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


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