Sunday, November 4, 2018

Reviews for the Week of November 5, 2018

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

WE SOLD OUR SOULS by Grady Hendrix (2018 Quirk Books / 336 pp / hardcover, eBook & audiobook)

In the 90s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was on the brink of stardom. But after creative differences, their singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career that eventually saw him rise to the top of the music world.

Today, Würk’s former ace guitarist Kris works the night shift at a Best Western hotel, and she discovers Terry’s stardom may have come at a price she and her former band mates were never aware of.

What follows is a wild road trip tale full of conspiracies, endless heavy metal references, a dash of occultism, and one satisfying finale centered around an unreleased metal album.

Music fans and musicians will love some of the band situations here, and any horror fan will be happy with Hendrix’s addictive prose. I loved the sections with conspiracy nut JD, who steals every scene.

A fun ride worthy of two devil horns up!

-Nick Cato

OVERLORD by David Wood and Alan Baxter (2018 Adrenaline Press / 222 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

First, there was PRIMORDIAL (and have I forgiven them for the sheep? no, no I have not), which knocked it out of the park for toothy chompy monster goodness. Now, the team who took aquatic terror to new depths are turning their talented attentions to caves deep below the Antarctic ice, where ancient carvings and strange symbols have been found, as well as a potentially invaluable crystalline energy source.

If that sounds vaguely Lovecraftian to you, rest assured, you are in for a treat! Even one of the scientists on the expedition team is a devotee of HPL, referencing his works, bringing a refreshing level of self-awareness and cultural awareness to the book without any fourth-wall breaking; I always find that much preferable to the stories in which nobody’s ever heard of (whatever).

Documentarian Jo Slater and marine biologist Sam Ashton, survivors from the previous book, join forces again, though their reunion is anything but smooth sailing. She’s believed him dead, leaving her to bear the brunt of accusations and ridicule alone. He’s let her believe he was dead, let everyone believe he was dead. But, grudges will have to wait, because they have caves to explore.

For me, this whole book was pure win from the get-go. If there’s anything I like better than toothy aquatic monsters, it’s deep mysterious caving stories. If there are also monsters, even if not necessarily aquatic or toothy, it’s a definite plus. Then throw in deception and greed and a high body count and a surprising pang of pathos for the unspeakable ...

So, yeah, it’s part AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, part THE THING, part ALIENS … it’s another summer blockbuster waiting to happen, full speed ahead and damn the special effects budget. Also, no sheep were harmed in the making of this book (that I know of).

-Christine Morgan

THE WINDOW by Glenn Rolfe (2018 Amazon Digital Services LLC / 339 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You ever stop dead in your tracks after catching a glimpse of a shadow in the dark? Or thought you saw something looking back at you in a mirror? Or, perhaps you thought you saw something standing outside, looking back at you through your window at home? Well, proceed with caution. This book takes that feeling and times it by a screaming hot one-hundred and eighty-seven and then picks you up by the collar of your shirt and shakes you on the corner as you spill out all your spare change while you’re standing outside the liquor store, leaving you questioning whether what you just saw was real or not. The author manages to knock this horror gem right outside the horror park, leaving you wanting to look behind you at all times. Whether it’s a trip down the hallway to the bathroom, past a mirror, or that godforsaken window after hearing a strange noise on the other side of the house, we as the reader embark on a flawlessly executed character driven modern day horror tale centered around demonic seduction and possession unlike any other out there, whilst creatively joined by many of those classic horror tropes we all know and grew to love so goddamn much. I’m talking about all the alcoholic beverages, sloppy kinky sex and perversion, demonic possession, bikini babes, and those timeless teenage summer getaways, making this an epitome of the horror genre within itself.

When James comes to stay with his father, Richie, for the summer after moving to a new town, it’s not all teenage love and puppy dog kisses as both he and his father are embarking on new found love and relationships. There’s something darker in the window. Things start to take a turn for the worse when he starts to notice his dad’s peculiar behavior. It’s not just the drinking after all ... he sees them too. The dark fiery eyes in the window. His dad being seduced by the evil within. How much longer until his father is entirely consumed by the darkness within the glass? Can he and his friends put an end to the madness? Can they stop the powers that be before they take another living soul victim to their seductive madness and perversion? 

I guess you’ll have to check it out for yourself and find out.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

TEETH by Kelli Owen (2018 Gypsy Press / 248 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If you’re at all familiar with Kelli Owen, if you’ve read her work or listened to her podcast, you know she pulls no punches and takes no prisoners, and if you can’t handle it, too dang bad. These traits are very evident in her latest novel, TEETH.

It’s not your normal vampire book. For one thing, they’re called ‘lamians.’ For another, they’re not so different from the rest of humanity. Some dietary and health issues, that’s all. The rest is centuries of fear and lies and propaganda. This is our world, our modern society, with just one slight change. And this book holds a mirror up to it … which casts a stark, relentless, unflattering reflection.

Imagine it was a simple matter of genetics, of being born that way. Imagine struggling with or coming out, not as gay or lesbian or transgender as a teenager, but as a lamian … the dread and apprehension, the confusion, the denial … the possible reactions of your friends, your parents, your neighbors … negative depictions in the movies and media … the jokes and discrimination … the hate-speech, the hate-crimes.

Every bit of aghast horror, disbelief, anger at ignorance and bigotry, shame-by-proxy, frustration, sorrow, and pity that I’ve experienced when learning about such behavior from the news came so strongly into play that I was about ready to start smacking people. Well, characters. But also people who act like these characters. Particularly THAT one, most hateful awful, close-minded bigoted … grrrrr … okay, I’m getting mad all over again.

And we SHOULD be mad. We SHOULD be able to see how cruel and absurd it is. Other fictional universes have addressed it – the treatment of Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter books springs to mind, and of course the X-Men – but Teeth really makes the point.

-Christine Morgan

SKULLFACE BOY by Chad Lutzke (2018 Static Age Books / 204 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

16 year old Levi has spent all of his 16 years living at the Gramm Jones Foster Care Facility in Colorado. He’s just like the other residents with one major difference: his face happens to be a skull. And when he hears there is a man living in Hermosa Beach, California who looks just like him, Levi throws his few belongings in a back pack and takes off to find him.

Hitchhiking his way across four states, Levi encounters all kinds of weirdos and freaks, some friendly and some hiding dark secrets. In one hilarious episode, Levi unknowingly helps a crippled man rob a house, and in another is befriended by a used bookstore owner. There isn’t a dull character here, and Levi comes across many.

Set in the 1980s, SKULLFACE BOY is more an emotional tale of self discovery than it is a horror story, but I think genre fans will enjoy this slick coming of age meditation on loneliness, trust, and destiny that’s told in an almost surreal manner.

This is the second book I’ve read by Lutzke this year, and it’s definitely something special.

-Nick Cato

A WORLD OF HORROR edited by Eric J. Guignard (2018 Dark Moon Books / 344 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

Different perspectives, different experiences, different viewpoints. Sometimes, that’s what it’s all about, but it’s often easy to forget. It’s easy to fall into comfort zones and complacency, to stick with what we know, with what’s predictable and familiar … when, what we really need is to shake things up. To step outside the boxes, see through other eyes, walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s a bigger world than we realize, a wider one, full of more weirdness and variety than most of us will ever know.

Now, they say travel broadens the mind, and I believe it, but maybe that isn’t as true today as it used to be. A lot of vacations these days seem orchestrated to provide that safe familiarity, with carefully chosen hints of the exotic to add a dash of spice. Real travel, immersion in other countries and cultures, really opening the eyes and broadening the mind? Doesn’t get done as much as it should. Which makes its own sort of sense; there are risks and expenses, you need special documentation, maybe shots, who knows.

But, wait, here’s a handy shortcut! One of the best ways to get a feel for those other perspectives is through art, and art includes stories, and this book presents – for your entertainment and pleasure, with some education sneaking in on the sly – twenty-two tales by authors from all around the world. Authors of many nationalities, heritages, faiths, you name it.

Editors may be just as prone to liking those comfort zones as anyone, so, attempting an ambitious invite-and-recruit undertaking like this must’ve been a lot of extra work. Eric J. Guignard proves more than up to the task, though, assembling a roster of talent well worth your time and attention.

The table of contents lists each author’s country of origin, spanning a respectable chunk of the globe. The stories themselves (each also with bonus cool illustration) draw upon the world’s wealth of history, mythology, tradition, and folklore. There are fairy tales, living nightmares, alternate realities, body horror, spirits and monsters, human wickedness.

I approached the book as I might’ve approached a buffet table laden with appetizers from international cuisines (only, unlike in real life where I’m a food wimp and coward, here I actually DID sample everything), savoring and enjoying the differences as well as the similarities. As a result, I wasn’t looking to find a ‘favorite,’ I was looking to try new things … and found it enjoyable, exciting, and fascinating.

-Christine Morgan

A SHARP STICK IN THE EYE (AND OTHER FUNNY STORIES) edied by Rob Smales (2018 Books and Boos Press / 229 pp / traee paperback & eBook)

My grandmother, when faced with bad news or disappointments, always used to say, “well, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” Even as a very young child, this phrase haunted me, and probably contributed a lot to my eyeball-squickiness; I couldn’t think of much that’d be WORSE than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, thank you very much.

So, of course, a book with this title had my immediate interest and attention. The introduction, with the editor’s explanation of how said title was chosen, more than sealed the deal. It’s an anthology of horror/humor stories, with works by some of the most wackily demented minds in the genre, including the clown prince of dark comedy, Jeff Strand himself.

There are updated urban legends and twistedly re-told pieces from fairy tales and folklore, a weirdly plausible take on the zombie apocalypse, the fully understandable experience of wanting to murder the jerk roommate who ate your last yogurt (come on, we’ve all been there!), college hijinks at Miskatonic University, adventures in excessive partying and indulgence, corporate nightmares of difficult co-workers and tricky employment contracts, crazed senior citizens, a beard with a mind of its own, kids dealing with the perils of nocturnal monsters and adults confronting all-too-real childhood fancies, and the socially awkward ramifications of necrophilia.

Reading this book is kind of like playing Cards Against Humanity. You’ll gasp in shock, groan in revulsion, laugh out loud and then feel really guilty for laughing, hope no one heard, wonder what kind of sicko would find this funny, cringe in shame at the knowledge YOU are that kind of sicko, and be eager to share it with your similarly-inclined friends.

So, go on, you know you want to! And have fun … sicko. It’s way better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!

-Christine Morgan


Monday, October 22, 2018

Reviews for the Week of October 22, 2018

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

TRAIN THOUGHTS by Jay Sigler (2018 Amazon Digital / 237 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

So often, we all just go about our business, our daily routines, with little to no idea what’s going on in the minds or lives of others around us.

Like this fellow here on the train … the one who goes to work every day, his regular commute … even after the devastating loss of his wife. In fact, loss is too soft a term; he came home to find her brutally murdered, and has been dealing with his grief the way plenty of people do – going through the motions, hiding his feelings, drinking too much, trying to dodge the well-meaning efforts of a compassionate co-worker.

Feeling cut off from everyone else, he develops imaginary relationships with fellow commuters who ride the same train. Then, one day, there’s a new guy in their usual car, and something about him seems not quite right. Seems sinister, even malicious. What can a struggling widower do when his new ‘friends’ simply stop showing up on the train? What about the horrible nightmares of their violent deaths?

He’ll follow the new guy, of course. He’ll get some answers. He’ll learn the hard way how far a person might have to go, when driven by desperation.

It’s an intense read, an up-close-and-personal descent into desolate madness. Those death-scene nightmares contain some seriously effective, creepy, disturbing imagery. Even when you think you know where the story’s going, surprise twists keep cropping up, and as soon as you finish (and catch your breath), you want to go back and read it again to see the hints you missed the first time.

-Christine Morgan

SLEAZELAND by Cody Goodfellow (2018 Eraserhead Press / 182 pp / trade paperback)

Don’t be fooled by the crudely-scribbled-looking d*ck on the cover; this book is intricate and complex, deeply bizarre, sharply insightful, and thought-provoking in a hundred different, startling ways.

Then again, we are talking Cody Goodfellow here, a deranged genius in good standing if ever there was one. He has a knack for slicing through reality like a surgeon with a laser-scalpel, folding back the tissues to expose its innermost workings.

SLEAZELAND depicts the Hollywood most of us never see, behind the glitz and glamor, behind the movie-making magic. It’s all about the constant hustle, scheming, greed, and desperation. The eternal quest for recognition and fame.

It also presents a fundamental truth about actors that I’d never even contemplated before … what a special, unique hell that must be; an artistic calling yet dependent on the creativity of others. Of everything disturbing about the story (of which, believe me, there’s plenty!), it’s a moment of cold-horror realization that left me shivering inside.

Summary-wise, things start off simply enough. Charlie wants to be somebody, and is determined to do whatever it takes to get there, no matter how dubious or skeevy. He lives on the streets and by his wits, picking up what roles he can, guided by a book about the sordid rise and fall of a child star. On its own, his story would be interesting enough, but ‘interesting enough’ isn’t going to cut it here.

After a strange encounter with a young pregnant woman, Charlie finds himself hurtling through a craziness of alternate versions of Hollywood, drastic funhouse-mirror different ones where movies are only educational, or religion is the true entertainment. Matters quickly take a turn toward the messianic, leading Charlie toward an ultimate confrontation for which he may not be prepared.

-Christine Morgan


THE RUST MAIDENS by Gwendolyn Kiste (to be released 11/16/18 by Journalstone / 218 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Kiste (author of last year's stellar novella PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW) delivers her first novel, another dark fantasy, this time (mainly) set in a small industrial town in 1980 Ohio.

Phoebe and her friend Jaqueline were just out of high school when some of the girls in their neighborhood started...changing. They turned into something resembling the decaying landscape that surrounded them, hinting at an aimless, desolate future.

As Phoebe plans a way to move away from her hometown, news of the Rust Maidens spreads, and soon her neighborhood is invaded by everyone from government officials to tourists who otherwise would never be there, all tring to get a glimpse at the local phenomenon. To make things worse, the steel mill is shut down, sending most of the area's workforce into unemployment, and houses right on Phoebe's own block are marked for demolition...

Kiste divides her tale through two time frames (it actually begins 28 years after the events, when Phoebe returns to her hometown for closure), but keeps things tight so the reader is never lost. Phoebe slowly discovers what the Rust Maidens are all about, and is able to receive messages from them. The novel is a depressing but powerful look at growing up facing a future that doesn't seem to hold too many chances, but somehow through the muck our protagonist manages to survive, and in Kiste's hands we're pulled along at a perfect pace.

For those who complain there aren't enough female "coming of age" stories, THE RUST MAIDENS should satisfy, but there's a lot more to be mined here. A fantastic debut novel.

-Nick Cato

PRESSURE by Brian Keene (2016 Thomas Dunne Books / hardcover, eBook)

I picked this one up at a convention and read the whole thing on the first leg of my flight home. Now, it didn’t turn out to be entirely the deep-sea creature feature chompfest I was expecting from the title and the cover, but I wasn’t disappointed; while I do love me some deep-sea creature features, I also love me some taut, tight, action-packed science adventure thrillers. Besides, the title has many different interpretations and implications, from the literal to the metaphorical, so it works on several levels.

Celebrity free-diver Carrie Anderson on an expedition to the site of ancological crisis near Mauritius, where an underwater sinkhole dubbed the Mouth of Hell has opened, causing parts of the ocean floor to collapse, devastating the aquatic life, and threatening a populated island. With the eyes of the world on them, courtesy of news coverage, she and her partner descend to investigate.

Only Carrie returns to the surface, surviving thanks to her training but seriously shaken by what she experienced and witnessed. Leaving the hospital against medical advice, dodging the media and her corporate sponsors, she assembles a smaller team for a return visit to verify her suspicions.

But she’s not the only one who knows something even bigger than what’s being reported is going on, and is soon caught up in conflicts and conspiracies, hidden bases, politely sinister operatives, mercenaries, and all sorts of shifty double-dealings … plus, to add to the tension, an encounter with a former flame.

Fans of the author will notice a few familiar names popping up among the characters, the occasional reference or easter egg. And there’s one scene in a truck where you just know Keene was chortling like a fiend the whole time he wrote it.

-Christine Morgan

INTO THE SOUNDS by Lee Murray (2018 Severed Press / 263 / trade paperback & eBook)

Having greatly enjoyed the author’s previous Into the Mist, you’d better believe I was all over this sequel! It brings back Sergeant Taine McKenna of the New Zealand Defense Force and biologist Jules Asher, as well as now-assigned-to-desk-duty Trigger Grierson, and the aged mystic with whom Taine shares a spiritual bond.

This time, Taine and Jules think they’re just tagging along on a routine deer-culling expedition, where the most dangerous risks they’re likely to run into are poachers and opportunists looking to capture and sell endangered animals. To be sure, there are some of those about … but the discovery of a legendary tribe with unusual abilities quickly raises the stakes for everyone. Forget exotic rare birds coveted by collectors; there are people (and organizations) who’d pay a lot to get their hands on specimens like these.

Several of these groups cross paths, and as determined as the bad guys are to plunder this lost civilization, Jules and Taine and the rest of the good guys are equally determined to protect it. What follows is a captivating thrill-ride, deftly combining science, action, folklore, and fun characters; exciting and believable.

Into the Sounds has got many of the trappings of a classic cliffhanger adventure serial, but updated and refined, without the over-the-top melodrama. There are plenty of shoot-em-ups and impromptu wilderness traps, plenty of strong women who do more than need to be rescued, lively banter, hints of romance, fascinating well-thought-out anthropology … there’s a submarine, and the remains of a long-missing helicopter, and underwater passageways with very deadly guardians.

A great read, every bit as exciting as the first; I would already be clamoring for another sequel without the surprise emotional gut-punch at the end, so now I am clamoring for another sequel SOON. Murray has firmly established a spot on my must-read list.

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Reviews for the Week of October 1, 2018

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

CROSS HER HEART by Sarah Pinborough (2018 Harper Collins / 374 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Pinborough, author of 2017’s stellar BEHIND HER EYES, returns with another psychological thriller jam-packed with enough twists and turns for at least three novels.

Lisa is a single mother, doing her best to raise 16 year-old daughter Ava. She tries not to mention Ava’s father and is hiding a dark past as she attempts to get on with her life. But she’s starting to find things that make her believe someone is on to her, and the fear her new life will be unraveled leads to a growing anxiety.

Ava lives for her freedom and her friends, and like a normal teen is waiting for her mother to cut the cord. A star on the swim team, she even has a boyfriend (of sorts) her mom knows nothing about.

When Ava goes missing, Lisa discovers a promise made as a kid had long lasting consequences, and that her only help may be in the hands of her friend and co-worker Marilyn, who is dealing with (among other things) an abusive husband.

With a crime committed at a young age back to haunt her, Lisa faces an issue from her past that may claim not only her life, but her daughter’s as well.

CROSS HER HEART is a look at trust, friendship, and a family damaged by the mind of a dangerous psychotic. Readers may figure out some of the twists early on, but Pinborough employs twists on top of those to keep you guessing into the final pages. The short chapters (and high suspense level during the second half) makes this a compulsive page-turner that should satisfy long time fans and keep Pinborough’s growing legion thrilled.

-Nick Cato

THE SKIN THAT FITS by David Massengill (2018 Montag Press / 215 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Freaky murder cult with rituals steeped in sultry Southern magic? A surprise suicide, a guilt-ridden fiancee, and a last request fraught with family secrets, questions, and emotional baggage? A hot and hunky model who worries his best days might be passing, accepting a movie offer on a whim? Missing persons, paranoia, people with weird alligator tattoos? Steamy, moody, brooding, turbulent?

Yes please! At least, in this case, yes please right up until the ending; there’s all this beautiful buildup, tension, conflicts, you’re there craving the big dramatic final confrontations and resolutions … but then it just ends almost out of nowhere. Abrupt, convenient, and unsatisfying.

Up until then, though, it’s a great read, richly humid with atmosphere, tense, packed with paranoia. The characters are interesting and well-rounded, tackling some difficult social constructs. Subtle but distinct Lovecraftian undertones weave throughout.

Kim is the guilt-ridden fiancee, who’d been about to call things off with Eustace anyway and pursue a relationship with pretty Malia, until Eustace’s sudden death and request for her to take his ashes to divide among his relatives leads her on a troubling journey from Seattle to the South.

Todd, the model, is also taking care of his ailing mother, and when he’s approached about a movie, he accepts even though he’s not an actor. He needs the work. He can’t afford to be reticent or suspicious, even when the apparent movie people sure seem to be going about things a peculiar way.

What Kim and Todd don’t know, but are each about to find out in dangerous ways, is that the cult has plans for both of them. Plans involving old magic, possession, the revered crone called Maman, her predecessor Grandpappy, and her chosen successor.

So, yeah, quality writing, intriguing story … right up until that abrupt ending. I was hoping for a much bigger finish.

-Christine Morgan

OUR POOL PARTY BUS FOREVER DAYS by David James Keaton (to be released 10/24/18 by Comet Press / 300 pp / trade paperback)

The intro alone is worth the price of admission; it’s about car chases, listing and providing mini-essays on many of the best cinematic car chases in history … besides, c’mon, he had me at The Hidden. Anyone who can’t agree that opening chase scene isn’t awesome, I just don’t know what I can say.

Chases, driving, road stories, cars. It all works because those themes wend their way throughout most of the stories. Many are connected and interconnected in sometimes obvious, sometimes surprising ways. Some are direct, some follow a more scenic route, some turn out to be unexpected shortcuts. Or there’ll be that sense like when you wonder if you’ve taken a wrong turn, only to suddenly find yourself back in familiar territory.

Several share recurring characters as well as a strongly (and vaguely unsettling) autobiographical-seeming component. ‘A true story’? ‘Based on’ actual events? Or ‘inspired by’? Yes, no, both, all, neither? Reading it felt a little like having a front-row seat inside the head of coherent madness; you can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t, yet somehow it ties together and makes sense.

The stuff with the ducks, and the fly … Zero the (maybe) cat … the body in the guitar case and the bridges full of locks … a purgatorial party-bus … the perils of picking up hitchhikers … stolen ears and forced perspective … turnpikes and tollbooths, morbid memorial crosses … some dusty-trail type road stories of the wild West … clown cars and carnival rides gone off the rails … the troubles that might ensue if license plates were phone numbers … there’s just so much here, so much, and all of it so weird yet weirdly compelling.

Compelling, not to mention skillfully handled. The second-person stream of consciousness dialogue exchange whatevers in “Bad Reaction Shots” made me have to sit back several times, shake my head, and just do some recovery reaction shots of my own.

I have no idea how much of “A Dull Boy” is factual; it’s about the guy who, as a child actor, played Danny in The Shining and the hassles his association with the movie have caused him throughout his life. It certainly feels like it could be, and even if it’s not, feels like it should be.

-Christine Morgan

WE DON'T TALK ABOUT HER by Andersen Prunty (2018 Amazon Digital / 49 pp / eBook & audiobook) 

Hot off the horror press, here is another weird and horrific gem from an author that continues to shock, torment, humiliate, and entertain us with each and every creatively unique and original release. Yes, that is correct. I am talking about author Andersen Prunty and his new absurdly dark and demented tale WE DON'T TALK ABOUT HER, which is now available as an eBook or Audiobook. Now, don’t let the length of this put you off in any way, shape, or form, because trust me, although short, it packs quite a morbid punch to the ole’ gut and still manages to tell a much larger story within a very modest number of pages. The author continues to use his uncanny ability to unfold a devious plot, and, before it’s too late… BAM! We are doom-sucked right into the main character’s dead mother’s pelvis before we can even count to a rotting wet number ten.

Clint is a sociopathic stalker on the fritz of Venom energy drinks, bad outfits, and PTSD triggered by his dead mother. In fact, his deceased mother is actually still rotting and decaying and lying quite very dead on a bed within the confines of his home. But, Clint doesn’t really notice that she’s dead (she still talks to him and tells him what to do) until one of the females he stalks, flips the cards on him, and begins to stalk him instead. Stella, she’s in to win it, or steal all his government money (it’s kind of her thing after-all). Stella makes herself right at home and makes him get rid of the rotting corpse, gives him a hunny-do list while she’s off at work every day, as she continues to jump from relationship to relationship until her bank account is just as happy as she is. But, has she met her match here in this godforsaken house of putrid stench? What is she going to do? She’s not quite sure how much more she can even handle. Hopefully she can figure it out before it’s too late. Hopefully Clint decides to commit suicide and she doesn’t have to worry about any of it anymore (besides wasn’t he supposed to dispose of ALL the body? He can’t even do that right).

Hopefully she can hang in there a little longer. Maybe. Maybe then everything will be okay. But, maybe it won’t. Either way… WE DON'T TALK ABOUT HER.

Check it out!

-Jon R. Meyers

IN THE LAMPLIGHT by L. Jagi Lamplighter (2016 eSpec Books / 250 pp / trade paperbak & eBook)

I thought at first this collection was going to be fantasy. Then I started reading it, and soon discovered it was that and more … darkly, beautifully more. The fantasy and historical stories are dark, the sci-fi ones are packed with gore and horror, psychological and social fears are deftly played with and preyed upon.

Several of the tales tie into the author’s Prospero’s Children universe, which extrapolates upon Shakespeare’s The Tempest and brings it up to modern day. Imagine Miranda, and her half-brothers and various other servants and associates of the household, putting their magic to good use as paranormal investigators and troubleshooters. A familiarity with her longer works isn’t required to read them, especially if you know your Bard, but may quickly become required after reading them because the characters, their world, and the supernatural menaces they face are well-imagined and very fun.

I particularly liked the way many of the stories speculated on uncanny causes, uncanny effects, and other ties between our common everyday ailments and the otherworldly. Less-obvious health hazards of dating a vampire, for instance, or the disturbing nature of changelings.

I also really liked the powerful maternal and feminine elements woven throughout; a mother’s primal instincts can manifest in many forms. It reminded me strongly of the undertones present in a lot of classic fairy tales.

Tragic ghosts, grim space-faring angels, dimensions inhabited by strange demi-gods, necromancy, designer babies, magic mirrors, a dystopian cyber-future, flying pirates, forbidden books, time paradoxes, dolls once belonging to murdered queens … the stories here span a wide range, but each of them is a fantastic, delicious, unsettling read.

-Christine Morgan

FAT CAMP by James Sabata (2018 / 261 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Cabins, crafts, singalongs. The woods. The lake. Nature walks. Swimming. Making s’mores and telling spooky stories by the fire. All good clean wholesome pastimes, all idyllic fun, right? Summer camp, ah the memories, ah the associations!

Except, does anybody really think that? Or do we, by now, jump straight to rules and regimens, enforced exercise, homesickness, misery, and being stalked by crazed serial killers? To make things worse, how about having it be a weight loss and fitness ‘camp’ with strict diet and exercise, drill sergeant counselors, body shaming and mockery … AND being stalked by crazed serial killers!

That’s how Philip McCracken is unhappily spending his summer. He’s hating it, he’s not good at it, he’s hardly losing any weight. He’s a regular target for bullying. To make things worse, the best friend who accompanied him is doing great, breaking the camp records.

He’s had enough. He knows he’ll never stand a chance with the cheerleader of his dreams. When his sister comes to visit over the weekend, he’s planning to bail and have her take him home. But, poor guy, the universe has other plans. Including his sister bringing a surprise guest: that pretty cheerleader.

Soon, campers and counselors start disappearing or meeting gruesome ends. Can Phil survive? Can he become the camp’s most unlikely hero, save his friends, even get the girl? Or is he just another fat loser about to die?

A painful riot from start to finish, full of humor and hack-slash-blood-guts horror … but also hitting many a sensitive nerve and awkward memory for anyone who’s ever felt like a misfit or an outcast.

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Reviews for the Week of September 17, 2018

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

FROZEN SHADOWS AND OTHER CHILLING STORIES by Gene O'Neill (2018 Crystal Lake Publishing / 412 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

O'Neill's 6th and latest collection features two novellas and eight short stories, covering a few genres but in the end they all safely fall under the umbrella of horror.

FROZEN SHADOWS is a great coming of age novella, dealing with three young people whose lives are affected when a strange man comes to their town. Among his powers is the ability to not cast a shadow, but as our trio learn, that may be the most normal thing about him, and he just might have something to do with a wave of illnesses that have stricken the town’s children. A solid chiller with a surprisingly positive ending.

I read THE ALGERNON EFFECT a few years ago as a limited edition chapbook, and was glad to see it included here. First time novelist Timothy Scully has a runaway best seller that's set to become a motion picture. His agent takes him to see a jazz concert at a secluded home for special needs people in the Napa Valley. Timothy falls for their house guide Ellie, and he eventually moves to 'The Mountain Farm' and becomes romantically involved with her. Timothy's agent learns Ellie is actually a resident and not just a worker there, and when he reads the first 75 pages of Tim's second novel, he is disturbed by how terrible it is. A homage to Daniel Keyes' classic novel FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON, O'Neill delivers a story that brings the weird in a melancholy manner, and the prose sings.

Lucas, a veteran wounded by an IED in Afghanistan, has an odd experience at his new job in a California hotel in TRANSFORMATIONS AT THE INN OF THE GOLDEN PHEASANT. After watching the comings and goings of two prostitutes, he befriends one at a diner and has an unusual time with the other in the same room they turn tricks in, and in the process Lucas finds his physical war scars healed and witnesses a most unusual transformation between the ladies. If they ever made a graphic novel of the old DC comic WEIRD WAR TALES this would surely make a great script for it.

In ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD, Jamie Connelly starts having wicked headaches that lead to visions. Not able to get the meds prescribed to him, his visions become exceedingly strange as does everything around him. A great bizarre tale with one hell of a finale.

BLACK TAR/RED ALIEN features two junkies who, after scoring a few fixes, break into a warehouse to steal the piping. But they encounter a spider-like alien who follows them home and forever alters their already downward spiraling lives. A dark but fun monster romp that may or may not be a monster romp at all.

The BROKEN LADY is Ellie, a 49 year old singer with a semi famous past who now works in seedy San Francisco bars. Alcohol has led to her current situation, that gets worse when she’s almost raped by a young cowboy. A frank look at addiction and the down side of the music industry, this one’s a memorable, gripping tragedy.

THE SHAKING MAN centers around a black man nick-named “Shake,” who began showing signs of Tourette’s right after an auto accident when he was a child. The crash took the lives of his mother and brother and forced him into the foster care system where he grew up street wise, dropped out of school, and eventually earned money as an enforcer for a loan shark, and then found himself in prison. In a twist of fate, Shake undergoes an experimental treatment to rid his Tourette’s, which leads to another great ending. One of the best tales here.

O’Neill dives into some sci-fi with 3-DOT PEOPLE, another weird one set in the seedy underworld of San Francisco. A man with amnesia experiences the city in a way that'll fry your brain, and most likely chill your spine.

In A FAINT SCENT OF MUSKY LIME (which I had read a couple years ago in DARK DISCOVERIES magazine), after his girl leaves him, a man finds himself living in a story written by one of his favorite authors. A bit familiar, but O'Neill brings his own flavor and as is the case with this collection, a dark and satisfying conclusion.  

The final piece is a novella titled AT THE LAZY K, and it's one of the finest ghost stories I've read in quite some time. A rehabilitation clinic (which was a former brothel located on the grounds of an old ranch), becomes the battle ground between the current owners and ghosts of the past. A curse brought on by the hanging of an innocent man a hundred years ago may bring films like BLACK SUNDAY to mind, but here the author employs a cast of incredibly troubled and deep characters to life and had me hanging on every single sentence. This is superb story telling only a master of the craft could pull off, and is a fine example of a classic horror trope given a fresh feel. Excellent.

FROZEN SCREAMS AND OTHER CHILLING TALES is a fantastic collection by a writer who is considered one of the best in the genre, and while I've read and enjoyed some of O'Neill's novels and stories over the years, this collection is proof of the praise given him. His ability to spin familiar themes and still keep the reader guessing until the last page is notable, as are the realistic people he creates to experience these horrors.

This is the perfect place for newbies to start and a must read for long time fans.

-Nick Cato

TIM E. LESS by Lucas Milliron (2018 CreateSpace / 226 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Having worked nearly 30 years now in the field of residential psych, I’m always a little squinty-suspicious about stories set in asylums … the behavior of patients, the way the place is run, the handling of medications, etc. … but in this case, I was able to overlook those aspects, because it quickly becomes apparent this is far from any ordinary asylum.

Title character Tim E. Less (the E. stands for Edwin) gets himself admitted with traumatic amnesia, a condition that keeps reoccurring because they tell him he’s been there a while, and everyone else seems to know more about him and his past than he does himself. All he really remembers is arguing with his wife about drinking and work vs. being around for their son. Now, the police are claiming his wife and son are missing, and Tim arrived at the asylum covered in blood.

He can’t imagine hurting them, but he can’t remember what really did happen. A risky form of therapy might help unlock those buried memories, though the truth might prove to be worse than the not-knowing. Then there’s the weird incidents going on at the asylum: a patient’s inexplicably violent death, a foul smell only certain people can detect, rooms suddenly collapsing in on themselves.

Plus, Tim himself is having unusual encounters, dreaming what might be memories or what might be madness … or what might be something else altogether. Drawn deeper as he tries to figure out what’s going on, he finds himself undertaking a bizarre, deadly quest through a nightmare place of demons and monsters that appears to overlap, or parallel, his real world.

The copy I received did include many sneaky past-the-spellcheck errors that hopefully got chased out before publication. But the vivid imagery and descriptive turns of phrase throughout are rich and fantastic, both horrific and hilarious – I went "eew" and "LOL" in fairly even measure. Even when it’s hard to sympathize with Tim or some of the other characters, they are easy to empathize with and relate to.

-Christine Morgan

ALL HAIL THE HOUSE GODS by Andrew J. Stone (2018 Strangehouse Books / 134 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In Stone's dystopian novella, humans exist for the soul purpose of providing children to sacrifice to living houses, who we've lost a major world war to. One such couple is Kurt and Katie, who become fed up with only being able to see their children when the powers that be say so. They each come up with a plan to overthrow the House Gods (Katie by starting a radical group, as Kurt attempts to do things rationally by befriending one of the House Gods he believes is not evil). While Katie sticks to her plan and becomes increasingly passionate, it's Kurt whose transformation makes this story shine: eventually at odds with his wife and his own plan, his plight leads him to what is arguably the most terrifying (and satisfying) finale of any book I've read this year.

I've attempted to read epic novels with similar themes only to be bored and let down. In novella form, Stone keeps his prose tight and manages to deliver an exciting socio-political message without bashing you over the head. And best of all, ALL HAIL THE HOUSE GODS forces you to think.

For those who may be tired of the bizarro thing, here's a smart, weird, end-times tale rich with allegory and a believable cast that will stay with you longer than your average genre tale.

-Nick Cato

FULL ECLIPSE (TOOTH & NAIL #1) by K. H. Koehler (2018 KH Koehler Books / 72 pp / eBook)

This one has all the makings of a Netflix show … a dark paranormal police procedural in an urban fantasy universe where the monsters are often inhuman and all too real … headlined by somewhat of an odd-couple mismatched buddy cop duo … going up against malevolent enemies and dealing with various issues of politics, bigotry, and personal conflict.

She is Ina Green, a gutsy black woman in a male-dominated field, with a lot of familial obligation weighing heavy on her shoulders and an arranged marriage breathing down her neck. He is Etienne Lamont, rugged charmer, tough guy, man of mystery and long history, with some rather unusual appetites and abilities.

They’re partners, operatives for the Praetorian Guard, a covert organization dedicated to taking on the weird supernatural cases. They’re also each far more than they appear, in this secret side of New York where vampires, fae, and shapeshifters are not unusual.

Lately, several young women seem to have fallen under the sway of a charismatic figure and disappeared, only to turn up dead. The investigation will lead Green and Lamont through an underworld of were-rats, cults, and necromancy, trying to find the so-called ‘Master’ before any more lives are lost.

Highly engaging and entertaining, very readable, loaded with bantering witty dialogue and action … familiar without being a trite rehash, throwing in several nifty twists … Tooth & Nail #1 looks like the start of what promises to be a fun, satisfying series.

-Christine Morgan

MOUSE AND OWL by Bracken MacLeod (2018 An Adversary Publishing / 40 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When her lover is wrongly executed in the public square, Nergui turns to a magic heirloom to get revenge on the fortified, corrupt city where she lives in poverty and despair. To say anymore would spoil this finely crafted tale.

MacLeod, better known for his horror and crime novels, shows off his diversity in this dark fantasy that while brief, had me completely engrossed. And by dark fantasy, I mean DARK, as this novelette is full of brutal violence and an ending that's reminiscent of Poe. Great stuff.

-Nick Cato

SEX, GORE, & MILLIPEDES by Ken MacGregor (2017 Dragon’s Roost Press / 218 pp / trade paperback)

If you’re going to pick up a book titled SEX, GORE, & MILLIPEDES, you’d darn well better be prepared for what you’re going to get. Basically, sex, gore, and millipedes. Not for the squeamish, not for the prudish, not for the easily shocked or offended. Definitely for the deranged, twisted, and perverse.

Me, I loved it. From the very first story, “F*** Bunny,” (which is about a gal and her oversized chocolate Easter treat; things quickly turn messy, sticky, and surprisingly grim), there was no turning back. Anybody reading that far has no excuse. You know what you’re getting yourself into.

Quite a few more lusty ladies and lecherous gents reach bad ends in pursuit of their thrills within these pages. Whether it’s finding a tree with a rather unique orifice, going on a dinner date with a particular gourmand, dabbling in amateur filmmaking, picking up a heart in a jar at a yard sale, or even having a more-than-scholarly interest in archaeology, most of the stories are unflinchingly strong on the nasty smutty-smut.

The ones that aren’t smut-heavy make up for it with extra-gross gore: up-close-and-personal body horror, psychotic nursery rhyme fallout, the hazards of dating a werewolf, a pet-owner’s nightmare, and a little classic E.C. Comics style murder/revenge.

And let us not, of course, forget the millipedes! In “Bed Bugs,” an expedition team is researching the curious habits of some jungle lemurs, who use secretions from injured millipedes as insect repellents and narcotics (weirdly, an article about this very subject crossed my Facebook earlier today!). Well, you just know someone on the team’s going to try it … and you just know the effects on humans will be very different than on the lemurs!

The last story in the book, “Starter Home,” goes full-bore on both sex and gore. When a couple thinks they got a really good deal on a fixer-upper foreclosure, only to find that a previous owner is not wild about the sale … and some really unpleasant ways of using power tools … even the most stoic fan of extreme horror will likely wince, cringe, and cross his/her legs.

Serious good stuff. Where, by ‘good,’ I mean utterly demented, disturbingly hot, and horrifically sick. MacGregor is going on the short list of authors whose anything-they-write will likely jump to the top of my reading queue.

-Christine Morgan

100 WORD HORRORS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF HORROR DRABBLES edited by Kevin J. Kennedy (2018 KJK Publishing / 128 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Did you see that? Yes, over there silly, lurking in the dark shadows and just atop the blackened hills. What was it? A two-legged goat creature from the fiery nether below? A piece of space junk from an unknown space colony solely inhabited by anal-probed artificial intelligence, master-mindedly created by a top-secret militia of scaly extraterrestrial lifeforms that feed on the darkest of souls? No way, a drabble, you say? Well, folks. Yes, that is correct. They’re just drabbles, a short form of fiction that is exactly one-hundred words long, an excellent challenge for an author to hone and craft and master the art of storytelling. Over a hundred of them to be exact, drabbled here in a collection of drabble horror for our very eyes here in this anthology of Horror Drabbles. Now, before we go any further: Yes, this has been done a million times in Flash Fiction anthologies and collections across the board, so nothing really and truly new to be found here, but what we do have is a nicely compiled list of stories that tackles the concept of the drabble rather well. Not all, but most stories packing a feisty horror punch to the drabble-gut, whilst fitting the overall horror theme of the anthology very drabbling well, if I do say so myself.

Some of my personal favorites were 'The Dead Thing' by Lisa Morton, 'Just a Game' by Christopher Motz, 'Baby Steps' by Michael A. Arnzen,' Heart Shaped Box' by Pippa Bailey, 'Street-Hearts' by Chris Kelso, 'The Man in the Black Sweater' by Richard Chizmar, and 'The End of the Pier' by Amy Cross.

With over a hundred drabbles to be found here and written by some of the best-selling indie horror authors, Bram Stoker award winners, and featuring the likes of Amy Cross, William F. Nolan, Gord Rollo, Mark Lukens, Rick Gualtieri, Jeff Strand, Kevin J. Kennedy, P. Mattern, Lee Mountford, Ike Hamill, Michael Bray, Andrew Lennon, Craig Saunders, Matt Hickman, Glenn Rolfe and many more, there is definitely a little bit of something for everyone to be found here. Check it out!

-Jon R. Meyers

SHEET MUSIC TO MY ACOUSTIC NIGHTMARE by Stephanie M. Wytovich (2017 Raw Dog Screaming Press / 166 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, I probably should not have settled in to read these all at once … this collection of free verse, vignettes, and flash fiction could just as easily have been titled “Poems To Cut Yourself To.” I don’t mean that in a bad way; they are exceptionally well-done, but daaang.

Not talking happy fun time here. Talking much more pain, emo/goth despair, bleakness, and tragedy. Content warnings for suicide, abuse, rape, death, abandonment, murder, drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation and more.

Dark stuff. Heavy stuff. Powerful stuff. Some with touches of the supernatural, others a brutal examination of the human condition. Recurring themes, such as driving, convey a sense of rootlessness and wandering woven throughout, a sense of not-belonging. So do themes of damaged love and loneliness, betrayal, and heartbreak.

There’s a lot of blood in these pieces. A lot of sex, but not the sexy kind of sex, if you get my drift; more like the hollow, desperate, joyless kind. There’s cruelty, both deliberate and casually indifferent. I think this book falls into the ‘beautiful suffering’ category. Far from cheerful and uplifting, but unforgettable.

-Christine Morgan