Monday, February 19, 2018

Reviews for the Week of February 19, 2018

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

DOWN THERE & OTHERS by Keith Minnion (2017 White Noise Press / 206 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m always thrilled to check out new material from Keith Minnion, and in his latest short story collection there are several previously unpublished pieces. The 17 tales are:

-THE BLUE CAT: An old woman adds a glass cat to her collection of porcelain figurines. But the seemingly inanimate feline brings an unwanted darkness to her world.

-ON THE HOOKS: Mal lives in a small community of survivors (of what we’re not told). He hunts by night to bring food and goods back to his people, and after clashing with a young boy during an outing we learn just how desperate times have become.

-SO MANY HATS: A sinister slice of flash fiction.

-UNDER THE WING: A brief but heartbreaking sci-fi tale.

-OLD BONES: Novel excerpt featuring a fossil dig and time travel. I’m hooked!

-A TRAIL OF FOOTPRINTS: A struggling alcoholic helps his neighbors locate their son in a snowstorm. But the footprints he follows has him questioning his own reality. A haunting mystery with a head scratching (but satisfying) conclusion.

-PATERFAMILIAS: Quick sci-fi piece that seems like part of a bigger story. A man tries to juggle his wife and a beautiful android-like servant.

-RUNNERS RUNNING: A college student gets fed up with her self-centered boyfriend and decides to move on.

-CLOSE THE DOOR: I’m a big fan of Minnion’s 2011 THE BONE WORMS, and here’s a final chapter to it that takes place 20 years after the events of the novel. One of my favorites of the collection.

-WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN I DO THIS?: Odd tale of a man’s first time with a woman, and what he does today.

-THE HOLES: A wonderful coming of age story. Minnion keeps the mystery going until the end making this one of the creepier entries.

-LITTLE SISTER: Augustine’s younger sibling needs to get her leg fixed, but no one seems to want to help them in this nifty chiller.

-GHOSTS: a young space traveler gets supernatural help to complete an impossible mission. Some slick world building enhances this solid sci-fi romp.

-MOONS FOR MY PILLOW, STARS FOR MY BED: a young girl has a magical encounter with an old man at a laundromat in this light hearted fantasy.

-THE WAMPYR: flash piece about a ghoulish figure’s insatiable appetite.

-DOWN THERE finds a man working with the Navy on a mission that requires the ultimate sacrifice to keep the apocalypse at bay. A creepy-as-hell thriller that I’ve read before...and it holds up quite well.

-DOG STAR caps off the collection and is another novel excerpt, this time a supernatural mystery centered around an artist named Cy whose friend pulls him into an odd situation. Like the aforementioned OLD BONES, Minnion again has me hooked!

DOWN THERE shows off the author’s skills across several genres, and features over a dozen drawings by him. A couple of stories seem to play out like non-genre dramas, but even those will hold your interest. Keith has been at this a long time, and it’s long overdue you treat yourself to his world if you’ve yet to enter it.

-Nick Cato

YEAR'S BEST HARDCORE HORROR VOL 1 AND 2 edited by Randy Chandler, Cheryl Mullenax (2016, 2017 Comet Press / 295 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Saw a meme going around recently, some sort of ‘how much of a literary snob are you’ thing, and I could only laugh. I mean, okay, it didn’t help I was deep into a back-to-back read of these two volumes of the extreme of the extreme.

Oh, the classic, the quiet, the elegant, the subtle and poetic and discreet … oh, the crass crude pulp wallowing in violence, sex, and gore … surely nobody would enjoy BOTH! Surely. Yeah right. But, wait! I’ll let you in on a secret here – if you get lucky, with the right blend of writers, stories, and talents, you can have it all in the same delightful package.

That’s what you get here. Not in every tale, to be sure; some of them are the full glorious bellyflop into viscera and atrocity, guaranteed to make even the hardiest reader cringe. Others, though, others transcend, taking things to a higher level. Elevating it, as they say on the cooking shows.

No wonder, though, when you look at the lineups of authors. Wrath James White is here, the undisputed master of primal sexpain and kink. So’s the leading lady of the extreme, Monica J. O’Rourke. Anything by either of them will haunt you forever. Powerhouses like Tim Waggonner, Kristopher Triana, and Adam Cesare, too.

And the titles! No other genre can pull off titles like “Bath Salt Fetus,” or “King Sh*ts” with such aplomb. No other genre can get away with sheer ickiness like Tim Miller’s “Backne” or Pete Kahle’s agonizing “Where the Sun Don’t Shine.”

Of them all, my personal favorite is “55 Ways I’d Prefer Not To Die” by Michael A. Arnzen; it brings – of all things – whimsy to a series of flinchworthy and all-too-relateable scenarios. It pairs well with stark contrast to Stephanie M. Wytovich’s gorgeously done crimson-drenched vignettes in “On This Side of Bloodletting;” those two alone are shiver-fuel for a year.

If you approach these books like some compilation of torture porn, surgical videos, and gross jokes … well, you’ll probably still have a fantastic time. You’ll just be missing out on some nuance. Take your time. Appreciate. Enjoy.

Just hurry and catch up, because I hear Volume 3 is on the way soon!

-Christine Morgan

FOREST UNDERGROUND by Lydian Faust (2017 Sinister Horror Company / 122 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, where to start? I’d say one-part psychological horror meets fairy tale meets dark fantasy meets two parts modern horror with a couple of bloody twists of earth root, for a perfectly blended horror novella from this powerful debut from the mind of Lydian Faust.

I’ll even admit, at first, I wasn’t really getting into the story with the whole fairy tale bit, especially because it was such a memorable one as a child, but I kept with the big bad wolf because the writing was that solid, and I’ve always enjoyed reading segments that take place between a psychiatrist and their patient—let’s face it: the more messed up, the better. The author manages to pull off what I didn’t like about the story at first exceptionally well, keeping the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next, and then a couple twists threw me right back into the mix and even caught me off guard a few times. I then found myself enjoying the beginning of the book that much more even though I’d personally thought I’d already wrote it off and moved on.

A sinister psychiatrist feeds off the disillusion of one of her rare subjects, a female who thinks she’s living the actual reality of little red riding hood, and then attempts to pin her own personal murders on her patient’s deceased relative by attempting to embed her crimes into her patient’s traumatic memory by making her believe a loved one committed them and was aware of the location of the bones. Brilliant. In the end, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Faust has the power to mess with your mind. Can’t wait to read some more. Don’t forget to cross your T’s, dot your eyes, and bury your goddamn bones.

Definitely Recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

LIGHTBRINGERS by David Price (2017 Crossroad Press / 397 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Okay, normally, anything prophecy/Destined-One is an automatic no-go for me; gives me an eye twitch. Seen so much of it, too much of it, not often well handled. I even scolded Douglas Preston at a signing once for them dragging prophecy into the Pendergast books. Suffice to say, I’m not a fan.

But I went ahead and gave this hefty tome a try because the rest of the premise sounded intriguing – a semi-post-apocalyptic future where cosmic horror runs smack up against the legends and folklore of our world (I do love me some myth-meets-Mythos). Magic is real, a lot of technology has been lost or forgotten, and the result is a sweeping decade-spanning epic, beginning with a young woman meeting a forest god and becoming pregnant with twins believed to be the Lightbringers, gifted with hope and healing, to help drive back the forces of darkness. Which, of course, the forces of darkness are not happy about, sending terrors to threaten the twins even before they’re born.

The book’s done in a very storyteller style with emphasis on the ‘tell,’ and again, normally, this’d be another automatic no-go for me. I prefer intimate character POV and the whole show-don’t-tell thing. Yet, here, with this strong narration and narrative voice, it still somehow works. This is something it’s easy to imagine actually being told.

The dialogue combines the more formal/archaic fantasy sounding stuff with modern terms, usage, slang, and references. It’s a little jarring at times but overall works well. We get to follow one of the Lightbringers and his companions on his journey; it’s part fairy tale quest and part survival adventure, with tests and hazards and personal obstacles to overcome.

Reading along, there will come a point when you realize there’s way too much left to be contained within one volume, setting up for a sequel or trilogy or series. Which, of course, because that’s the way these big sweeping epics should be!

-Christine Morgan

CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE edited by John Brehl & Joseph Sullivan (2017 Cemetery Gates Media / 214 pp / trde paperback & eBook)

Imagine a twenty story, short story collection where every entry is dark, clever, and very different from each other, but all contain some similar aesthetic that relates in great and memorable ways and then bundle it up with creepy illustrations by Chad Wehrle, while boasting some of the most intricate book formatting I’ve seen in quite some time. That’s what CORPSE COLD from Cemetery Gates Media manages to do. The only negative thing I have to say about this book is the fact I decided to read it on my kindle and didn’t wait to purchase the actual physical copy. I could see going back to reference certain stories found within, and with a such a great cover, an excellent book to leave sitting out on the coffee table to spark up a spooky conversation with friends and family, or whoever else may be visiting your lonesome flat.

The recurring theme found in all the stories here is dark and spooky, from one story to the next, each one terrifying, clever and unique in their own dark and demented ways, written in a way that is easy to share and read, making each tale that much more powerful. My personal favorites were, 'Switches,' 'Black Dog,' 'Czarny Lud,' 'Moss Lake Island' (one of my recently new favorite creepy witch stories of all-time), 'It that Decays,' and 'A Casket for My Mother.' All dark, eerie, and beautifully written horror stories to come back to from time to time or perhaps share with one another around a campfire, but don’t forget to look behind you every now and again because there may be something lurking in the trees right behind you.

Did you hear that?

-Jon R. Meyers


Monday, February 5, 2018

Reviews for the Week of February 5, 2018

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

LOVEBITES AND RAZORLINES by J. Daniel Stone (2017 Villipede Publications / 270 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Dang but that is a sweet title, ominous and evocative and gorgeous and sinister. Okay, so, turns out it’s from a song, but so what? It fits. It suits. The stories contained within this collection are also ominous, evocative, gorgeous, and sinister.

And sharp. And dark. And painful. With blood. It’ll hurt, it’ll cut, you’ll do that inward-hissing breath thing, but in the so-good kind of way that’s hard to resist.

Most are city-stories, the side of a city that admittedly scares the willies out of me. The night’s edge underside, the streets and clubs, the tunnels, the shadows. Tough young people, some with wise old souls, face dangers and strange marvels. Contrasts are played up – New York and San Francisco, the vastly different feels of each.

Art, love, drugs, loss, desire, music, magic, obsession, grief … they’re all here, presented with skill and beauty ranging from subtle to smack-your-face stunning.

Bucking the usual format, too, there’s an author’s note at the beginning of each story, to help set the stage and cast the tone. It’s a neat touch, done well, enticing without giving too much away, and pointing out some of the connections between tales for added depth.

-Christine Morgan

THE GATE THEORY by Kaaron Warren (2017 IFWG Publishing / 124 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Warren, author of the celebrated novels SLIGHTS and MYSTIFICATION, shines in this powerful short story collection, presented here in its second edition.

In opener PURITY, a girl living in squalor has her life changed by a charismatic man who is able to make people laugh to forget their troubles...or do they?

THAT GIRL: an artist becomes fascinated with an unusual old woman named Malvika who resides in a mental ward. She hears ghost stories from local cab drivers that seem to point to Malvika. A truly haunting tale that while brief, digs deep.

DEAD SEA FRUIT: a dental surgeon, who cares for anorexic girls near death, learns of an urban legend, and her new lover may just be the fabled man her patients dream of meeting. Tense with a grim finale.

THE HISTORY THIEF: Alvin finds himself looking at his dead body. In time he ventures out of his home, and discovers when people come into contact with his spirit he can see their history, and even become visible and solid for a short time. He uses this gift to help police solve murders, but what he learns of a childhood crush leads him to his destiny. A wonderfully fresh ghost story.

THE GAZE DOGS OF NINE WATERFALL: Gina has quite the different job: she gets hired to obtain rare dog breeds for wealthy clients. She manages to get a couple of rare “vampire dogs” for a doctor who intends to use them for leech-like bleeding therapy. I loved this story (although I’m not sure you’d call this horror). Interesting, unusual fare.

And in the title story, THE GATE THEORY, A woman, along with her sister’s spirit, deals with homelessness in an isolated area in yet another fresh take on ghosts and the afterlife.

Warren has a voice all her own, her female leads often strong, smart, and with a wickedly dark sense of humor. The aura running among these stories bond to create a collection in its own league.

-Nick Cato

KIND NEPENTHE by Matthew V. Brockmeyer (2017 Black Rose Writing / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Northern California … REAL Northern California, not that central Bay-Area stuff … the misty coastal forest, the emerald triangle … I went to college at Humboldt State and have family in the area … let me tell you, that place is its own special brand of weird even before anybody starts mixing in the supernatural.

As hippy-dippy kooky-charming as the towns around there can be, with quaint homegrowers and commune holdovers from the 60’s, the real big business takes place further out in the woods. That’s where the story takes place, where a single mom is about to find out the hard way that her plans for green living aren’t going to be as easy as she hoped.

Rebecca, with her daughter Megan, has followed her boyfriend there with the dream of building up a nest egg to start her own little farm. All they have to do is see through the season at a grow op out in the backwoods. Working for a shifty dude, with neighbors into even more illicit things. Already uneasy, right?

But wait, there’s more … the property’s got a history, and reputed hauntings, and before long little Megan’s behavior takes some unsettling turns … and Rebecca’s boyfriend is turning distant … and things are going badly with those neighbors … it develops almost a “The Shining” kind of feel, without the hotel and snow but with the isolation and unraveling madness.

Add unexpected twists, and some really good grisly gore, and characters who behave believably even as you want to smack them, and you’ve got a read that’s anything but peace and love among the redwoods.

-Christine Morgan

F4 by Larissa Glasser (2018 Eraserhead Press / 150 pp / trade paperback)

Glasser's debut novella deals with a transgender bartender named Carol working on a luxury cruise ship that happens to be surgically (and apparently mechanically) attached to the back of a sleeping kaiju, who happens to be one of the largest monsters the world has ever seen. As if this wasn't strange enough, Carol becomes the target of a deranged ship captain, a gang of Internet trolls, and is followed by a black hole-like rift known as The Sway.

Part of Eraserhead Press' "New Bizarro Author Series," Glasser lets everything rip as we learn about the 3 kaiju's who came before F4, thrill to plenty of off-the-wall action scenes, and as weird as things get, everything is kept concise and in order, right down to the satisfying finale. There's plenty of dark (and sarcastic) humor and the pace is just right.

This fun, crazy debut is what most midnight cult films strive to be.

-Nick Cato

PAPER-MACHE JESUS by Kevin L. Donihe (2013 Eraserhead Press / 154 pp / trade paperback)

Not for nothing is Kevin L. Donihe one of the OG bizarros; he's a living example of how some weirdness simply cannot be contained. Like, imagine Jeff Goldblum doing his Jurassic Park speech ... bizarro finds a way. If it can't find a way, it'll make one. It'll bust out. You just can't hold that kind of crazy in.

And if the genre doesn't exist, well, you MAKE it exist. You carve out that niche, run with it, roll with it, make it your own. If you're as skilled as you are skewed, as creative as you are crazy, you'll find an appreciative audience of like-minded weirdos.

The eighteen stories in this collection, written over a span of decades, are, well, pretty seriously bent. Strange gods, computers attempting to save humanity, fast food nightmares and disturbed children, inanimate objects coming to life, meetings among villains, and more.

My particular favorites: "The Boy Memorial," in which grieving parents don't realize the effect of their desire to hold onto their son ... surreal meditations in "Master Remastered" ... and a self-appointed angel of mercy offering "Compassion."

-Christine Morgan