Monday, March 28, 2016

Reviews for the Week of March 28, 2016

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

Celebrating 13 Years of Horror Fiction Fandom...

TOLERANCE: A WEST HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRE NOVELETTE by Hal Bodner (2016 Grinning Skull Press / 53 pp / eBook)

Bodner returns to his West Hollywood Vampire series (if you've missed the novels BITE CLUB and THE TROUBLE WITH HAIRY, correct that as soon as possible) with this quick and hilarious tale that asks the question: just how far should we go as a society to tolerate the customs and traditions of certain people? Or in this case ... monsters.

When young children go missing from the streets of West Hollywood, Coroner Becky O'Brien and Captain Clive Anderson decide to take a break from their investigation and find themselves having lunch at the Yo-Ogert-T, a trendy restaurant known for its tasty bar-b-q. While there, they run into everyone's favorite gay vampires, Chris and Troy. During their conversation, Clive suspects they know something about the disappearances, and they surely do.

We're then introduced to another creature in Bodner's ever-growing series (and I won't spoil anything here), who happens to own the restaurant.

By using unusual dietary and cultural traditons as metaphors for all-too-real social issues, TOLERANCE is as funny as it is serious, highlighted by Bodner's slick prose that's as rich with nearly non-stop innuendo and belly-laughs as his two aforementioned novels.

A fine distraction as we fans of the series eagerly await the unwrapping of the next novel, MUMMY DEAREST...

-Nick Cato

EXPONENTIAL by Adam Cesare (2014 Samhain Publishing / 218 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audio book)

Thanks to assigned reading in school, my daughter to this day grumbles about “Flowers-for-freakin’-Algernon.” Wouldn’t it, you might think, be a more fun, entertaining, and satisfying read if the experimental lab mouse turned into a giant protoplasmic blob-monster and went on a rampage of destruction?

Well, folks, your wait is over! THIS time, when the none-too-bright janitor smuggles a furry little friend out of the secret facility, he finds out all too quickly that he made a mistake. A big mistake. A mistake getting bigger all the time. Not that the janitor lasts long enough to realize the full implications of what he’s done.

But that’s okay, there are plenty of other hapless victims for Felix (no longer little, furry, or precisely a mouse anymore, for that matter) to crush and absorb in his ongoing quest to feed and grow. Poor thing … as giant protoplasmic blob-monsters go, you kinda gotta feel for him.

The rest of the cast of people-characters are a great mismatched lot; many of them meet messy ends and several find their paths converging at a bar in the middle of the Nevada nowhere, in hopes of hunkering down to survive or make a last stand.

The writing’s breezy, skillful, and clever. The story moves right along, the critter’s an inventive variation on expectations, the gory carnage is great, the action moves along, the banter’s good.

FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON meets TREMORS … what’s not to love?

-Christine Morgan

BLOOD FOR THE SUN by Errick A. Nunnally (2014 Spence City / 232 pp / trade paperback, mass market paperback, and eBook)

Nunally's debut novel is an entry into the werewolf vs. vampire subgenre, yet despite the predictability of some scenes there are plenty of surprises and a genuinely likeable lead character. That'd be Alexander Smith, a werewolf who helps the Boston Police Department deal with unusual cases. This time he's asked to help with a child murder that seems to be the work of cultists. A nasty global conspiracy starts to unfold...

While Alexander's werewolf-side helps his investigative skills, he's continually fighting to keep his wolf nature at bay, mainly due to his love for adopted daughter Ana (who happens to be a vampire), and he's constantly dealing with a memory loss so severe he can't even remember why he came to Boston in the first place.

As much as I enjoyed Nunnally's lively cast (which includes other creatures familiar to readers of urban fantasies), and the child murder plot set-up is fine, it's the brutal fight scenes that make this one sing. Some of the one-on-one brawls are quite tense and as life-like as it gets.

I liked BLOOD FOR THE SUN quite a bit, especially the comic book-like plans of the vampires. Nunnally has a knack for making the coexistence of the supernatural and the normal gel very well. My only gripe is this BEGS for a sequel, as there are a few unanswered questions, but I'll assume the author has another one coming as that seems to be the norm for dark fantasy tales of this ilk.

A fun, exciting read fans of horror, mysteries, and action will enjoy.

(Note to Spence City: I'm a huge fan of the mass market paperback size, but PLEASE make the font a bit larger next time! Thank you.)

-Nick Cato

THE COMPLEX by Brian Keene (2016 Deadite Press / 232 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Longtime fans and readers will be treated to a bundle of kicks out of this one, which brings together elements from several previous books as well as real-life references, familiar names and places and faces … aaaaaand then pretty much obliterates them in blood-gluts of violent mayhem.

But, don’t let that stop you if you happen to be a new or casual reader. There may be a few spots that’ll have you puzzling, wondering what part of the joke you’re missing … maybe, though, those will send you looking for more books, and then when you connect the dots, you’ll experience that buzzy moment of ah-HA!

And even if not, hey, you still get a wild, nonstop blast of a read.

The denizens of the Pine Village apartment complex are just in the middle of another ordinary day – new tenants moving in, stoners playing video games, crazy cat lady spoiling her furry babies, happy newlywed couple, award-winning horror grandmaster author …

Then the naked crazy people show up with the murderous rampages. One moment, business as usual. The next, total chaos. No warning, no explanation, only desperate scrambling for survival.

Action and Easter eggs, guts and gore, a lot of extremely unsexy nudity, even some explosions. Moments that will make you cheer, moments that will make you cringe, moments that will make you shake your teeny fist in distraught rage.

-Christine Morgan

NOCTUIDAE by Scott Nicolay (2016 King Shot Press / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The book description is pretty spot on with what actually goes on here:

“NOCTUIDAE follows a trio of hikers into the savage heart of an Arizona canyon. Far from any sign of living civilization, and with no way to call for help, the trip goes from wrong to worse when one of the hikers turns up missing. The remaining two find themselves stranded in a shallow cave, suspicious of each other and desperate to survive until sunrise, praying that whatever’s out there won’t hear them.”

But, what we're not told is there's something much more hidden inside the cave. The author manages to keep the reader on the edge of their seat while reading a number of tropes found in many other books and movies today. Think titles doused with FEAR and SURVIVAL. But, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing that demerits the overall creativity of this book. No, the author spins his take on the story to pull you in, pulling off top-notch writing that keeps you reading, and once you’re there wanting more—it’s there. It’s there in your face in the form of a giant, flying beast with bubbles and beautiful multidimensional time travel that has the power to alter time and space, leaving the characters left to ponder life’s shallow existence in more ways than one.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE HOUSE THAT DEATH BUILT by Michaelbrent Collings (2016 CreateSpace / 314 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The newest white-knuckle thriller from the wildly prolific Michaelbrent Collings is another one-sitting read, zooming right along at a take-no-prisoners pace.

You know how it is when a bunch of bad guys break into some place, expecting a smooth heist, easy job, and big score? Only, then, it all goes horribly wrong, and you’re not sure just how much you should sympathize with or delight in their sudden perilous plight?

This is one of those stories, a vicious and delicious vengeful rude awakening, a shoe’s-on-the-other-foot wicked turnabout.

The heist team consists of mastermind Rob, the crazy and crazier brother-sister duo of Tommy and Kayla, and talented safe-cracker Aaron. They’ve each got their reasons for doing what they do, whether it’s for the money, the challenge, or the thrill. They’ve also had a run of bad luck following a botched job, and a sweet opportunity falling into their laps might just be the one to get them back on track.

So they think. So they hope. So they expect. Boy, are they in for a surprise. These homeowners have been waiting for a chance like this. Out of nowhere it’s all dogs and deathtraps, and the thieves have their hands full just trying to escape with their lives.

Oh, and as for the sympathize/delight? I admit, I was cackling pretty maniacally. Then again, when I was running dungeon crawl games, I’d sometimes leave my copies of Grimtooth’s Traps sitting out just to watch my players sweat.

-Christine Morgan



Monday, March 14, 2016

Reviews for the Week of March 14, 2016

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



UNDEAD FLESHCRAVE by Jim Goforth (2016 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 422 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The end of the world cannot GET more metal. Well, unless a ginormous asteroid of molten iron smacked the planet and totally encased it in hot gooey splatter.

And speaking of hot gooey splatter … this book doesn’t just wallow in gore. It’s an utter, shameless, unabashed celebration of gore. With sex, and of course music, and no Laymon-inspired work would ever be complete without the word ‘rump’!

The death-metal band Undead Fleshcrave only want what any other aspiring artists do … success, fame, fortune, groupies, and to usher in the zombie apocalypse. Their new hit, ‘Zombie Trigger,’ aims to do just that, turning the already chaotic and violent concert mosh pit audience into an even more chaotic and violent cannibalistic corpse-army.

But, not everyone at the concert is affected, because – as is the case in any discipline, from the hallowed halls of academia to sub-genre bickerings to ‘shipper wars on Tumblr – only the REAL TRUE death-metal dedicated die-hards count. Those other posers, dabblers, and fair-weather fans … they’re just meat.

Seth and his friends are more into black metal, and quickly find themselves on the run in an ongoing fight for their lives. A fight which becomes a crusade, when they join forces with the black-metal band Subversion, who intend to stop Undead Fleshcrave once and for all.

Also like metal, it’s on the heavy-and-dense side reading-wise; there’s a huge cast of characters cycling through and I more than once felt like I could’ve used a checklist or scorecard to keep track of who’s who … the writing and style at times got a bit deafening, a bit headachy and overdone, a steady pounding-thunder bass-pace to leave the ears ringing … but the author was clearly having a great time, and that always makes things fun.

-Christine Morgan

HANNAHWHERE by John McIlveen (2015 Crossroad Press / 380 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When they were only seven years old, twins Hannah and Anna witnessed the unimaginable right in their own home in an isolated area of Nebraska. Two years later, a trash collector finds a girl in a dumpster somewhere in Massachusetts, and amazingly she is still alive. A case worker named Debbie eventually gets the girl to talk, and we find out it's Hannah. But how did she get so far away from home, and where has she been for the past two years?

In McIlveen's dark fantasy, we're introduced to a woman and child who despite their age difference, have quite a bit in common, from dark pasts to supernatural abilities. A mystery unfolds as Debbie tries to help Hannah locate her sister, who may or may not be dead, and Debbie's skeptical superior is in for a shock when she learns both Hannah and Debbie have the ability to transport to other locations by will. No, this is no goofy X-Men stunt, but a fresh take on astral projection that is put to frightening use in the novel's excellent epilogue.

McIlveen's debut novel is a fast paced, absorbing read, original in its handling of its antagonist, and slick in its ability to make the fantastic seem believable. With as many heart-breaking moments as there is suspense, I won't be forgetting this great cast anytime soon.

-Nick Cato

TEXAS CHAINSAW MANTIS by Kevin Strange (2015 CreateSpace / 192 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I am not a fan of bugs. I really really don’t do well with the creepy-crawlies. Way too many legs. Way too alien and weird. But I also sometimes can’t resist … at least, in book form. Something called TEXAS CHAINSAW MANTIS? There’s a fun and clever title I couldn’t possibly pass up!

Though, I’ll tell you, the introductory author’s note alone almost did me in. On the one hand, it’s a kind of charming, kind of sad little autobiographical piece about a lonely kid who needs a friend … something of the sweetness and poignancy of Charlotte’s Web … except, even the end scene of Charlotte’s Web gave me the shuddering horrors, and that was mild by comparison.

Somehow, I pressed on past the intro, and suddenly found myself in a first chapter where it’s giant murderous mantises versus a sociopathic occultist serial killer, and I was having a great time! I could’ve happily read a whole book just on that, except, this story had other plans.

See, that was only the beginning of the mantis apocalypse. Skip ahead a couple dozen years, and the mantises have won. They’ve wiped out and replaced humanity, stepping with only some adjustments into the surviving infrastructure and social order.

Mantises with jobs, going to school, driving cars, buying houses, getting married, raising families, running for office. Dealing with pressing problematic issues such as violence, cannibalism, and sex.

Mostly, it’s the violence, cannibalism, and sex. A romping, stomping, head-chomping, gluttonous, glorious, pheromone-driven rampage of mantis-on-mantis violence, cannibalism, and sex.

I ended up reading the whole rest of the book in a single sitting, enjoying it probably way more than I should have, giddily impressed, gleefully disgusted, delighted, and amused in turns. VERY glad I didn’t let my phobia chase me away!

-Christine Morgan

SPLIT TONGUES by Kristi DeMeester (2016 Dim Shores / 40 pp / limited edition chapbook)

I've been hearing about Dim Shores' high quality chapbooks for a while now, but this is the first one in my collection. SPLIT TONGUES is a real treat to look at (collectors will love it), but readers will be happy to know this isn't just a 'purdy package: both tales here are top notch.

First up is the title tale, a strange religious horror yarn about a divorced couple who have joint custody of their daughter. The dad is a member of an unusually devout church, and the mother can't understand why Brianne has forgiven him for his adultery. And while her father and his congregation speak in tongues, Brianne is starting to experience something with her own tongue, along with a young man at the church.

Then in 'The Dream Eater,' a young girl and her mother are living in some kind of post-apocalyptic situation, teasingly revealed in almost every sentence. The story is only seven pages, so to say anymore would be a disservice to the author.

This is only a brief sample of DeMeester's writing, and if it's any indication of what's to come I'm completely on board. Great stuff for fans of horror that's on the weird side.

-Nick Cato

ROCK AND ROLL HEAD CASE by Lee Widener (2015 Eraserhead Press / 88 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know those stories when they try to come up with the most outlandish, most outrageous, most improbably ridiculous situations, and then reality seems to decide to take it as a challenge? When South Park, The Simpsons, or Back to the Future are trying to do a satirical, parodic spoof? Except then, suddenly, it’s all too plausible?

Admittedly, in ROCK AND ROLL HEAD CASE, the majority of what goes on – getting a weaponized disembodied Alice Cooper head stuck to the end of your arm, for instance … or meeting the little old woman who lives in a shoe but her kids are creepy carnivorous baby dolls … flying chairs, teabagging giants, talking bananas – are, hopefully, a ways further beyond the realms of coming true.

Still, the popular new political candidate Franken-ssembled out of various celebrity and insect/animal body parts, including Trump’s hair and JFK’s brain? That’s enough to give any sensible person the willies. Worse, compared to what we ARE looking at, Trump’s hair with JFK’s brain might be an improvement.Thankfully the monstrosity rejected Palin's brain...

Anyway! So here’s a guy named Chaino Durante, who only meant to start off his day quitting and robbing the Nuclear Burger where he works. An odd find in the toxic fryer vat leads to him getting the aforementioned Alice Cooper head stuck on his arm, and his simple robbery attempt turns out to be only the start of a crazy crime spree / journey / adventure.

When I was a kid and came down with a fever, I’d have these recurring weird dreams, body horror and transformations and inanimate objects turned horribly animate. Reading this book was kind of like that. It all makes a certain sense at the time, and only afterward, usually when trying to explain it to someone else, you’re all, “okay, I know how it sounds, just bear with me, huh?”

By the time you get to the pirate ship and Wil Wheaton’s big toe …

See what I mean? Try to explain it, try to sound normal, and you come off like a spokesperson for wraparound jackets with buckles up the back. It’s a fitting addition to the New Bizarro Author bibliography, a good example of a genre that really has to be experienced to be believed, and a non-pharmaceutical way to make your brain feel like a pretzel.

-Christine Morgan

COMPANIONS IN RUIN by Mark Allan Gunnells (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 162 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Mark Allan Gunnells’ latest Horror collection is something you’re probably going to want to check out sooner than later. The author manages to put together another beautifully horrific plethora of short stories that have the power to linger for a while well after you’re done reading them. The book is jam packed with stories that contain such original diversity and creativity that the author manages to standout in the genre to the point where you never really know where the story is going, so you absolutely have to keep reading for yourself to find out. Be prepared to cringe, laugh, fear, love and be downright entertained by the pages and stories buried deep within the dark recesses of this book.

The author kicks things off with 'Ours is a God of Anger,' a tale about a photographer traveling around the countryside checking out humorous church signs. You know, the mottos and slogans meant to catch your attention as you pass by, so you irresistibly want to attend their service over others on Sunday morning. Well, the main character goes deep into a small town during his travels when he finds a peculiar sign that reads, OURS IS A GOD OF ANGER. Interested by the off the wall roadside attraction, he decides to pull over and check it out a little closer for himself, until he’s lured into the basement by a shirtless teenager, and fed to a black mass with yellow eyes. Some of my other personal favorites were, 'The Gang', a little gem of a story that takes place on Halloween, where what better time to rob a bank than when the neighborhoods are chaotically flooded with children in costumes carrying around bags full of candy? It’s pretty much a field day for a group of dwarfed misfits who have a little trick or treating planned for themselves, and they won’t stop until they receive their final payment.

'The End of Her Rope' is a shocking tale about a child’s alleged hatred for his own mother that doesn’t end well in more ways than one. In 'Debt', a medical debt collector has a couple tricks hidden up her sleeve, or top desk drawer depending on how you look at it. You might want to keep your payments up to date after reading this one. 'Rebecca Weston Speaks the Truth', if you have a problem saying things you shouldn’t to others, yo’ she’ll solve it. Or, cut her tongue off with a butcher knife.

This is a must read Horror collection for any fan of the genre.

-Jon R. Meyers

TOMORROW'S CTHULHU edited by Scott Gable and C. Dombrowski (2016 Broken Eye Books / 318 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

“Stories at the dawn of posthumanity” reads the tagline for this snazzy anthology, which presents twenty-nine tales of Lovecraftian horrors set in the near-, far-, or all-too-near-future. Now, normally, history’s more my thing than sci-fi, but, the Mythos makes everything so amazingly flexible, I’m always glad to give some new takes on it a try.

Besides, I recognized more than a few of the names on the TOC, any one of which on his or her own is like a quality guarantee. Cody Goodfellow? Damien Angelica Walters? Pete Rawlik? Nate Southard? Score! They also, each, of course, knock it out of the park in their unique styles.

Then, of course, I go and read some stories by people I don’t know, and am equally blown away. The book opens with Daria Patrie’s 'Tangles,' and it is just a wonderful descent into creepy madness. Other stand-outs by new-to-me names I’ll be keeping an eye open for include Richard Lee Byers’ 'Advanced Placement,' 'Tekeli-Li, They Cry' by A.C. Wise, 'Beige Wall' by Joshua L. Hood, and Matt Maxwell’s Melville-esque seafaring 'Chunked.'

As I was working on this review, I went back through the book and, yes, it’s another where I could have kept adding my top picks until I’d pretty much added them all. Kudos to the authors for delivering the solid goods, and kudos to the editors for assembling such an amazing lineup.

-Christine Morgan