Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reviews for the Week of April 13, 2015

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

SICK BASTARDS by Matt Shaw (2014 Amazon Digital / 238 pp / trade paperback, eBook, and audio book)

I guess I must be jaded and/or spoiled. Seeing a book so laden with disclaimers as this one (on the front cover, and again on the splash page) made me go into it expecting a heck of a lot worse.

I mean, yeah, sure, it opens with a graphic incest smut scene and goes right from there to dinner-table live cannibalism, but … it reads as if, I don’t know, the intent is to do a big double-feature right off the bat to PROVE how shocking and offensive this book’s going to be, before moving on to the actual story.

Which is, in premise, interesting enough – the actual story, that is. Some sort of world-ending disaster happens, leaving our characters amnesiac and nameless, with a photograph the only clue that they’re a family. They seek shelter in a house, defending it against looters and other post-apocalyptic dangers, and eventually learn more about what happened.

Plus, of course, gradually succumbing to the above-mentioned graphic incest and cannibalism. Which might have been much more meaningful or horrifying if the characters were even slightly sympathetic. As it is, they start off so broken and unlikable, it’s hard to drum up much in the way of feeling for them.

Yes, the book IS called “Sick Bastards,” nobody’s expecting innocent good guys. But still. When everyone’s despicable or creepy, there’s much more of a challenge.

For what it is, it’s fine, an okay story, reasonably well-written; it works and holds together. It’s mostly just that initial matter of the bold disclaimers. If you’re going to make a big deal out of telling me something like that, then I want to be shown it, too. I want the proof. I want to walk away with the stunned thought of “wow, they weren’t kidding.” This one, I don’t think it did it.

Or, like I said, maybe I’ve been spoiled. I didn’t have any other problems with the book, so I could certainly give this author another try or two.
-Christine Morgan


CLOWNFELLAS: TALES OF THE BOZO FAMILY by Carlton Mellick III (to be released July 14, 2015 by Hydra/Random House / 400 pp / eBook)

As hilariously absurd as it is entertaining, Mellick takes classic gangster film tropes and slaps them in the face with exploding banana cream pies. Here are six novelette-sized tales of the Bozo Crime Family, who operate out of a small NYC area known as Little Bigtop.

In 'City of Clowns,' a human (called "vanillas" by the clowns) veternarian is hired to care for family boss Don Bozo's pet lion, and the poor sap, named Earl Berryman, has a chronic fear of clowns which is put to the ultimate test. Then in 'The Juggler Brothers,' members of the Bozo family square off against two of the toughest hit men in the French circus, who are the Bozo's sworn enemies.

'A Sad Day for a Happy Clown' introduces us to Pinky Smiles, who is about to propose to his girlfriend Taffy who also happens to be the daughter of Bozo family underboss Uncle JoJo. But standing in his way is a ruthless contract killer named Mr. Pogo and a bunch of twists and turns...

'Funny Business' tells the story of Buggy Buttons, and older gangster who is in charge of Little Bigtop's flailing comedy clubs. He is given a short time to get things back on track, and what follows was my favorite tale of the lot.

In 'The Unwackable Bingo Ballbreaker,' we meet the titular mob solider who, despite his massive size and strength, is a virtuoso violinist. When his "girlfriend" Melinda is kidnapped (she's his his prized, rare violin), Bingo pulls out all the stops to get her back.

CLOWNFELLAS concludes with 'The Wedding Day,' where Taffy prepares for her wedding to Pinky. But the French clowns have requested that underboss JoJo whack Pinky to even up with the death of one of their own (problem is, Pinky is Don Bozo's son). What ensues is an all-out battle that brings most of the books' characters out of the woodwork in an inventive, bloody finale that doesn't end like your typical mafia story.

Picture THE GODFATHER by way of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE and you can pretty much see what's going on here, although Mellick throws in some surprises (the mutant carnies were a cool touch) and for such a lengthy read, there isn't a single slow moment.

Perhaps CLOWNFELLAS, despite being an eBook-only release, is the beginning of a bigger step for the bizarro genre (hopefully Random House will deliver a print edition). Time will tell. Either way, I'd love to see more from the Bozo crime family.

-Nick Cato

ZOM-B BRIDE by Darren Shan (2015 Hatchette Book Group / 186 pp / hardcover, eBook, audio book)

Normally, jumping into a series mid-stream might be a bad idea. Even if it was a story set in our familiar everyday world, there’d be a lot of back story to catch up on, a lot of characters, a lot of what-came-before, if you didn’t start at the beginning. I can’t imagine being able to do that and make sense of it with something like the Lemony Snicket books, let alone Harry Potter.

And then here comes this one, a YA near-future dystopia with factions of living humans, undead, and mutants vying for survival, power, and dominance … and the first book I read of it is Book 10. BOOK TEN. By rights, I should have been just sooooo lost it wouldn’t even be funny.

Yet, I wasn’t. Without encyclopedic info-dumping recaps, without condesplaining narration, the writing caught me up and swept me along as easily as if I’d already read the previous volumes. Which isn’t to say that I don’t need to read the previous volumes; I certainly want to! But I wasn’t left floundering and wondering what was going on. I was able to immediately grasp enough of the setting and scenario, not to mention the characters, to fully enjoy this engaging story.

The B in Zom-B is for Becky, Becky Smith, our protagonist. Not your typical YA protag, either … okay, she’s unique and special, she’s got rare connections and gifts … and in this one, she’s the object of an obsessive love interest … but she’s also the Zom in Zom-B.
Not that that prevents her from feeling pain, or being tortured, disfigured and mutilated. Take that, Bella, Katniss, the rest of you. The book opens with her being carried out of the abattoir of a sadistic maniac by a host of mutant babies, and her situation doesn’t exactly improve from there.

Being rescued is good; being rescued by minions of psycho-clown super villain who wants you to be his bride is a little less so. But, playing along might get B closer to a secret that could save a lot of lives … if she can withstand her would-be groom’s ideas of courtship.
Gross and engrossing, an engaging engagement, a good read and lots of fun.

-Christine Morgan

BLACK METAL HEART MONSTER (2013 Dynatox Ministries / 76 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Norwegian death metal band Obscura Mortis has lost one of their members in an odd onstage accident (or was it?). Vocalist Throatbutcher is up to something strange and new member Skinreaper eventually realizes his band is much more sinister than he had bargained for.

When the late Obscura Mortis member returns from the grave (in a most unusual state), this brief novella dives head first into a trippy hardcore horror yarn that even a non-death metal fan could enjoy. Fun (and dark) stuff.

-Nick Cato

HIGH ON BLOOD AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Joel Kaplan (2012 Kaplan Publishing / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Must say I never got a review copy with a handwritten note folded into a paper airplane before … but, considering I was approached to ask if I wanted to try out this twisted book after being recommended by one of the leading sick-(bleep) publishers … hey, the weirder the better, let’s go!

Then I ended up reading the entire thing on the plane, flying back from a trip to take my daughter to the Museum of Death and Carrie: The Musical. It seemed a fitting finish for such a vacation, though I can’t help wondering if the passenger next to me peeked over and got an eyeful.

Because, ahem, there are eyefuls. Sex and violence, drugs, gore, devil worship, rock-and-roll, lots of crazy good fun, done in the sort of fast-and-loose style of describing the awesomeness of your favorite action movie or video game scenes to your buddies.
Here’s a sample: “... held up the rest of Disco like he was a big slam of Mountain Dew instead of a headless corpse and gulped the blood.” And that’s just from the first chapter, folks.

That’s before a couple of teenage hellcats pick up a hitchhiker and go on a murderous crime spree … and a guy stumbles across some werewolves doin’ it in the woods … serial killers and mobsters, disrespectful children, revenge, evil clowns, pizza … it’s like everything our parents ever warned us about or worried we’d get into, all rolled into one wacky wild ride.

It’s so wacky and wild, in fact, that the subtle under-weavings might almost go unnoticed, but they are there. The plot’s seemingly random, unconnected layers come together with mostly-satisfying resolution (I say mostly because there were a couple of characters I was left wondering what happened with by the end).

-Christine Morgan

The Horror Fiction Review will return on April 27, 2015...

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