Monday, April 9, 2018

Reviews for the Week of April 9, 2018

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. SPOILER ALERT: We're packed to the gills...

WOLF AT THE DOOR by Theresa Derwin (2016 Quantum Corsets / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This slim collection of ten stories does leave a lot to be desired in terms of interior layout and typesetting; a lack of indents makes for difficult reading. If you can get past that, though, and a few other little things here and there, you’ll find some fun stuff.

The title tale, “Wolf at the Door,” features forbidden attraction among the schemings of an unusual organization, and is followed by steampunk with zombies in “Dirigible of the Dead,” while a singularly unpleasant protagonist faces the future in-laws in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Then it’s back to steampunk-era historical to investigate “Abuse of the Dead,” and the quirky little “Ring and Rage” takes some nice little old ladies on their shopping rounds. Next up, “Pound of Flesh” delivers a change of pace following the diary of someone embarking on a drastic weight-loss plan.

“Muse” is one I’m sure many of us can relate to, examining the lengths we might have to go to in order to satisfy the hungry voice of our art. Then it’s time for squicky laughs in the schlocky pulp of “Giant Vampire Spiders From Outer Space.”

“Meat is Murder” plays with some revenge twists as a disgruntled vegetarian goes off the wagon in a big way. And, wrapping things up is my fave of the bunch … “The Things I See” is nicely creepy while also sadly sweet.

-Christine Morgan

SACRIFICIAL LAMBS AND OTHERS by Sheri White (2018 Macabre Ink / 116 pp / eBook)

After an introduction by Monica O’Rourke, White’s debut collection opens with a batch of flash fiction, many of which are quite gruesome. Some great ideas are touched upon and I think a couple of pieces would make for good, longer works.

The short stories section opens with ‘The Storm People,’ a supernatural chiller proving you should always heed the words of your grandfather, then in ‘Red Handed,’ a man in a struggling marriage learns an extreme way to relieve the pressures of life.

‘Spider Bites’ finds Marty, an arachnophobe, dealing with a white spider his spider-loving wife Kate has brought into their home. It’s bad enough Marty accidentally kills Kate, but when said spider sinks it’s fangs into him, the real trouble begins. In ‘The Phone Call,’ a brother and sister who haven’t spoken in 10 years contact each other ... via ghostly channels. ‘Wasting Away’ is a dark (and surreal) look at anorexia, while ‘Ashes to Ashes’ follows a widow who goes to extreme lengths to be reunited with her late lover.

‘Watch Your Step’ is a fresh take on the apocalyptic thing, Sheila gets more than she bargains for with her two unruly sons in the heartbreaking ‘Sacrificial Lambs,’ and ‘Maternal Instinct’ pits a pregnant woman against an irritated female Bigfoot on an isolated stretch of road.

A workaholic watches his wife, son, and other vacationers *melt* on the beach from the safety of his hut on a tropical island in ‘Paradise Lost,’ but he discovers too late that what’s causing the ghastly phenomenon isn’t what he originally thought. In ‘The Lying Dead,’ a widowed husband discovers, from a dead guy, that his son may be the product of an affair, then ‘Scarecrow Night’ highlights a prosperous community and its adults who will let nothing—not even their disobedient children—get in the way of their unholy blessings.

‘Things Happen Here After Dark’ follows a young couple who sneak into a carnival after hours and become prey to a supernatural clown, then lastly, Christina learns of her fate from an unusual machine in ‘Orgasm,’ and her husband unknowingly has a hand in it.

This is a fine introduction to White’s story telling, and we see her skill develop through each piece. There are some ballsy moves here, as no one is safe and the supernatural pokes its haunted head in at unusual times. A few stories will disturb you (especially ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Scarecrow Night’) while others take common tropes and give them entertaining spins.

A short but solid collection that will surely turn (and twist) many heads.

-Nick Cato

SEXTING GHOSTS by Joanna C. Valente (2018 Unknown Press  / 114 pp / trade paperback)

Okay, this one’s a little tricky and I’m not quite sure where to begin… So, what do we have here? Another poetry collection? Yes, we have that. But, is it like all the other poetry collections available out there on the market today? No, it definitely isn’t and if it were I wouldn’t read it. On to the next questions… Is it horror? Does a review of it even belong here on The Horror Fiction Review? I’m going to have to say, yes. It is and it does. Valente’s collection is unique and creative and disturbing, it’s haunting, often thought-provoking, it’s brutal, has the power to mess with your head and emotions, it’s sometimes cute and cuddly, but don’t let it catch you off guard. It’s also just as dark and demented and depressing as it is all those other things. It has the right amount of psychological horror flair built up between this sort of new, hip, modern, and edgy prose. Plus, the concept behind the overall collection is absolutely brilliant, in my opinion.

Some of my personal favorites in this collection were 'No one Likes You Until You’re Dead,' 'The End of the World Happened on the Internet,' 'When Blue Becomes Magenta,' 'I Am Home Alone on a Friday Night Because No One Loves Me,' and 'God of Destruction.' 

Definitely recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE PLEASURE HUNT by Jacob Floyd (2017 HellBound Books / 352 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a book about sex and obsession, power and submission, darkness, madness, and did I mention the sex? Strongly written from a first-person present-tense POV, the reader definitely gets a front-row seat for the action, which is some steamy, steamy stuff. But wait, it’s not only erotica … there’s much more going on behind the scenes.

See, there’s this secret online hook-up club, where real names are a no-no and refusing a ‘match’ is forbidden. Rules are strict, penalties severe. The member known as Sexy Cupid, who claims his arrow never misses, has been a very active and satisfied customer. Then he connects with a mystery lady called Dark Dance, and his whole world changes.

Their encounter is unlike anything he’s ever experienced, overshadowing everything else. He can’t stop thinking about her. He’s frantic for a follow-up. But, when he tries to find her again on the site, he can’t. His inquiries start getting him warnings from the admins, yet he can’t stop searching and prying. Eventually, his efforts are – you know, ‘rewarded’ might not be the right word here. He finds Dark Dance, with whom he’s by now utterly obsessed. He wants to be hers utterly, to belong to her, to serve her. He promises to do anything she wants, anything she says.

Thing is though, Cupid’s a stubborn entitled jerk. When Dark Dance tells him to wait for her to come to him, of course he won’t. He continues his stalking, trying to find her, demanding her attention. All to show her how devoted and obedient he is and how much he adores her, by doing the exact opposite of what she says.

It turns out, Cupid is not the first man to become fixated on Dark Dance. It turns out, Dark Dance is far from an ordinary woman. It turns out all sorts of things, with unearthly powers and unholy tortures (for which we also get that front-row seat!) and ancient evils. Much more than Cupid’s life is on the line, and the jerk still won’t learn.

-Christine Morgan

SHARKWATER BEACH by Tim Meyer (2017 Severed Press / 182 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

People keep saying sharks, like zombies, are played out, done to death, have even (so to speak) jumped the shark. To that, I say, phooey. Just because some unimaginative grumpypantses don’t know how to have fun anymore, they have to try and bring everyone down?

It’s no secret by now that I’m a big fan of the aquatic toothy monster genre, especially when tropes get turned on their heads and wild new angles are added to spice things up. I’m pleased to report that, in those regards, SHARKWATER BEACH definitely delivers.

I mean, sure, it’s got your secret lab and scientists doing experiments and things go wrong and the hungry fruits of their labor escapes … sure, it’s got a remote island about to be cut off by a convenient storm so calling for rescue / assistance is impossible … those are practically required! It’s also got black-ops mercenaries dealing with betrayal, a promising marine biologist who gave it all up for a career in law enforcement, a professor who gets too close to some of his students, and mostly …

This is not your ordinary shark! This is not even your ordinary giant shark, smart shark, or airborne cyclone shark school. This shark has something extra. This shark is also preggers and about to unload a litter of monstrous hybrids as capable on land as at sea.

So, aw yeah, bring it on, let the carnage commence! Which it does, with no holds barred, no mercy given. There’s lots of chomping, lots of action and destruction. Characters die unexpectedly, unexpected characters die. Another great summer vacation read, though not if you’re planning to get in the water.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC no. 62, Mar-Apr 2018

In the opening commentaries, Lynda E. Rucker looks at the author’s life in the public eye (in particular with social media), then Ralph Robert Moore discusses a childhood friend and, as a writer, how it has affected him later in life. I still don’t know if I should laugh or say HUH?! over Moore’s concluding paragraph, but either way both columns are compelling and act as fine appetizers for the coming pages.

This issue’s stellar fiction offerings are three novelettes and two short stories, beginning with E. Catherine Tobler’s ‘Sanguinary Scar,’ which is sort of an aquatic take on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (why can I hear some readers screaming at this comparison?). It’s a well written piece with unexpected, sudden violence, but I feel a bit out of place in a horror fiction publication. Good tale, but perhaps better suited for BS’s sister sci-fi/fantasy magazine, INTERZONE. You’ll most likely enjoy it and tell me to shut up, so...

Jack Westlake’s ‘Bury Me With Broken Light Bulbs, Bury Me in Shattered Glass,’ follows two men battling different addictions, yet our protagonist learns they’re alike in certain ways. Despite the nihilistic title this one ends on a dark yet oddly hopeful note.

In ‘Things Behind the Sun’ by David Martin, a music fan, learns a song he has become obsessed with was recorded by a band from a small town he used to live in. A hipster music journalist discovers Martin has a copy of their rare lone album, and together attempt to find out what the band is up to. But what they discover left me in a genuine state of wonder. One of the finest short horror stories dealing with music I’ve ever read. Honestly! Bravo.

Kay Chronister’s ‘Your Clothes a Sepulcher, Your Body a Grave’ is a beautiful dark love story told in an almost poetic style. A man recounts how he met and fell in love with “the niece of my mother’s first love’s spinster sister” as a child and how he has remained in love with her despite becoming married and a father of three children. Chronister places poisonous spiders and creepy nuns alongside hyacinths and descriptions of sunny afternoons to give this a surreal, unsettling vibe. I re-read a few sections for full affect.

Finally, in Michael Wehunt’s ‘Caring for a Stray Dog (Metaphors),’ Kent leaves his wife and home after the death of their young daughter via a senseless mass shooting by, of all people, a Baptist pastor. He befriends and takes care of a homeless dog and, like the subtitle says, begins to find metaphors at every turn...metaphors that help him heal. Kent is haunted as he not only visits random Baptist churches, but attempts to make sense of their oddly spelled names. A fever dream of loss, grief, and the unusual ways we deal with moving on, this is the second story that concludes on a hopeful note.

Gary Couzens delivers another batch of Blu-ray reviews, hence my list of to-see titles now includies WITCHHAMMER, a 1969 shot in Czechoslovakia film that sounds right up my alley, and the violent actioner KILLS ON WHEELS. There’s also an insightful look at the box set of the latest season of TWIN PEAKS.

I enjoyed the interview with author Anna Tambour, and Peter Tennant’s reviews of her collection and latest novel have grabbed my attention. Tenant also provides in-depth reviews of 6 other books, including Mira Grant’s INTO THE DROWNING DEEP and Wlliam Meikle’s Collection THE GHOST CLUB, which sounds like a clever, spooky time. I used to save Peter’s reviews for last but now find myself getting right to them.

As mentioned, this issue’s fiction is simply the Best of the Best, and still the main reason to be reading BLACK STATIC. Get on that right here: BLACK STATIC subscription

-Nick Cato

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