Sunday, September 27, 2015

Reviews for the Week of September 28, 2015

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

SUPERGHOST by Scott Cole (2015 Eraserhead Press / 112 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The mysterious Dr. Rains offers Darren and Michelle (and a host of others) an experimental cure for their irritating phantom limb syndromes. By placing their arm or leg stubs into his machine, they are temporarily cured of their pain. But of course Dr. Rains has plans none of his patients could've ever guessed.

It seems Dr. Rains has invented a way to "steal" phantom limbs, and has invented an adhesive that can connect them together, a paranormal glue if you will. And to get back at the scientists who mocked him, he has created a fifty-foot tall "Superghost" comprised of the torso and head of a body builder with multiple legs and arms.

At a science convention, the Superghost goes on a rampage that begins to flatten the city (it's able to both walk through walls and become a solid killing machine at will). Thankfully, Darren and Michelle have come into contact with the equally as mysterious Dr. Franck, who has come up with a way to battle the Superghost. And it will require Darren and Michelle becoming part of an even stranger monstrosity.

SUPERGHOST is Cole's debut, a riff on mad scientists and ghost stories that's quite entertaining. I'll definitely be checking out whatever goodies this New Bizarro Author has up his translucent sleeve.

-Nick Cato

GOBLINS by David Bernstein (2015 Samhain Publishing / 210 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Roanoke Island in Virginia is usually a quiet town, a nice place to live and raise children. Until one afternoon when Jacob Brown disappears in the woods while chasing a baseball after a championship game. Shortly after, his parents are brutally murdered in their home. And soon, more children disappear, their families slaughtered.

Police Chief Marcus Hale begins to suspect that what is terrorizing Roanoke Island is not human. He resists the idea, but town drunk Jed Brewster knows about such things, and together they try to stop the creatures stalking the children.

GOBLINS was kind of a strange reading experience for me. I enjoyed the story very much; David Bernstein is a great writer who just keeps getting better with each book. But he described the children’s terror and pain so well that it broke my heart thinking of the horror they endured – even though they are fictional characters. 

But if you prefer your horror more visceral than emotional, there is something for you as well. Splatterpunk describes this story very well. The goblins spend a lot of time masticating eyeballs, disemboweling victims, and generally feasting on humans, and the author lovingly describes these actions. I cringed a lot.

If you’re looking for a good, creepy story for the Halloween season, GOBLINS is a perfect choice.

-Sheri White

ANDERSONVILLE by Ed Erdelac (2015 Hydra / 340 pp / eBook)

I love historical fiction when the language and feel of the era is spot-on, and from the very first page, this one nails it. The era in question is Civil War, the particular setting a train on the way to a hellish prisoner-of-war camp in Georgia.

It isn’t the sort of train anybody would want to be on, let alone deliberately sneak onto … and even less so for a black man dressed in Union blue. Yet that’s exactly what Bradley Lourdes does, to the point of taking on the identity of a less (or maybe more) fortunate deceased soldier.

Living or dead, black or white, none of them are going to find their situation improved by arriving at their destination. Inside the stockade is a mass of mud, filth, lice, brutality and despair. Shabby tents and ramshackle shelters crowd together in every available inch of space, and those who can’t manage such lodging find themselves scrounging out a place to sleep on the bare ground. Rations are few and far between. Clean water is a treasure beyond price.

Life is cheap, and the threat of violence is everywhere. Maybe from the sentries up on the walls of the stockade, rewarded for shooting anyone crossing the line. Maybe from the sadistic guards and their packs of vicious dogs. Maybe from the commander, always ready to order a lashing. Maybe from fellow prisoners; the tough prey on the weak, various factions maneuver for status, and there’s always the odd lone lunatic or two.

Yet, as horrible as the place appears … the truth is worse. Much, much worse. I’d been so caught up in the story already, the characters and their struggles, the atrocities, the grim and appalling and all-too-believable conditions, that it almost came as a surprise to discover there was an even more sinister, inhuman secret lurking behind the already inhumane facade.

So, you get the grittiness and horror of a Civil War prison camp, loaded with racism ranging from casual to monstrous, and you also get a hefty dose of the paranormal. Biblical, native, vodoun, occultism, a little of this, a little of that, mixing together to mean serious bad news.
It’s a great read, bringing together history and mystery, descriptions almost too vivid, plenty of compelling characters, and an expertly handled sense of time and place.

-Christine Morgan

THERE'S A BLUEBIRD IN MY HEART by Gary McMahon (to be released 10/14/2015 by White Noise Press / 26 pp / limited edition chapbook)

After losing his family to some kind of monster plague, Bill finds comfort in the bottle, even if it only leads to fistfights and more despair. And after a one night stand with his elderly landlady, he finds his way to another bar where he discovers he's able to see auras of sorts--strange blue glows coming from the other patron's chests--that leads him to an encounter with a strange beast that then leads to what is perhaps the ultimate kind of self-discovery.

While McMahon's tale only takes up 18 pages, its scope is epic; the hint that something worldwide is happening hides in the background of Bill's closed world, which is as depressing as it is exciting. BLUEBIRD is an incredibly satisfying read, although I could easily see it being expanded into a much longer piece.

If you've never seen a White Noise Press chapbook, this one's as beautiful as ever, complete with Keith Minnion's interior illustrations and packaging collectors will want on their shelf.

Another all-around excellent release from WNP. (This is limited to only 150 copies so grab one now at White Noise Press)

-Nick Cato

THE REBORN by Bryan Smith (2015 CreateSpace / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Wow. I mean, just … wow. Serves me right for assuming this was going to be yet another zombie story. This is anything BUT yet another zombie story. This is a one-way ticket to a spiraling weirdness, becoming more impossible to put down with each passing page. I recommend setting aside enough time to read at a single sitting, because it has one of the highest what-happens-NEXT?! factors I’ve seen in a good while.

So, there’s this guy named Josh, who’s always sort of known that sooner or later, he’d kill someone. Probably several someones. He’s been fighting the urge since he was a kid and recognizes himself as definite serial killer material. Finally, he can’t resist any longer, and sets his sights on a woman he’s known since they were kids.

Mia. Beautiful Mia, not quite the girl next door but the girl whose mom still lives across the street from his grandfather (who’s his own barrel of fun; a mean, spiteful, bitter, abusive old bastard Josh can’t seem to escape).

It works. He gets her. He does the vile things he’s always wanted to do. He kills her. Even brings home a special souvenir, at least, as long as it lasts and he keeps it on ice. Josh is feeling pretty smug, pretty pleased with himself.

Except then, Mia comes back. Incredibly, impossibly, there she is. Back from the dead, with no memory of her own murder, and with a new, inexplicable fondness for Josh.

Fondness? Obsession, more like. It may seem like any guy’s dream, having a gorgeous woman utterly devoted to him, but it’s actually more than a little creepy. He can’t get rid of her. He doesn’t know what to do. It certainly promises to cramp his style for any future killings, too. Or does it? Mia really only wants to be there for him, take care of him. No matter what. If that means helping, well ...

Josh isn’t exactly your Dexter-style antihero, adhering to his own twisted kind of code. Josh is, honestly, kind of a jerk. Not to mention, a dangerous and depraved sociopath. And yet, in a peculiar sort of way, I found myself feeling sorry for him as he gets deeper and deeper into a mess of his own making, if beyond his understanding.

THE REBORN is part gory thriller with a supernatural twist, part hilarious screwball rom-com, and all awesome.

-Christine Morgan

A GOD OF HUNGRY WALLS by Garrett Cook (2015 Deadite Press / 164 pp / trade paperback)

Trust modern-day Renaissance genius Garrett Cook to not only reinvent the haunted house book, but discover it anew in whole hitherto unexpected dimensions.

I can’t help but be reminded of the immortal opening words by Shirley Jackson – Hill House, not sane, etc. I always thought those lines had such intriguing potential, and wanted more. How could a house be not sane? Aside, of course, from architectural wackadoo business like Winchester? But, in all my years of reading, I’d never found a satisfying answer.

Until now. This house is not sane, not by any human definition. And it isn’t anything so simple as “from the house’s POV.” Like in his stunning story in GIALLO FANTASTIQUE, this really is an imagining, an immersion of perspective, far beyond anthropomorphizing.

The house is fascinating in its alienness, its observation and manipulation of those within its area of influence. Some of them live there. Some of them, well, ‘live’ may not be the right term. There are those who currently rent rooms – Micah and Cythera with their turbulent relationship, troubled keep-to-herself Leah, feisty Kaz, and Brian-the-new-guy – and there are others. Those whose memories linger on in strangely vital ways. Antonia. Clarence and Maddy, and the shameful things they do to her.

The house knows their secrets. The house can put images into their minds, thoughts into their heads, urges into their bodies. Through therapy sessions with Doctorpuppet, and torture sessions in the basement, with subtle whispers and suggestions or outright physical manifestations, the house affects them, plays with them, uses them at its whim.

The house might as well be a god, but even gods sometimes have their devils. What IS the Closetsong? How is it exerting its own power, interfering, taking what should only belong to the house?

I can’t really give a synopsis because I think this is the kind of book that will resonate differently with each reader; it’s marvelously self-contained and inward-looking, it explains nothing but doesn’t leave a sense of unfulfilled un-explanation. As things begin to fall apart, the distress and confusion, the disintegration, are almost painfully empathic.

Masterful stuff. By no means a casual read; so much is going on, and on so many levels, it will require full concentration … and even then, probably several re-reads will be required, with new impact and new sinking-ins each time.

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reviews for the Week of September 14, 2015

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

INFLICTIONS by John McIlveen (2015 Macabre Ink / 286 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

To echo Chris Golden's introduction, several stories in McIlveen's collection knocked me for a loop, mainly because I just didn't expect such dark, desolate stuff from a guy I considered to be one of the most laid back people I've ever met. So if you ever run into John at a convention, don't let his happy, upbeat personality fool you. When not making you laugh your ass off, INFLICTIONS offers some seriously disturbed horror that had me racing through its 23 offerings like a junkie who couldn't get enough.

The goosebumps come right away with opening tale 'Paint it Black,' where a widowed man attempts to understand the unusual final painting of his late artist wife, then the family horror continues in the title tale, 'Inflictions,' where a man discovers his own depraved past.

One of my favorites here is the lengthy 'Jerks,' about a woman named Kelly who is tired of being judged (and picked on) for her looks, and has enough when she finds her man cheating on her. She soon befriends a most strange alien, and things get even weirder--and funnier--as her life does a complete turn around. A truly hilarious romp.

And just when you think more humor is coming, we're hit with 'Make a Choice,' about a vacationing family who get tied up and are forced to play a nasty game at the hands of a lunatic: brutal and terrifying. I had read 'A Mother's Love' in the 21st CENTURY DEAD anthology, and enjoyed revisiting this heartbreaking tale of a mother trying to keep her zombie child well fed during the zombie apocalypse.

'Smokey' is another heart breaker dealing with a cat's supernatural way of helping an abused child. 'Roundabout' begins with a man murdering his family, then quickly turns into one of the more different occult horror tales I've read in a while. 'Succumb' finds a preacher battling an extremely horny entity, while a vampire hunter gets sweet revenge on the one responsible for killing her family in 'Portraits.'

'Nina' tells the tale of the ghost of an abused child, then more ghostly goodness runs rampant in 'The Confession of a Confirmed Has Been,' as a ghost befriends the daughter of a new family living in his old house; I found this one particularly eerie.

The laughs come back full force in the redneck rib-tickler 'Signs,' then the short 'Simon Says' delivers the beginning of the end at the hands of a snarky scientist. More apocalyptic mayhem continues in 'Desolation,' a nuclear war tale that more than lives up to its title.

A man deals with his wife's funeral in the uplifting 'Hope,' and while it may seem a bit out of place here, McIlveen keeps it strange enough to hold your interest.

I can't say enough good things about 'Saddled Vengeance,' a hysterical weird western where crab-infested outlaw Lucas McAdams meets his fate at the hands of an Indian tribe and a very pissed off horse. Did I mention this one is hysterical?

'Finding Forever' is another occult-themed entry with a wickedly dark conclusion, then the flash-length 'Hell to Pay' serves as a quick little follow up.

'What if...' like the aforementioned 'Hope,' is a positive and beautiful tale that brings a little light to the collection, then 'Devotion' delivers the Twilight Zone-like willies.

One of the standouts here is 'The Bore,' about an average guy getting revenge on his cheating wife at a high school reunion. It's as darkly comic as you can get. The dark humor continues in 'A Perfect Man,' where a loser wins the lottery and attempts to find a good plastic surgeon to improve his looks. But he falls victim to a voodoo queen and the results are quite funny.

'In Defense of...' is a short but sweet werewolf (or is it?) tale, then the collection concludes with 'Playing the Huddys,' about a computer company's softball team finding themselves forced to play against a family of inbred rednecks. It's matter-of-fact ending adds to the sheer absurdity.

23 stories, 6 presented here for the first time (although I had only read one of them beforehand).

INFLICTIONS delivers the horror and the humor, sometimes together, sometimes apart. McIlveen's prose is slick and will keep readers glued to the pages, even during the more light hearted fare (but know there isn't much of it here!). This is a fine introduction to a writer who is well worth checking out, and one I'm looking forward to following.

-Nick Cato

THE HUNGRY DARKNESS by Gabino Iglesias (2015 Severed Press / 140 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Caving is scary. Diving is scary. Put them together, and what do you get? Exponentially scary claustrophobic hostile-environment ways to die. And that’s BEFORE somebody gets greedy.

The greed is understandable enough. Nick Ayres wants to make a name for himself, get into the record books for cave-diving explorations, and being able to film it all with NatGeo footing the bills only makes it better. If he has to do a little damage to widen a passage no one’s ever seen before, well, can’t make an omelet etc. etc.

The trouble, of course, with sneaking in explosives to blast open part of an underwater cave is not just because it’s all illegal and stuff. It’s because who knows what might be living in there? Safe from other predators, but also sealed away … until you gotta come along and let it out.

Needless to say, let the crushing and chomping begin! So much for that NatGeo special, too. So much for some local fishermen … and kids … so much for the highly vital tourism industry, if the little problem isn’t dealt with on the quick and quiet.

That’s where Gabe Robles comes in. A loner with a boat, who takes tourists on fishing and diving expeditions, he’s always on the edge of going broke. So, when he’s offered a lot of money to find and kill the critter, he can’t exactly refuse.

Action-packed and intense, it does suffer from some editing issues (I feel like I’m griping about that a lot lately; are people getting sloppier or am I turning into a judgmental old fussbudget? Or both?). The dialogue tends toward that thing where characters address each other by name a lot to make sure the reader doesn’t forget who’s speaking.

The ending’s also very abrupt, a “wait what it’s over?” doorslam kind of thing; I wanted a little more wrap-up and wind-down. All in all though, another decent addition to the list of books to read while you’re NOT on vacation.

-Christine Morgan

DEATH SONGS FROM THE NAKED MAN by  by James Newman and Donn Gash (2015 Cemetery Dance Publications / 91 pp / eBook)

A naked man with a gun picks off customers in a convenience store, singing songs and yelling absurdities to the terrified clientele.  A lonely man in a truck stop hooks up with a beautiful woman that will end up a night he will always remember and always regret. A couple receiving marriage counseling from their church minister work out their differences in a horrific and violent way. And an aspiring writer gets the desperately-hoped-for break of his career that turns out to be a nightmare not only for him, but his wife and brother as well.

James Newman and Donn Gash have put together a collection of twisted, but hilarious stories of people caught up in completely insane situations. There is a lot of brutality and graphic violence, but while you’re cringing, you will also be laughing.

I hope Newman and Gash work together again soon, because they make a fantastic writing team.

-Sheri White

I LIKE TURTLES by G. Arthur Brown (2014 Strange Edge Publications / 133 pp / eBook)

You know those weird little toys from cereal boxes, vending machines, and the I-didn’t-cry drawer at the dentist’s office? I’m talking the stuff of which Archie McPhees, that venerable Seattle quirk-emporium, is made … novelties on the far end of the WTF scale … you know?

This collection of flash fiction from G. Arthur Brown is like that. One little piece of weirdness after another, each stranger than the last, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes the wackiest one yet. The simultaneous mental sense of “but but but WHY,” and immediate perfect rightness, was the feeling I kept getting struck with all throughout the book.

I’m not even sure how to begin to describe any particular story. They’re each in their own ways fascinating nuggets of absurdity and brilliance. The sort of thing you might think at first glance a kid on cough syrup might have done, bizarre imagery, random thoughts, streams of consciousness, word-salad … except it goes deeper than that. There’s more to it than that, a structure and system. Sometimes it’s right up front, sometimes it hits you midway or at the end, but it’s there.

They range from grim to hilarious, from possibly offensive to poignant. “Poor November” is a poignant one, haunting and beautiful in its despair. But then there’s “Sweat Bees,” which leans more toward an Edward Lee kind of thing … and the sheer goofiness of “James Franco vs. Shia LaBeouf” … yet as wildly different as they all are, those are the three I liked the best. Go figure.

Really, all I can say is, I’m not surprised in the least to see I LIKE TURTLES on the ballot for this year’s Wonderland awards. No matter who takes home the prize, everyone wins.

-Christine Morgan

DECEMBER PARK by Ronald Malfi (2014 Medallion Media Group / 756 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

It’s the early 90s, and the small town of Harting Farms – usually a very safe place where the worst crimes are those of the mischievous kind – is in terror of a child killer called “The Piper.” A teenage boy named Angelo, along with his best friends, decide to try and solve the mystery, not realizing just how deeply in danger they’re going to find themselves.

This is a coming-of-age story, and will be compared to King’s short story “The Body.” While there are a few similarities, DECEMBER PARK blows it out of the water with the character development and emotional depth of the story. This is Angelo’s story, and he keeps the reader right by his side every moment. 

There is nothing supernatural here, but it is very creepy and suspenseful.  I had my suspicions about who “The Piper” would turn out to be, but I was way off. It worked, though. And I’m glad the story followed Angelo and his friends in the aftermath, leading to a satisfying conclusion.

The book is long, over 700 pages, but it doesn’t feel bloated, nor did I have to push myself to get through any of it. The time flew by when I was reading it, and I picked it up whenever I had a spare minute. Another cool thing for me is that I live in Maryland, where the story takes place, and could picture a lot of the scenes by the water. DECEMBER PARK is a fantastic book. I can’t wait to read more by Ronald Malfi.

-Sheri White


WICKED TALES: THE JOURNAL OF THE NEW ENGLAND HORROR WRITERS, VOLUME 3 edited by Scott T. Goudsward, Daniel G. Keohane, and David Price (2015 NEHW Press / 248 pp. / trade paperback & eBook)

With a fun cover like something off a classic issue of EC Comics, featuring a bunch of icky-squishy eldritch horrors pickaxing their way into a cartoon Lovecraft’s grave … yeah, okay, we’re off to a good start … and the introduction by Chet Williamson, “The Old Scribe and the Mysterious Codex,” does a nice job setting up a display case for the assortment of artistic oddities to follow.

'Somebody’s Darling,' by Kristin Dearborn, is first up and also one of my favorites, a historical behind-the-battlefield war story where death isn’t the worst fate in store for the wounded, and a young nurse is faced with a troubling dilemma.

Among my other top picks would have to be Sam Gafford’s 'My Brother’s Keeper' – no spoilers, but, it’s a clever and refreshing take on a familiar tale, from the point of view of a usually neglected character.

'The Hiss of Escaping Air' by Christopher Golden, is a satisfyingly twisted revenge yarn in which a movie mogul’s trophy wife goes after the most prized item in his collection, only to realize too late that she may have gone too far.

And speaking of satisfyingly twisted revenge yarns, Holly Newstein’s 'Live With It' is another winner, in which a chance meeting between former childhood friends leads to a grim reunion with an abusive parent.

Many people don’t read or appreciate poetry enough … I’m trying to get better about it myself, and therefore it’s always nice when I happen across a treat like Tricia J. Woolridge’s 'The Crocodile Below.' A poem about mean little kids and crocodiles in the sewer? Yes please!

Of course, I’m also a sucker for some good Viking stuff, so 'Odd Grimsson, Called Half-Troll' by John Goodrich was quick to catch my interest. But then, a good gripping saga of visions, curses, and man-vs.-monster will do that!

There are several more stories filling out the table of contents, and I enjoyed most of them. Definitely worth a look!

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 47, Jul/Aug 2015)

After the usual interesting commentary (this time Stephen Volk on the Hitchcock/Frenzy/Jack the Ripper connection and Lynda E. Rucker muses on fear itself), the latest issue of everyone's favorite horror magazine kicks off its fiction with James Van Pelt's 'On the Road with the American Dead,' where we find a copy machine deliveryman encountering ghosts as he drives across the United States. It's more whimsical than eerie, but gives a fresh take on how the departed may carry on.

In 'All the Day You Will Have Good Luck,' Kate Jonez introduces us to a high school stud from Oklahoma who runs afoul of an unusual carnival worker ... and latently, her family. It reminded me, somewhat, of Tim Lebbon's excellent 2005 novel DESOLATION, yet Jonez gives the killer twist her own flavor.

John Connolly strikes with 'Razorshins,' where prohibition-era moonshine runners face a legendary creature when a snowstorm changes their plans. The cast  and suspense level are fantastic. In the hands of a lesser writer this could've been a ho-hum monster mash, but Connolly makes it the highlight of the issue.

'The Devil's Hands' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam features a girl from a hippie family (who may or may not be bisexual) finding herself after a drug-fueled demonic encounter. Despite the brief occult element, this one feels more like a Lifetime Channel movie of the week than a horror story. Well written, but out of place.

Ray Cluley gets things back on track with 'When the Devil Drives.' After a disturbed goth girl acts on her murderous impulses, Old Scratch himself helps her live out her hellbent fantasies in this lurid, fast paced thriller. You can almost hear SPECIMEN playing in the background as you read this one...

Capping off the issue's fiction offerings is Eric J. Guignard's 'A Case Study in Natural Selection and How it Applies to Love,' an apocalyptic tale of global warming causing people to spontaneously combust. A no-nonsense young man living with survivors in California comes of age through it all in this "mini-epic" that could surely be lengthened into a novella, or even a novel. Good stuff with some great artwork by Jim Burns.

Peter Tennant interviews featured author Ray Cluley and reviews another heaping pile of books (seriously...he must read 23/7 when he's not writing!). Among the several anthologies reviewed, I'm looking forward to checking out 'The Spectral Book of Horror Stories' edited by Mark Morris, which sounds like the promising start of a new series.

Finally, the always informative Tony Lee brings us plenty of DVD and bluray reviews, although I think he went too easy on THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 3. Otherwise, I have yet another batch of films added to my growing must-see list, and for film buffs Lee's section is essential reading.

Subscribe or check out a sample issue here: TTA Press / Black Static

-Nick Cato