Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reviews for the Week of October 24, 2016

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

SHOCKER by Armand Rosamilia and Frank Edler (2016 Rymfire Books / 130 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Manny "Dirty" Sanchez is placed in the cell of Vito "The Shocker" Shocketti at Rahway State Penitentiary in NJ. Currently on his 20th year of a life sentence, Vito wonders if his young new cell mate is a spy for the police or a genuine criminal. He slowly gains his trust and trades food for stories about his violent and crazy past, most of which took place in the 1980s around the NJ heavy metal scene.

It turns out Vito had been raised by nuns at an orphanage (one who was his aunt). But he ended up getting thrown out after he was caught having sex with a young nun in a confessional booth at the age of 13, and has since been on the streets.

Most of SHOCKER is Vito telling Manny his crazy past hi-jinks, which include him being controlled by a statue of the Baby Jesus he had seen while at the orphanage. The statue shows up all through the story, commanding him to kill and have sex with all kinds of metal heads down the Jersey Shore and around some iconic former NJ rock clubs. Reader be warned this is some real "guy" humor, and if you weren't a metalhead in the 80s some of it may go right over your head.

But for those of us who grew up in this scene, there are a lot of references and situations that are hilarious despite the authors' twisted take on them. I did find it funny that a guy as tough and crazy as Vito Shocketti would be a fan of such wimpy bands as DANGER DANGER and BON JOVI, but hey, in the 80s I guess even the toughest dude would listen to such crap if it meant getting down some girl's pants, which here is our protagonist's main goal in life. Funny also is the anti-Staten Island commentary, which I (as a Staten Islander) actually found hilarious, as what is said here is practically the same thing we Noo Yawkers used to say about the Jersey metalheads! Ah, to be back in the 80s once again...

In the end, Vito finds out who Dirty Sanchez really is, and, guided by the Baby Jesus, are off on an adventure to be continued in the second part of this planned trilogy.

SHOCKER is a wicked fun read, especially for metalheads or anyone interested in the 80s metal club scene. The authors blend horror, humor, and some really bizarre situations to make this jailhouse thriller a real blast of trashy goodness.

I'm looking forward to the recently released SHOCKER 2: LOVE GUN...

-Nick Cato

REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 AND 4 edited by Jim Goforth (2015/2016 J. Ellington Ashton Press / approx 300 pp each / trade paperback & eBook)

Then there’s those awkward moments when your co-worker makes a big disapproving speech about some regular mass-market paperback crime thriller she found in the bookshelf just out in the common room, and how a book like this shouldn’t BE here in this facility, it’s all full of rape and violence … and you’re sitting there reading the third of the REJECTED FOR CONTENT anthologies …

Well, I figured at that point I might as well go for broke and read the third AND the fourth and review them both in one mondo equivalent of binge-watching. So, I did. Yes, my brain feels all dirty (or, dirtier; let’s be realistic here, it was far from spotless when I started).

Made for a whooooooole lot of nasty, let me tell you! The lineup of authors alone should be a warning of the level of hardcore grossness you’re getting yourself into; K. Trap Jones, Amanda Lyons, Stephen Kozeniewski, the Sisters of Slaughter, T.S. Woolard, John Ledger …

I had a feeling I’d be in for a rough time of it, narrowing down my top picks to mention in this review, but, here we go!

“What’s In A Name” by Toneye Eyenot starts off the Vicious Vengeance of RFC 3 with the atrocity-meter cranked to maxx, no holds barred, as a grieving father seeks revenge for the unthinkable. It certainly sets the tone for the rest of the book! If you can make it through this one, you’ll probably be okay. Maybe.

Other faves from that volume: Ian McClellan’s “Justice,” a soul-shredder with nuances of Jack Ketchum; Lisa Dabrowski’s short-sweet-beautiful poem “Alabaster Skin;” the disturbingly sexy “In The Black Room, We Are Not Allowed To Speak,” by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason; “Waist Deep” by Matthew Weber; and Ash Hartwell’s “Care Plan 13.”

The subtitle of RFC 4 is Highway to Hell (pictured above), with the theme of highways, be they metaphorical or literal ... the journey, the transition, the travel ... when it isn't so much where you're going as how you get there.

I think the creepiest of Vol. 4's offerings is "Miss_Vertebrae" by Eric LaRocca, though as something of a fastidious crazy-cat-lady in training myself, I can't deny a certain affection for "Little Miss Persnickety Jayne" by Mark Woods. I also got a sick kick out of the Last-House-on-the-Left vibe in William Bradley's "S.O.A.P;" Brian Glossup delivers an unlikely team-up adventure in "Hit N Run;" "The First Cut" by T.S. Woolard, shows turnabout isn't always fair play; and a deadly dose of revenge porn stars in James H. Longmore's "Snuffed: Fifty Shades of F*cked Up."

As a fun bonus, one trademark of the RFC series is the little 'rejection letters' included at the ends of the stories. Whether the real deal or not, one can't help but smirk and snicker at the notion of some unsuspecting slushpile reader or editor getting a surprise eyeful of these fiendish offerings.

-Christine Morgan

IT CAME FROM ANOMALY FLATS by Clayton Smith (2016 Dapper Press / 182 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, I picked this book up on a whim while trolling the new Horror releases on Amazon. It immediately caught my interest for two reasons (aside from the fact it’s a new Horror collection and I’m naturally a big sucker for a good ole’ short horror story). One, the beautifully violent and horrific cover art sporting these massive green tentacles, a stereotypical suburban soccer mom, and large, shiny daggers, and, two, the intriguing book description.

The author introduces us to a recurring setting that takes place in this strange and horrific place found within all nine stories, Anomaly Flats. It’s this little cyber town of doom and horror, if you will. Think green ooze, rotting corpses, strange creatures, UFOs, black magic and pink laser beams meets short horror stories of yesteryear. A couple of my personal favorites were "The Time Capsule,' a story about time travel to kick things off.  'Aberration,' a fun romp through an abandoned minor league baseball field, while father and son spend some not so quality time together bonding over potential jail time, or even worse, DEATH! 'The Invitation,' a skillfully innovative take on the classic haunted house tale, one where the reader may be in more danger than they realize before beginning the story in the first place. Not to mention haunted by a witch, you say? Yes, please.

Recommended for fans of Horror, Dark, and Science Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

STRANDED by Bracken MacLeod (2016 Tor / 300 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

On their way to bring supplies to an oil rig near the north pole, the crew of the 'Artic Promise' start experiencing weird occurences: it seems the ice has frozen their ship in place, their radio equipment stops working (despite not being broken), and as far as the eye can see it appears the whole ocean has frozen solid. Among the colorful cast of crewman is Noah Cabot, a low man on the totem pole, who is constantly treated unfairly by his father-in-law William Brewster. The two have a difficuly history, which is revealed in pieces over the coarse of the story.

With the threat of running out of food and water, the crew decides to travel on foot to a mysterious mountain of snow, which they believe could be the oil rig. It turns out to be another ship frozen in place, and to his utter shock, Noah finds a fellow deckhand from his own ship onboard...a friend who died a year earlier.

STRANDED is a suspense-filled thriller dealing with dopplegangers, shadow people, and a supernatural element that blends believably into the happenings. Comparisons to John Carpenter's THE THING come to mind, but to me more so SURVIVE, the 1976 film dealing with the true tagedy of a rugby team who fought for survival in the Andes mountains after their plane crashed. MacLeod takes this type of survival tale and twists it in a way all his own, highlighted by some dazzling prose from the very first page.

If you're an agoraphobic, this one will mess with your mind on a few levels, and even if you're not this is a creepy-as-it-gets novel that will surely get under your frostbitten skin.

-Nick Cato


I MISS THE WORLD by Violet LeVoit (to be released 11/18/16 by Publisher: King Shot Press / trade paperback)

I read this one start to finish with hardly any breaks. Luckily, though I read it at work, that was a night the residents all slept through; if they'd been up and around and needy and making me actually, y'know, do my job, we might've had some disputes. I did NOT want to be interrupted.

From the opening scene, something so visual, so archetypal, so ultimately Los Angeles -- a naked blonde poised to leap from the roof of a plastic surgery clinic -- the reader is inexorably drawn into a world where nothing is what it seems. Where appearances are one thing, appearances, face-value, facades, rose-tinted glasses and sepia-tinted reminiscence ... but where even deception itself is deceiving.

The first half or so of the book, I was riding a nostalgia wave so intense I had to remind myself to breathe. Maybe a long, rambling conversation about memories of Grandma's house wouldn't have that effect on everyone, but it hit me right in some emotional nerve cluster, a soul-ar plexus if you will.

Yes, okay, there was the jumper at the beginning, and one might've anticipated that story, her story, to be the central plot, but it proves to be only an incidental moment as a sister and brother meet in a Hollywood cemetery for the abovementioned long conversation. Which also covers the intricacies of screenwriting and casting, various movie-making and silver-screen history, and deep personal issues.

It's like listening in on a painful, intimate disclosure, compelling and addictive. And, gradually, in the briefest tap and lightest brushing of disquiet, you start picking up on other things ... indications that something is VERY wrong here, that something BAD has happened, or has been done, or is being done, or going to be ... teasing curiosity.
And then, oh wow. And then oh wow. After I read it, I had to contact the author because "wow" was pretty much all my stunned mind could manage.

You know that feeling when the bottom drops out from under? If you watched something like Sixth Sense or Unbreakable before knowing the spoilers, that feeling of jawdrop when you suddenly GOT it? The goosebumps, the stunned blinking, the tingling hollow cold rushing sensation right behind your sternum? THAT feeling?

That happens in this book. More than once. It is masterful, it is beautiful and awful, it is sweepingly and breathtakingly artistic, the impact of seeing some great natural wonder or work of art for the first time.

As I was reeling from it, awash in the awe, feeling dazed and vulnerable, the book then took a shrieking hard left into utter horror, and blew my mind like a dandelion puff.

-Christine Morgan

LAKE LURKERS by MP Johnson (2016 Severed Press / 80 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, here’s the latest from author MP Johnson and Severed Press. And what do we have here? LAKE LURKERS is a strange little horror romp that takes place in a wealthy subdivision in Minneapolis. Tess is tired of living in a trashy, cramped one bedroom apartment. She has no room for activities and barely any amenities after issues with closing on her first property. She saves up everything she has and buys a mansion with more room and comfort than one could possibly imagine.

Although, there’s a catch: she's in a relationship and she lets her boyfriend, Randall move in, too. He’s annoying. He shreds metal riffs through loud guitar amps and doesn’t give Tess her much desired personal space in her castle. But, this isn’t the only issue Tess is being confronted with. No, there’s a secret lingering in the basement. A secret the previous owners failed to disclose in writing. It isn’t until discovering a black, oily slime in the backroom in her basement that Tess realizes she has other fish to fry (pun intended). People are dying outside, being pulled into the lake in front of her new big, beautiful house. Even the dumb cops are dying as they search for the answers needed to solve the big mystery. What are these slimy, black tentacle things made of pink brain meat? And why do they have so many teeth? And where in God’s name are they even coming from?

The extremely talented and versatile MP Johnson, takes us on a hard hitting, fast bullet flying, heavy metal guitar slinging, action-packed adventure, while Tess plans for the biggest, baddest, and not to mention most expensive rager of all-time, as she puts an end to the blazing madness lurking from the lake across the street.

-Jon R. Meyers

PRETTY PRETTY PRINCESS by Shane McKenzie (2016 Blood Bound Books / 202 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Parents of young children, approximately how many repeat viewings of Elsa's Winter Wonderland Sing-Along or something does it take before the average adult ends up gibbering in the corner? Because, whatever the number, I fear the McKenzie household must have far surpassed it by now, and Shane was hardly an average adult to start with.

His previous book, MONSTERS DON'T CRY, was only a talking animal and a couple musical numbers away from being a classic (if warped, violent, depraved, and sexed-up) take on the basic, Disney Princess formula. Evidently, that still wasn't enough to get it out of his system, and the result is Pretty Pretty Princess.

In this storybook realm of scattered kingdoms divided by the dread Dark Wilderness, tradition demands every princess be locked away in a monster-guarded tower or dungeon, only to be married off to whichever bold knight rescues her. This doesn't always go well for the princess. Sometimes, it means years of solitude and captivity, malnutrition, and neglect.

One man is out to change the system: our 'hero,' Prince Francis. Shunned by his own royal parents for being more interested in peaceful pursuits, burdened with a less-than-macho reputation, with a tendency to spontaneously burst into song, he travels around -- accompanied by Gavin, a foul-mouthed base-natured talking pig -- in hopes of convincing princesses they deserve better treatment.

His big opportunity arrives when he ends up accidentally recruiting a bunch of mercenary warriors who intend to help him rescue the most legendarily beautiful of princesses, held lo these past twenty years by the terrible Goblin-Dragon.

To his surprise, he succeeds. But, far from any happily-ever-after, he finds his troubles are only beginning.

It is crass, vulgar, obscene, outrageous, offensive, lewd, crude, tacky, and generally about the wrongest most messed-up fairy tale since what Anne Rice did to Sleeping Beauty.

Which isn't to say it's porn; while there's sex and loads of jokes about and references thereto, they're rather far from erotic. There's also more groin injuries than a Jackass marathon, more poop and potty humor than several seasons of South Park, and a whole lot of gleeful gory carnage.

-Christine Morgan

THE NIGHT CYCLIST by Stephen Graham Jones (2016 TOR / 32 pp / eBook)

THE NIGHT CYCLIST was originally published online and recently brought to our reading pleasure as a Kindle Short on Amazon, where I decided to check it out as I was looking for something quick and short to read. This beautifully written story is told in first person and it's rather short, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t pack a literary punch: it does.

Not being a huge fan of the author’s longer works as of yet, I have found that I do enjoy some of his shorter stories, this title no exception and is probably amongst my favorite that I've read. The author successfully manages to develop a couple of strong characters with a common interest; cycling. The main character, Bunny, a bachelor chef who has had countless failed relationships; one after another, is in for the ride of his life. He enjoys the nights’ sky on his rides to and from work, with his knife set strapped around his upper body, reminding him of the past when he was part of the team. Some of the most useful life lessons he’d ever learned came from his respected mentor in competition bicycling, Coach. The darker segments of the story begin to unfold when he stumbles across two dead bodies on his ride home from work, but he’s not the only one in town that’s been cooking. He decides to leave the bodies alone, lying there, as most bystanders would, in hopes, that someone else calls in and notifies the authorities, in which, a young gal does when she stumbles upon the scene.

When Bunny goes home and flips on the television he rewatches the true horror unfold, but something catches his eye in the footage. When he goes back out to see what he thought it was with his own two eyes, the author introduces us to a mysterious bicyclist, one Bunny can’t believe is able to do things on his bicycle much older than his, and what’s that smell? Immediately we get a sense of strong mystery and dread and begin to connect the strange characters to the corpses found in the creek. What were they doing and why? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out for yourself. The secret may be worth killing for. 
Recommended to fans of Short Stories, Dark, Horror, and Weird Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

CHASING GHOSTS by Glenn Rolfe (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 144 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a sneaky kind of book ... it starts off like it might be the classic small-town coming-of-age tale, boys on an adventure, uncovering dark secrets and creepy local history ... but the boys disappear, and the focus skip-jumps from there over to a band on their way to a gig at a weekend cabin party, with no idea what's lurking in the woods.

Meanwhile, the parents of one of the missing boys were having troubles of their own even beforehand, and this loss might be the last straw. The father, Derek, takes off on his bike, undecided if he's going to see his girlfriend, get drunk, look for his son, or what. He also ends up at the party, after an unsettling encounter with a lurking stranger by the road.

For most of those in attendance, it's an evening of booze, sex, music, and other recreational pursuits. For others, it's torture, mutilation, murder, and worse, at the hands of an inbred backwoods clan. Fairly standard stuff of its type, but entertainingly told, the interactions and banter among many of the characters are fun, and the ending makes for a nice surprise.

-Christine Morgan


SILENT SCREAMS by Josh Strnad (to be released 10/31/26 by Serpent and Dove)

The introduction to this anthology of 26 tales differentiates between two types of horror, the 'safe' (because we know it's fictional and can therefore keep a comfortable detachment) and the other kind (from which it isn't so easy to distance our psyches), and indicated this was a book of the latter sort.

Therefore, I was expecting a bunch of psychological horror, real-world plausible stuff, human monsters, killers, abuse, cruelty, the could-happens ... and found myself surprised by the number of them featuring more fantastical elements. Not necessarily a bad thing, just, also not necessarily matching that initial set-up. Anyway, fantastical elements aside, the emotions and experiences are what counts, and those were satisfyingly effective.

This time, I ended up with two tied-for-top fave picks. One is Igor Teper's "The Untelepathic Man," an unusual exploration of disability and difference, understanding. empathy, and society. Imagine being the only person in your community lacking a vital skill or major sense; what would that be like for you? What would it be like for everyone around you?

The other tied-for-fave is "The Words That Bite" by Frederick Obermeyer, an unusual apocalypse for everyone who ever got tired of the old 'sticks and stones' adage, in which the full destructive potential of words get unleashed, and what you say really can come back to bite you.

Other standouts include Helen Catan-Prugl's "The Lady in the Billboard," "Tyrant's Fall" by Andrew M. Seddon, "Moretta" by Aurora Torchia, "My Secret Thorns" by Rebecca Birch, and Chantal Boudreau's "Hand."

I also really liked Garth Upshaw's clever twist on some tropes in "Franks," though it ended much too soon; I'd definitely want to read more or longer works set in that world.

All in all, a nice variety, many more hits than misses as far as I'm concerned. Some new names to watch out for, too. Definitely worth a look.

-Christine Morgan

HALLOWEEN ORGY MASSACRE by Jeff O'Brien (2015 Riot Forge Studios / 136 pp / trade paperback)

Here is another fine example of it-is-what-it-says ... the title promises a Halloween Orgy Massacre, and you'd better believe that's exactly what you get. But, if you're thinking along the lines of standard slasher spree fare, you'll be in for more than a few surprises; things here go quite a ways off those rails.

I mean, we got weird goo-spewing toothy alien monsters here, we got cloyingly cute childrens' show characters, a scantily clad barbarian babe-mage, one of the few times I've read anything with a prophecy / destiny Chosen One shtick without totally wanting to claw out my own brain.

And, yes, we got orgy massacre all over the place. Something's turning people into sex maniacs, or murdering and devouring them, or both.

At first, the day seems like a crazy dream come true for nerdish metalhead Will, when the popular gal he's been crushing on is suddenly throwing herself at him, and he's got a chance to show all the cool kids at the big Halloween party he's not such a loser after all.

Okay, yeah, there are other weird things going on in town, like whatever blew a hole in the roof of the store where he works, and some cloaked mystery woman following him around, but, priorities are priorities.

My only issue with the book is a minor nit-picky one, which is that although it's set in the 1980s, a few uses of more contemporary dialect and slang sneak in. But, like I said, minor and nit-picky; everything else is popcorn-crunching giggles and gore.

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Reviews for the Week of October 10, 2016

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


REANIMATRIX by Peter Rawlik (to be released 10/18/16 by Night Shade Books / 364 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I settled in to read this one. Something good, I felt confident, given what I've seen from Rawlik before, and in such regard I was not let down. Beyond that, I was thinking something kind of Bride-of-Frankenstein-ish, maybe, a sequel spinoff to the classic Reanimator, along those lines. What I got was so much more, it blew even my vague early expectations away.

This is far beyond a simple sequel. This is extrapolation and worldbuilding and interweaving of epic proportions. This is not just a who's who of the Mythos, but a who's who of the entire era, historical and literary and pop-fictional combined. It's fun, it's sly, it's clever. I was reminded of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only minus the painfully forced feel, with better-written and more interesting, less-gimmicky characterization.

The story is primarily told in the form of journal entries from one Robert Peaslee, beginning shortly after the Great War. Originally from Arkham, his duties as part of a military security detail gradually morph into a semi-independent career of private investigation, paranormal troubleshooting, and general looking into the proverbial things-best-unknown.

During the course of his various pursuits, he becomes fascinated with a young lady named Megan Halsey-Griffith (a fascination made all the more interesting by the fact Robert isn't normally very keen on young ladies, so to speak). Her untimely death leads to his research into her family's enigmatic past -- deepening the frame narrative into diaries, letters, and accounts from other points of view -- and including some sordid glimpses into erotic underworlds and mysterious medical practices.

All this, of course, while also taking the reader on a grim and whimsical sight-seeing tour of Lovecraftiana, hitting several delightful touchstones along the way. My personal favorite moments, Chambersian heretic that I am, came early in the book (Chapter Two: The Sepia Prints).

But wait, you might be saying, this is called REANIMATRIX, isn't it about Herbert West and his infamous serum? Of course! That particular reagent, and its applications, provide the underlying drive for the plot, as various factions seek to control, duplicate, counter, or exploit its effects. There's plenty of reanimation to go around!

-Christine Morgan


A LONG DECEMBER by Richard Chizmar (to be released 10/31/16 by Subterranean Press / 520 pp / hardcover and eBook)

Chizmar's mammoth short story collection is everything you'd expect from a writer (and editor) who has been working with the best in the business for the past 25+ years through his magazine, Cemetery Dance. On display here are 35 of his career-spanning tales, most featuring clever twist endings, many are of the "quiet" horror variety, but that makes the stories with bursts of violence that much more effective.

Among my favorites are the title tale, A LONG DECEMBER, one of the longer pieces of the collection and an absolutely stunning serial killer/revenge story with an ending you won't see coming. Another serial killer is on the loose in THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES, a truly horrifying take on the subgenre.

In DITCH TREASURES, a highway maintenance man discovers something amazing in a roadside pond. To say any more will do you a huge disservice. In GRAND FINALE, a rich college student secretly films his bedroom antics, but he starts seeing gruesome images when he plays the tapes back. This would've made a killer episode of MASTERS OF HORROR or  TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.

In one of Chizmar's best twists, a mother learns a wicked secret one of her kids is keeping in THE BOX, while THE SEASON OF GIVING delivers a heartbreaking look at child abuse set against a holiday background. DEVIL'S NIGHT deals with jealousy gone amuck (and features some of the collection's most memorable characters), and in what is arguably the most powerful story of the lot, an aging man's son turns to a mysterious stranger to help his father become immortal in HEROES.

Even in the three or four stories that didn't work for me, Chizmar was still able to keep my interest, so to say a 35-story collection didn't have a bad apple in the bunch is a rare occasion.

A LONG DECEMBER is an excellent read, and I'll surely be revisiting a couple of its stories. Chizmar provides some genuine scares and plenty of variety to keep any horror fan up late, buried between the pages. And with most stories here at a short length, compelling you to continue, it's easy to get lost in this author's dark world.

-Nick Cato

THE FISHERMAN by John Langan (2016 Word Horde / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Alright. I had to sit on this one for a minute and let the black water soak in until I figured out how I really felt about it. There’s a lot going on in this book. One is probably not going to be able to tackle this in a single sitting. It’s slow. It’s dark. It’s deep.

John Langans’ haunting novel THE FISHERMAN is an excellent read with a mean lower gut punch to the abdomen. What we have here is a super dark, slow burning literary horror novel that bleeds darkness from all turns of the page. What’s to be expected inside? Black Magic, giant snakes, monsters, a mysterious lady corpse, an eerie man with giant hooks, and legend upon legend as the true story unfolds like an old fishing tale passed on from one fisherman to the next. In fact, there is such a tale. The tale of Der Fisher: The Fisherman, and his legacy that prevails out at his old stomping grounds—Dutchman’s Creek, a creek barely noticeable on a map

Langan is a great story teller. He shows us this within the first few pages, when the reader is instantly drawn into the author’s dark mindset. We are introduced to our main characters, Dan and Abe, whose lives are in absolute bloody shambles. They’re sad widows with tragic back stories, who are able to bond over their one and only true love who hasn’t up and died on them just yet: fishing. Their true nature and emotions unfold before your eyes as one of them tells the other of the mysterious and equally legendary creek. You can feel their pain, their struggles, their sadness as the story goes on and their secrets are revealed to each other in ways one would probably not like to find out.

Reader beware: there is a story inside of a story here, and you may find yourself wanting to give up at times; don’t. Just stick it out. There’s a lot of history involved, as we go back in time to discover the true origins of the creek, and the many mysteries in the small town near it. It’s necessary for the story to unfold and the author will make it worth your time, as it allows some of the darker segments to hit that much harder.

Definitely recommended for fans of weird, horror, and dark fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

WITH TOOTH AND CLAW by Jim Goforth (2015 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 192 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Fellow devotees of the late, great Richard Laymon get bonus points with me, and by now Jim Goforth has racked up quite a few ... there's just something so satisfying about a good unabashed wallow in sex and blood and gore!

This collection of seven tales opens up with "Dead Tree Creepers," which is what basically amounts to Laymonesque comfort food. The mac-and-cheese of it, classic, hearty, gooey, and filling. A bunch of friends go camping in the woods, to drink and carouse, to score or try to, and to tell some spooky stories. One of which, that of the malevolent eyeball-gouging Creepers, turns out of course to be all too true.

Closing out the book is "Cavedwellers," which might on first blush seem to be a similar young-folks-meet-bad-ends-in-the-wilderness, set on and in a mountain as intrepid hikers get trapped while seeking shelter from a storm ... but then along come some surprises, far worse and weirder than any ordinary cave-monsters.

And what's in between these two? Oh, all sorts of fiendish nastiness! A sleazy jerk discovers a new night-spot where the dancers really take it off ... some brutes and bullies pick on the wrong target ... a pair of would-be thieves get more than they bargained for when they're hired to retrieve a mystery package ... a psychic's nightmares come too close to home ... the impending end of the world affects different people different ways.

So yeah, if, like me, you enjoy your hardcore horror up to the elbows in it, you should find plenty of wicked fodder here.

-Christine Morgan


RETURN OF THE OLD ONES: APOCALYPTIC LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR edited by Brian M. Sammons (to be released late 2016/early 2017 by Dark Regions Press / hardcover, deluxe numbered signed hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook / no page count as of this review)

Sammons (editor of several Lovecraftian anthologies) has put together a real winning team here, with stories set in three eras (before, during, and after the Old Ones return). While I like Lovecraft well enough, I'm not a huge fan of the countless "mythos" stories that have flooded the market over the past several years, but in this case they not only work, a few truly terrify.

Among my favorites in Section One ("In The Before Times") are Tim Curran's incredibly creepy SCRATCHING FROM THE OUTER DARKNESS, where a blind woman is given a vision of Cthulhu's return, Scott T. Goudsward's THE HIDDEN, as we follow a support group and an artist as they bring forth Cthulhu with the help of one of their member's late father's notes, and in one of the best of the anthology, THE GENTLEMAN CALLER by Lucy A. Snyder, where we meet a wheelchair bound deformed female dwarf, who works as a phone sex operator and is given an unusual necklace that allows her to travel into other people's bodies. How she inadvertently unleashes Cthulhu is unforgettable. I found every story in this first section (there are 4 more) to feature a chilling sense of impending doom, and each one unique from the other.

My favorites in Section Two ("Where Were You When The World Ended?") were Peter Rawlik's TIME FLIES, which is kind of like what the film PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE would be like if done in a non-campy manner. It deals with possessing aliens who arrive to witness mankind's demise. Clever stuff. In Tim Waggoner's SORROW ROAD, a mother and her cancer-ridden 4 year-old son witness the arrival of the Old Ones in this heartbreaking yet terrifying entry that features Waggoner's dazzling prose and a weirdness level amped up to 11. And in William Meikle's THE CALL OF THE DEEP, Two UK soldiers are sent to the U.S. to guard scientists on a top secret mission to save the world from natural disasters and an invasion by millions of amphibious creatures. Meikle's tale features Cthulhu entering the world with more global devastation than I can ever remember reading before. Gleefully insane.

In the final section ("Life in the Shadow of Living Gods"), I particularly liked Christine Morgan's THE KEEPER OF MEMORY: long after the Old Ones have returned an old woman known as Mema teaches the young children about the world before the New Gods arrived. A haunting (and at times hilarious) monster mash, Morgan's ability to add humor to such a serious story (and overall anthology) is quite impressive. The book's final offering, STRANGERS DIE EVERY DAY by Cody Goodfellow. is a "mini-epic" dealing with Tobin Thrush, a man for hire living in an apocalyptic world where Cthulhu may be an idea more than an actual God. This blend of noir action centering around Thrush's search for a kidnapped girl is jam-packed with bizarre cults, gangs, and so much strangeness I couldn't read it fast enough. Easily the highlight of the anthology and a must read for fans of weird fiction, Goodfellow's tale is worth the price of admission on its own, and dare I say HPL himself would be envious.

RETURN OF THE OLD ONES is a great anthology with not a slow story in the mix. Each author has brought unique ideas and takes on the Mythos to the table and the result is a horrific end-times jamboree even those who don't care for Lovecraft will enjoy. A pleasant surprise all around.

-Nick Cato

CELEBRITY CHEF ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE by Jack Strange (2016 Kensington Gore Publishing / 268 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

As a fan of zombies, bizarro, and celebrity chefs -- seriously, it's cooking shows on pretty much every night at my house! -- the moment I learned about this book, I knew it would be exactly my kind of thing. And I was not disappointed! Well, right up until the guy ran over the cat. Then, I was not merely disappointed, I was distraught and more than a little aggravated.

But hey, it worked out! The guy was on his way to see his wacky inventor uncle, who claimed to have finally had a breakthrough on his raise-the-dead machine, and naturally they needed a test subject. So, the cat came back. Albeit as a sex-crazed flesh-eating bundle of ginger-furred murder ...

Both wacky uncle and Robert, the cat-runner-overer, sort of fail to notice that part. Besides, they've got bigger plans. Robert works for a television network and has the bright idea of bringing back deceased celebrity chef Floyd Rampant to host reruns of his old show. What could go wrong?

Well, as the title would suggest, quite a bit. Even celebrity chefs come back as sex-crazed flesh-eaters, though of course, there are certain professional standards to uphold. And with hundreds of the world's best about to descend upon Chef-Con, the time is right for Chef Rampant to expand his culinary empire.

What follows is a riotous series of blood-drenched, pan-seared, deglazed screwball antics, hopping willy-nilly among various POV characters -- the chefs themselves, the cop trying to solve the case, a restaurant worker who can't convince anyone of the truth, innocent and/or hapless victims, government officials trying to spin the burgeoning disaster, and (yay!) Henderson the cat. Two thumbs up, those thumbs lightly-braised with a spinal fluid reduction, served over a bed of kidney risotto and topped with a poached eye.

-Christine Morgan

THE FORTY-TWO by Ed Kurtz (2014 New Pulp Press / 366 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This book's another great example of the blurred overlap between crime fiction, thriller, and horror. It covers them all, and it covers them well, while also being a nostalgic hearkening-back to an iconic piece of Americana even people who weren't alive then or never went there have absorbed by cultural osmosis.

New York. Times Square. The late 1970s, the heyday of sleazy nightlife, strip clubs, smut shops, sex, drugs, and movie theaters. Oh so many movie theaters, catering to a wide range of tastes, as long as most of those tastes are of the low-brow, low-budget variety. Adult movies, kung-fu movies, biker movies, exploitation flicks ...

And Charley's favorite, horror movies. Bad ones. The schlockier and gorier and bloodier, the better. He loves 'em. Can't get enough. Until the night he ends up sort of holding hands with an attractive stranger in the dark. He spends the rest of the show mulling over possible chat-up lines, but when the lights come up, he realizes that the girl beside him is dead. Stabbed in her seat while they sat there.

Suddenly, Charley's got all the blood and gore he could want ... only, this is real life, and he doesn't want it. Yet he can't put the incident behind him. He can't walk away. He needs to know who this mystery girl was, who killed her, why she had to die.

His bumbling efforts at investigation very quickly get him in way over his head. People trying to kill him, more people around him getting killed, secrets, lies, conspiracies, murder, money, hookers, drugs, cautionary beatings, and more.

No spoilers, though! You'll just have to read it. Written in a style that celebrates its grainy, grimy, graphic, transgressive, vivid Technicolor subject matter, it's a definite experience, gripping and exciting, sordid and tragic. This book about movies should go full-circle and become a movie, but I don't know if current movies could do it true justice.

-Christine Morgan

BAD APPLES 3 (2016 Corpus Press / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I love Halloween; it's my favorite holiday by far. So, when given a whole anthology of Halloween tales, you'd better believe I was as eager as a kid setting out, plastic pumpkin-bucket in hand.

This particular trick-or-treat excursion didn't cover many houses; there are only seven stories in all making up the book. But, they aren't just a meager assortment of small candies. These are the full-size bars you'll want to hide from your mom before she 'confiscates' them for your own good.

First up is "Belle Souffrance," by Adam and Evans Light, a darkly haunting ballet of torment and revenge, with several particularly memorable black-humor-hilariously disturbing moments.

It's followed by John McNee's "Chocolate-Covered Eyeball," which takes your classic candy-store scenes like in Harry Potter and Willie Wonka, and turns them inside-out by way of EC comics.

"October's End" by Craig Saunders goes more a Twilight Zone route, with the subtle old-school feel of bent reality and inescapable nightmares.

In Gregor Xane's "The Uncle Taffy's Girl," you suspect right from the beginning that this party is going to go badly for the hapless dude hoping to get laid. And it does, but in surprising, unexpected ways.

Speaking of hapless people and parties, that's what's on Charli's mind as she boards the bus in "Last Stop" by Edward Lorn. Only, a pumpkin-faced psycho with murder on his mind has other plans.

"Body of Christ" by Mark Matthews is my favorite of the bunch, probably because it's just so deeply messed up on so many levels.

Jason Parent's "Pulp" wraps things up with a chaotic homage to the genre as a whole, packed with name-nods and references at the school horror-film-club's costume party.
All in all, fun reading for the spirit of the season; what better time to go bobbing for apples?

-Christine Morgan