Sunday, August 30, 2015

Reviews for the Week of August 31, 2015

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

ALECTRYOMANCER AND OTHER WEIRD TALES by Christopher Slatsky (2015 Dunhams Manor Press / 184 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Slatsky's first collection features 13 stories, 6 presented here for the first time. I had previously read his great tales 'A Plague of Naked Movie Stars' and 'No One is Sleeping in This World' (both are included here) so was curious to see more from this rising talent in the field of weird horror.

The opener, 'Loveliness Like a Shadow,' about an artist living in an apartment that may be haunted and that produces obscure water stains on the walls, gets the goosebumps going. Then in 'An Infestation of Stars,' a girl learns her parents have run afoul of an unusual religious group.

One of the finer moments here is 'Corporautolysis,' where a man's job literally takes over his being. It's claustrophobic, offbeat, and wonderfully written. A strange figure causes apprehension for an actress in 'Making Snakes,' a short but sweet creeper. 'The Ocean is Eating Our Graves' is a fine blend of native American folklore and cosmic terror, while 'This Fragmented Body' will easily get under the skin of those not fond of dolls ... not to mention body modification.

'Tellurian Facade' is quite possibly the weirdest yarn about a funeral you're likely to read anytime soon, and just when you thought you've read every kind of story there is about horror film fans, wait until you check out 'Film Maudit.'

'Scarcely Have They Been Planted' does to hillbillies and compost what JAWS did to swimmers (I kid you not), then a woman walks through a desert in 'Intaglios,' fearing two biker hippies are following her and wondering, after a while, if she's even on earth. This one's a real trippy offering with a great sense of tension.

Capping things off is the title story, 'Alectryomancer,' dealing with a laborer named Rey who is about to put his prized rooster "Little Cerefino" up against an undefeated foe in an underground cockfight. But Rey is plagued by visions of a burning horse and has come in possession of an odd journal that has him contemplating time travel and machinery he has never heard of. I'm not sure when this tale takes place but the term "Lovecraftian Steampunk" came to my mind as I finished it. For fans of bizarre fiction it just doesn't get much better than this.

Slatsky manages to bring the weird yet rarely loses the reader. His stories are often unique and scary, and best of all, never boring. His concepts kept me glued to the pages and I found myself wishing some of the shorter pieces were longer.

A fine introduction to a writer I'm looking forward to seeing much more from.

-Nick Cato

THE GATE AT LAKE DRIVE by Shaun Meeks (2015 IFWG Publishing / 222 pages / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, now, just to be clear … where it says “Monster Dick” on the cover, it means in the sense of a private investigator. But, hey, as an advertising shtick, it’s certainly a memorable attention-getter! So’s the art, which features a freaky nightmare sure to haunt your next nice lakeshore getaway.

This isn’t your usual urban fantasy with fae and sexy supernaturals as it is an MiB kind of situation, where creatures from other places keep showing up where they’re not welcome, and it’s the job of people like Dillon to deal with them.

Not that Dillon’s exactly normal himself. He’s covered head to toe with mystic wards, geared up with arcane gadgets, and has various connections in the occult biz. He should be prepared for anything. Even a dame with a case. The case turns out to be simple enough; the dame – a burlesque artist named Rouge – is another matter.

And the NEXT case, the one involving a possible-hoax/publicity-stunt local legend lake monster, also turns out to be a little more than Dillon’s prepared for. Something’s got it in for him, particularly, and isn’t shy about racking up a messy body count to get there.

This book’s biggest issues are in editing/proofing, punctuation errors, and a tendency toward repetition or overuse of phrasing. Nothing too hugely major, but enough to keep knocking me out of an otherwise engaging yarn with exciting action, fun twists, and a nice goosh factor.

I mean really, people, when you start hauling dead or dying squidgy unnatural fishthings out of your lake … don’t eat them … why would you do that, don’t do that!

The author’s already done a few short stories in this world, so there are some little easter eggs and references here and there. One of those stories is included as a bonus at the end. And, as THE GATE AT LAKE DRIVE is the first of a projected novel series, be ready for more!

-Christine Morgan

WICKED TALES (VOLUME 3) edited by Scott Goudsward, Daniel G. Keohane, and David Price (2015 by NEHW Press / 248 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This third offering from the New England Horror Writers features 20 stories from 21 writers, with topics ranging all over the genre. The great Chet Williamson provides a fun introduction before the festivities get underway.

Kristin Dearborn kicks things off with 'Somebody's Darling,' a zombie tale set during (I believe) the Civil War. It's a real heartbreaker and a fine piece to open the anthology. Rob Smales' 'Keepsakes' finds a couple of friends at an unusual garage sale in a dark-humor-enriched offering that reminded me of a story from an old issue of EERIE or CREEPY. 'The Hiss of Escaping Hair' is another solid tale from the always reliable Christopher Golden, this time dealing with an actress and an odd balloon that will allegedly help her career to continue.

In Howard Odentz' 'Handsome,' a man deals with his abusive mother and the damage she has caused to his body over the years, then E.A. Black's 'Fog Over Mons' finds German and French troops battling cosmic monsters during World War I in a quick-paced thriller. Paul McMahon brings another heartbreaker when a man dying of cancer tries to help his son who has recently been abandoned by his family in 'Bitemarks.'

One of my favorites here is Trisha J. Woolridge's 'The Crocodile Below,' about a bullied girl who gets revenge on her tormentors with the aid of a demanding sewer croc. It's written in poem form and is just so damn good.

In 'The Blood and The Body,' Bracken MacLeod introduces us to goth girl Em whose boyfriend takes her to a party that turns into a wicked little Satanic bash (complete with a few genuine surprises), then vampires learn they can never fully trust humans in K.H. Vaughan's 'The Opacity of Saints.' Holly Newstein's 'Live With It' is a revenge tale that will surely give abusive parents (or anyone for that matter) the creeps; this one's short, sweet, and terrifying.

We're then treated to a classic story by the late Rick Hautala titled 'Love on the Rocks' (the only story not original to this anthology), a prison break / monster tale showing why Rick was one of the greats.

WICKED TALES then gets a bit darker with 'As Sweet as Baby's Breath' by Peter N. Dudar and L.L. Soares, about a fiend dressed like a priest who keeps his son alive by breathing the breath he steals from infants into his lungs. This one would've made a good episode on the MASTERS OF HORROR cable series. 'My Brother's Keeper' by Sam Gafford is another tale featuring cosmic creatures, this time highlighted by a grandfather's humorous hillbilly dialogue.

In T.T. Zuma's 'The Pawnshop,' a man is forced by thugs to steal something from a store. If he doesn't his wife and daughter will be killed. But tables are turned when the pawnshop's owner and his giant assistant straighten things out in their own way. Matthew M. Bartlett's 'Master of Worms' reads like a classic Hammer Film, with a violent grave exhumation and dark family secrets written in a wonderfully weird prose.

David North Martino's 'Sat Down Beside Her' finds a female alien abductee learning she has become a breeder for future humans. This scifi/horror hybrid really gets the creeps going. John Goodrich's 'Odd Grimson, Called Half-Troll' seems a bit out of place here as it's a more fantasy-oriented tale, but it still manages to bring the monstrous goodness. Timothy P. Flynn's 'A Rhythmic Creation of the Damned' is a very short vampire tale that reads like an intro to a longer piece.

Michael Arruda's 'Created Woman' is a real gem, about a woman named Jewel who learns she just might be the reincarnation (or continuation) of actress Susan Denberg, who starred in the 1967 film FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN. Horror film fans will eat this one up.

Ending the anthology is John McIlveen's 'Eve,' which gives yet another reason why you should never text while driving, and after reading this you just might pull over the next time you get the urge...

Like most anthologies, WICKED TALES has a couple of forgettable stories, but I found the majority to be quite good. This third installment from the New England Horror Writers showcases the group's blazing talent, and some authors present here will surely gain new fans. The wrap-around cover art by Ogmios is fantastic, too.

-Nick Cato

CTHULHU ATTACKS! by Sean Hoade (2015 Severed Press / 220 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Dear Hollywood: THIS is the Lovecraftian movie you need to make, the surefire big-budget blockbuster special effects extravaganza. This book, right here. It’s perfect. Gets around the various issues of directly adapting one of ol’ H.P.’s works, while acknowledging them in glorious triumphant homage. Plus, geek-cred galore.

And seriously, the scene describing Cthulhu’s emergence … best I’ve ever read. So beautifully done. Short, sweet, simple, evocative, and haunting.

A lot of giant monster or cosmic horror fiction struggles to express the sheer sheer size and scale and scope. Sean Hoade nails it, not only nails it but takes it several steps beyond. Reading this book is to shiver from an overwhelming sense of immensity, of alienness, of strange inhumanity so far outside our comprehension as to bend the mind. I think Lovecraft himself would be impressed with just how well that’s all conveyed.

Okay, sure, so Lovecraft would probably be a little less impressed with how fun and funny it also is. There’s humor mixed with the horror, a humor almost of surrendering to madness so you just gotta give in and laugh. There are winks, nods, nudges, and in-jokes. A few familiar names pop up; those in the know will cackle and chortle like fiends (I did, anyway).

Yet, let us not forget, there’s that horror in the mix, too. The perfect kind for something like this. The helpless, humanity-is-utterly-insignificant, Total Perspective Vortex kind of sanity-shredding horror. On a global level. We’re talking body counts in the millions, before the Big C even surfaces.

Which is followed, of course, by the desperate scrambling of world leaders, scientists, and military to try and defend against something they can’t explain. Or don’t want to accept. You know how in some movies (looking at you, Independence Day), nations chuck their differences to band together against a far greater common threat? Yeah, right. Not happening.

A few minor typos and bloopers are the only flaws in this book, and in a weird sort of way I’m almost glad they’re there. Otherwise, it’d be too perfect. Now I just have to wait, with wild impatience, for the sequel!

-Christine Morgan


BLOOD AND RAIN by Glenn Rolfe (to be released Oct. 6, 2015 by Samhain Publishing / 228 pp / eBook)

There’s something to be said for horror novels that don’t play coy about the big reveal. It’s like, “THIS IS A WEREWOLF STORY!” and boom, go, we’re off to the races right from the start. BLOOD AND RAIN is just such a book, and it does not disappoint.

In many ways, it hearkens to early King and Brandner, and does so in a loving and fun-poking kind of referential self-awareness. Nods and winks and outright shout-outs are liberally sprinkled. The 1990s setting is handled in just such a way to make readers of my certain age flinch … we really don’t want to believe the 90s were THAT long ago … oh, sweet denial, let us cling to it!

Gilson Creek is a small town in Maine, not exactly insular but one of those places where most people know each other. Most people also know about the incident some years back, when all those people got killed. Most of them even believe, or are willing to tell themselves they believe, the official cover story about a bear or a mountain lion or whatever it was.

Of course, there’s always got to be the few old-timers and kooks who insist otherwise, or the tabloid with its features about the Full Moon Monster. For them, it’s no surprise when similar killings begin. For the now-sheriff, who thought the problem had been solved – dead and buried solved – it IS a surprise, and a particularly unwelcome one.

How do you go about keeping your town safe, convincing your teenage daughter and her friends not to enjoy their summer evenings at the lake, and explaining to your current crop of deputies just why they need to load up on this ‘special’ ammo? What do you do when your predecessor, the only person who might have helpful advice, has turned into a crazy, surly old recluse? Or when the closest thing you have to a local celebrity decides to go vigilante?

Meanwhile, the body count’s climbing and the body parts are piling up. Despite some instances of character overload, where the cast gets too big and/or with similar names that make things difficult to keep track of, the story is solid, the writing is clever and well done, and it’s generally all a howling-fun good read.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, August 17, 2015

Reviews for the Week of August 17, 2015

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

MR. SUICIDE by Nicole Cushing (2015 Worde Horde / 216 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Cushing's debut novel deals with a misfit 13 year old boy. Two of his older siblings have left home but one slightly off-balanced older brother remains. His mother wears the pants and his father follows her lead. At school he is made fun of and ostracized. He knows he's different, especially when he starts to become attracted to pictures of amputees...

And then he begins to hear a voice in his head claiming to be someone named Mr. Suicide. He gives countless reasons why our young teenager should kill himself, and our protagonist contemplates first blinding himself with an ice pick and then begins to read labels on households poisons. It seems the possibilities of ending it all are endless.

But when he turns 18, he leaves home and meets a cosmic force (or being) known as "The Great Dark Mouth" who claims he/she/it is able to annihilate him, although it will take three intense steps to do so. With the thought he can become unborn and erased from humanity, our now 18 year old teenager dives head-first into a taboo-crushing, psychological nightmare that will test the limits of your psyche.

MR. SUICIDE is an absolutely brutal, horrifying read, and Cushing's tale does so without relying on the splatter that's so prevalent among extreme horror novels. More notable than that, especially in light of this being her debut novel, is Cushing's use of a second person viewpoint. Here it enhances the overall sense of dread and, even when things start to head into truly strange territory, we're continually forced to experience some of the darkest situations a human being can fall into.

I've been enjoying Cushing's shorter work for a while now, and MR. SUICIDE has placed her on my must read author's list. This is horror fiction that's fresh, disturbing, and crafted to freak you out.

And it does.

-Nick Cato

SKINZZ by Wrath James White (2015 Deadite Press / 196 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In the rough-and-tumble streets of 1980s Philly, the stage is set for all kinds of clashes, but the one that’s brewing between the punks and the skinheads is heading for an epic battle just short of total war. Powderkegs are everywhere – poverty, racism, families falling apart, drugs, crime – and they’re poised to blow.

Stuck in the middle of this scene, feeling trapped by circumstances as much as loyalty, is Mack. He’s got a chance to escape to college, but it would mean leaving his mom, his best friend, and the girl he hasn’t had the chance to tell her he loves. He’s also big, strong, tough, and one of the best fighters the punks have on their side.

The skinheads have all sorts of reasons to hate him. Not just Little Davey; Little Davey starts off crazy and gets worse until even his own guys are starting to worry. Beating up punks is one thing … lighting old ladies on fire, or capturing people to torture and kill … yeah, they’re right to worry.

Skinzz starts off with a brawl and escalates fast, the cycle of violence and revenge speed-spiraling ever higher. The characters are deep and very real; the sense of backstory to most of them is tantalizing and compelling.

My only criticism is one of my usual peeves, which is to wish the book had gotten a bit more final polish to catch the bloopers. I enjoyed the story, and I enjoyed the cultural reference glimpses back to the 80s.

Overall, this book is vicious, gritty, all-too-real, and delivered with the merciless nervestrike visceral and emotional accuracy Wrath James White is so damn good at. His work can be confrontational in a really-make-you-think way, never psychologically easy to read or comforting, but all the more valuable because of it.

-Christine Morgan

OUT OF THE WOODS by William D. Carl (2015 Post Mortem Press / 284 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

An isolated mental institution in rural Pennsylvania is about to close its doors. Bob and Deena are (engaged) doctors, looking forward to new job assignments and being able to go public with their relationship. But on the eve of the hospital's closing, a new patient named Gary McCoy is brought in and Bob is fascinated with his wild tales of unseen monsters and an invasion from another dimension.

Thinking he could become famous off a book on McCoy's case, Bob goes out to the woods to find a cave McCoy claims has drawings describing the end of the world. And after they locate it, Bob and Deena also find the village McCoy came from, which is inhabited by all kinds of deformed people, including McCoy's maniacal father.

If H.P. Lovecraft co-wrote the screenplay for a 70s horror film, OUT OF THE WOODS might be the result. But Carl gives this one a healthy dose of very well placed humor, and not once does it take away from the horrific happenings.

Here's a monster tale with threats from every angle (picture THE HILLS HAVE EYES meets FROM BEYOND on the set of DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) and a finale so heartbreaking it just might make you scream.

Carl continues to carve out his place in the horror genre with little-to-no mercy, and we're all luckier for it.

-Nick Cato

THE DEEP by Michaelbrent Collings (2015 Amazon Digital / 333 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

So, a playboy, a solipist, and a wallflower get on a boat … well, them and a few other people, including the captain, his two-man dive crew, and a father-daughter duo. Even under the best of circumstances, their little fishing/diving excursion would be bound to have more than its share of conflicts.

These are, as they soon find out, not the best of circumstances. Not when one of the lines pulls up a wetsuited corpse instead of a suitable trophy. A corpse with inexplicable injuries, and what appears to be a piece of gold clenched in one dead fist. Not when a bizarre wave-swell out of nowhere nearly tosses the boat, and the ocean floor seems to be several hundred feet higher than it should.

Plenty to be curious about, plenty of grim and tantalizing mysteries to explore, even for the members of the party who weren’t already on their own personal quests. While they wait for the Navy, they might as well explore. Maybe there are answers … treasure … more!

Tim, the divemaster, isn’t wild about the idea of a bunch of stubborn, headstrong, relatively inexperienced divers attempting such dangerous depths. But, when he can’t talk them out of it, the least he can do is try and make sure they survive.

It won’t be easy. Some of the parts I found the scariest came even before the real diving began, just from the info leading up to the diving. All the normal things that could go wrong, what would happen to someone if they did … more than I ever really wanted to know about the physical and psychological effects, eek …

And, of course, this isn’t the kind of story where only normal things go wrong. There’s something down there. Something even worse than the plethora of dangerous critters we already do know are lurking in the darkest waters.

The characters are what most makes this book shine. Each on his or her own is real, interesting, genuine, and likable/hateable. Thrown together, the tension cranks tight, with some surprising results. I did find myself hoping for a less-abrupt resolution, but mostly because I wanted more and wasn’t ready to be done reading yet.

-Christine Morgan


NOTE: as the summer months come to a close, we hope to finish off our last wave of review material and plan to open for submissions sometime later this fall. Thank you.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reviews for the Week of August 3, 2015

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

WHERE SPIDERS FEAR TO SPIN by Peter N. Dudar (2015 Books & Boos Press / 148 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sadie Mills is a once-famous and glamorous soap opera star who is now cared for by her resentful daughter Theresa. Theresa has never forgiven her narcissistic mother for her father’s death, a man driven to suicide by his wife’s affairs.

Now Sadie’s life is nearing its end, and Theresa is looking forward to finally being free of her mother’s demands and constant criticism. But she’s not the only one looking forward to Sadie’s death. Andrew, her husband, is waiting for her on the other side, plotting her eternal torment.

There are a few illustrations throughout the story, a couple of them creepy and jarring. The story itself is engrossing, and Sadie as a narcissistic mother was portrayed all-too-well. And while you root for her to finally get her comeuppance, you also feel a little sorry that she is paying the price while so terrified.

I’ve read a few of the author’s works, and have enjoyed each one.  I enjoy stories that can creep me out instead of grossing me out, and WHERE SPIDERS FEAR TO SPIN is a perfect example.

There is a bonus short story at the end of the book called “Peripheral Vision” that weaves a tale of parental grief with a ghost story. It’s not only sad, it’s scary as well.

If you like your horror a little less over-the-top, this book will be perfect for you.

-Sheri White

LOVE IN THE TIME OF DINOSAURS by Kirsten Allene (2011 Eraserhead Press / 96 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting from a book like this, but whatever it was, I don’t think that was it. If a hallmark of the bizarro genre is leaving the reader with a vague but pervasive sense of baffled unreality, then we’re on target here.

Maybe I was expecting more of an actual romance (or dino porn, hey, c’mon, why not?). The back cover copy promises “love of his life” after all, and instead it seemed mostly to do with the monks, their politics, and their ongoing war with the dinosaurs.

For something with a first-person POV protagonist, there’s a strong sense of detachment. The character is nameless and just kind of … absent-feeling, lacking real emotion or connection or personality. Or maybe that’s the monastic aspect?

Anyway, okay, yeah, so, there’s these monks. Who are at war with the dinosaurs, which they refer to as Jeremies (if there was a reason, I missed it). For weapons, the monks have swords and whatnot, plus some sort of plastic-encasing goop guns (I thought of the game Dino Hunt, in which time travelers capture specimens for their zoos in the future), and people can survive all kinds of injuries. Dismembered? No prob. Torn in half? We’ll stick a spare leg on there and you can hop.

I guess, overall, I found it okay. Certainly bizarre, though maybe just kind of gratuitously so, weird for the sake of being weird, without much in the way of deeper substance going on. Definitely going to file this one under YMMV and leave it at that.

-Christine Morgan

A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS by Paul Tremblay (2015 William Morrow / 304 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

When 14 year-old Marjorie begins acting strange, it sets off a series of events the Barrett family could've never imagined. John, Marjorie's out of work father, suspects his daughter's outbursts are more than just typical teenage issues, especially when her doctors are unable to help the growing problem. And after a local Catholic priests examines her and believes she may be demonically possessed, he agrees to help them out.

But this priest, Father Wanderly, has more on his mind: he contacts a reality TV production company about the Barretts, and with a little persuading, the company convinces the Barretts to allow their family to be filmed for a new program titled' The Possession,' which turns out to be a huge hit.

In the wake of the show's sucess, Marjorie's younger sister, Merry, is made fun of at school and grows increasingly paranoid of Marjorie's actions. She loves her older sister, but doesn't know whether to believe if she's truly possessed or just faking it.

The power of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is its narrative: most is seen through the eyes of young Merry, and a few sections are told through a horror fan blogger named Karen, who the author slowly reveals as she unfolds issues surrounding the TV show. It's an effective style that had me glued to the pages until the final chapter, which will surely become one of the most debated conclusions in the genre for some time to come.

Tremblay gives a fresh spin on the possession story, and adds plenty of surprises along the way. GHOSTS also features the best use of a reality TV show since Jason Hornsby's grossly underrated 2006 novel, EVERY SIGH, THE END.

Don't miss this.

-Nick Cato

DESPER HOLLOW by Elizabeth Massie (2013 Apex Publications / 226 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

I am a big fan of both Sharyn McCrumb’s Ballad series of Appalachian mystery/thrillers, and of Edward Lee’s depraved goretastic backwoods horror. Desper Hollow is like an example of what you’d get if those books had a baby together.

It’s also a zombie story, but don’t let that fool you … this is no ordinary zombie story in the whole outbreak apocalypse sense. Like the rest of the book, it’s kept close in, confined, rustic, and remote. The rest of the outside world has no idea what’s going on up there in the hills.

Of course, that will change if Jenkie Mustard has her way. She’s inherited a little something extra-special from ol’ Granny Mustard, something other than the thriving moonshine empire her brutish cousins have taken over. Better yet, ever since Jenkie’s sister Suze went nuts and burned down the town, she doesn’t have to share the credit with anybody.

She reckons, though, it’ll make her famous. The power to bring dead things back to life? She’ll be a celebrity for sure! Her letter is enticing enough to get some TV people to come visit, maybe to turn her into her the star of her own reality show.

If Jenkie hasn’t quite perfected the process, so what? She’s got a few examples of what she calls ‘hollows’ stashed in her old trailer. She can even control them. Kind of. Soon, the TV people and Jenkie alike are in for some surprises. One of the ‘hollows’ is different, not just mindless and hungry like the others.

DESPER HOLLOW did leave me with one agonizing unanswered question, but otherwise I found it a great read, highly entertaining and well-written, enjoyable from start to finish.

-Christine Morgan

SKINNER by David Bernstein (2015 DarkFuse / 226 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Rob and his friends are heading to Rob’s boss’s cabin in the mountains for a weekend getaway. As they get further up the mountain, they begin to have trouble navigating through an unexpected blizzard. They are almost to the cabin when Rob sees an old man standing in the middle of the road. He swerves to avoid hitting the man, and the Jeep ends up sliding over the edge of the mountain. From that moment on, the friends are in a battle for their lives from the elements and from the wolves that stalk them.

The group, one of them severely injured, find the cabin and hunker down, hoping for the storm to pass so they can be rescued. But the cabin isn’t the refuge they had hoped for, and they find themselves in danger not only from the wolves gathered around outside, but from each other as well.

This is a fantastic story. While it hinted at some common tropes – friends in a secluded cabin, sinister animals, a creepy old man, a broken-down car that leaves its passengers stranded — the story is original, with twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. I will also admit to saying “Noooo!” out loud a few times at the fate of some of my favorite characters.

David Bernstein is a machine when it comes to putting out books. And yet, each new book is even better than the last. His books are a blast to read, and the stories are so well written you can picture everything in your head as if you were watching a movie.

When you start reading SKINNER, make sure you have a lot of time, because you’re not going to want to put it down.

-Sheri White

RIDING THE CENTIPEDE by John Claude Smith (2015 Omnium Gatherum / 241 pp / trade paperback, eBook)

The streak continues. Everything I’ve read so far by this author, the first thing I can even say is just “wow.” Followed by a babble of semi-coherent wonderings about how it is he’s not already hugely famous and rolling in loot. Because, well, WOW.

All I can think of is either: a.) he hasn’t been discovered enough yet; or b.) the writing’s so rich, decadent, heavy and luxurious that it scares off anybody just looking for an easy-breezy-peasy read.

Now, given how dang arrogant and pretentious and literary-snobby choice b.) would make ME sound, I’d really rather just go with a.) … so, get on it, people!

And you might as well jump right into the deep end with Riding the Centipede, a complex and labyrinthine magical mystery tour. Part psychedelic drug-quest as one young man works his way through a series of stages in search of the ultimate experience … part detective story as his sister and the private investigator she’s hired try to find him … part weird thriller as a nowhere-near-normal villain also joins the chase (awesome villain, called Chernobyl, with an origin story right out of a superhero universe!).

Plus, there’s bugs. If, like me, you’re kinda phobic about the creepy-crawlies, be warned. Be warned also for excruciatingly precise descriptions of various moments of sublime grossness. I almost couldn’t get through the scene with the Ratman, and the Reptile Queen wasn’t much more pleasant!

Great book. Not an easy read; you’ll have to pay attention. But it’ll be worth it. Smith’s artistry, style, and command of language is really, truly, staggeringly impressive. I am consistently blown away. Just SO good. This is a guy who knows his stuff, who has razor-sharp honed skills.

-Christine Morgan

JURSASSIC DEAD by Rick Chesler and David Sakmyster (2014 Severed Press / 215 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Sometimes, when you can’t decide between fighting zombies or dinosaurs, the answer is, like the little girl in the Tostitos commercial, why not both? Zombie dinosaurs! And why stop there? Infectious transformative ones whose bite turns people into ravening hybrid monsters!

With guns! And helicopters! And rocket launchers! From a secret polar research expedition to a classic supervillain volcanic island base! With evil geniuses and sexy covert operatives and gore and guts and explosions and nonstop action carnage!

It’s like a video game, starting off with a few basic mobs and weapons, but ramping up with vehicles and gear, bigger maps, crazier obstacles and boss battles. Not necessarily a bad thing. Fun in a caricature-character, over-the-top absurd, don’t hesitate long enough to think about it kind of way.

But I wanted more dinosaurs. I always want more dinosaurs. And I found the whole notion of a frozen, revived, undead T. Rex a little more plausible than most of the humans’ story arcs, reactions, or behavior.

-Christine Morgan