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.

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