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to check out new material from Keith Minnion, and in his latest short story collection there are several previously unpublished pieces.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


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