuges, finally ending up on a houseboat … but even that proves not to be safe or ideal. It proves not to be safe or ideal BEFORE it gets rammed by a zombie yacht, forcing Emma and Company to go back to land. Some harrowing escapades later, they learn of a secure community called Asylum and make for it.

Naturally, it’s one of those too-good-to-be-true scenarios. A stoic loner warns them against it, but won’t say why, but leads them there anyway. Their misgivings are reinforced at the first impressions. They should know better … they DO know better … but they still do it.

At some point in there, I found I’d lost a lot of sympathy for Emma. What had been a brash, kind of fun attitude turns bratty and obnoxious. She claims to be caring, loyal, friendly, dedicated … but comes off as an arrogant, selfish snot. As rotten as the Asylum people and their system are, I really found myself wishing she’d get bitten or thrown out already.

The story cliffhangs before then, just as Emma discovers some of the unsurprising dark secrets. So, I’ll have to wait for the next one, and I hope she goes back to being a more relatable and entertaining protagonist by then. I greatly enjoy the zingy, refreshing writing … but I’d prefer a main character I didn’t want to slap.

-Christine Morgan

GODDAMN ELECTRIC NIGHT byWilliam Pauley III (2014 Copeland Valley Press / 98 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Goddamn Electric Nights by William Pauley III is a short story collection compiled of six absolutely out of this world tales. The book is exquisitely written, well executed, and simply a must for any fan of Horror, Science Fiction, Bizarro, or Weird Fiction alike. The author’s imagination and ability to realistically write this kind of romp is a feat and nothing short of admirable in itself. After all, this does seem to be what Copeland Valley Press is all about, while continuously publishing great fiction outside the box from day one, by writers who have proven to be extremely talented and fueled by some sort of genuine and overall original creativity. William Pauley III’s voice is one in a million and this book falls nothing short of the strength found in any of his work prior.

With stories such as Slime Night, Insection 8, The Spiders of Honeyville, Hypnagogia, $5 Electric Suzie, and Spin Doctors Mixtape, the author gives us enough weird to be well on our way into the mouth of madness. Including but not limited to kind acts of snorting red fire ants, cockroaches and razors, hatched egg sacks, an alley cat on skid row, and just a little bit too much radiation in the walls. So, go ahead and sit back, drink a couple beers, plug in the shop vac, and aim it up towards the goddamn sky as you enjoy a book unlike any you’ve read before.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE HUMAN SANTAPEDE by Adam Millard (2014 Crowded Quarantine Publications / 115 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Yes, it is what you’re thinking. Yes, someone really went and did it. Yes, your childhood will be ruined (again, if it has already). Those Rankin-Bass wooden puppet holiday specials … um yeah … especially the one with the hot redhead schoolteacher …

This is not, however, a jolly Santa. This is a Santa that his own elves refer to – sometimes not even in private – as ‘The Fat Bastard.’ Not undeservedly, either. He’s a selfish, foul-mouthed, slovenly, slave-driving, credit-hogging jerk more interested in brandy and mince pies than his sexy, eager wife.

An elf’s life isn’t so jolly either. Centuries of forced labor, no wages, no vacations, mandatory eggnog, no credit, nonstop carols … the constant threat of being replaced by cheaper foreign elves and sent to work in the human realm as a fantasy movie extra … the only perk is in the buxom form of Mrs. Claus, whose considerable needs may go neglected by her hubby, but who’s got a special fondness for elves.

Things are also behind schedule this year, thanks to a freak blizzard, which means extra shifts around the clock. Something goes wrong EVERY year, it seems like. Is it any wonder that dissatisfaction is brewing at the North Pole?

When the first few elves go missing, followed by that most famous reindeer, elf-foreman Finklefoot finds himself given the additional duties of tracking them down. It soon becomes clear that they’re not just lost or hiding out to shirk work. Someone’s abducted them, someone with a particular grudge and a particular plan.

Finklefoot is forced to confront Santa’s former companions, those darker-side-of-Christmas characters in charge of coal and naughty children, but by the time he figures out who’s behind the disappearances, it’s too late. The horror that is the Human Santapede is about to be unleashed. If, that is, its creator can get people to shut up about the misnomer, or brackets … nobody has any respect, any appreciation for brilliance …

This book is every bit the totally irreverent, offensive, obscene masterpiece of holiday hilarity you might expect … with political incorrectness and several vicious cultural jabs thrown in. I read it in a single sitting, laughed out loud several times, and the rest of the family absolutely REFUSED to let me share any excerpts.

-Christine Morgan

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