Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Reviews for the Week of June 18, 2018

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

THE LAST IN LINE by Thom Erb (2018 CreateSpace / 524 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Erb, author of the fantastic novella TONES OF HOME and the fast and furious zombie novel HEAVEN, HELL, OR HOUSTON, begins an ambitious three novel series with another zombie tale, this time set in 1985. I was weary for the first several chapters, thinking, “Oh man, here we go with another generic apocalypse novel,” but Erb soon shut me up and delivered something fresh.

Like the heavy metal music that fuels and is often referenced in the story, THE LAST IN LINE relies more on a fantasy element than horror, although horror purists need not worry as all the grue expected in such a tale is plentiful. We have a mysterious virus turning the world into flesh eating monsters, but it has a supernatural angle: It seems a war to dethrone God has erupted, and our zombies are more demonic than Romero-esque. The otherworldly beings in charge of the chaos are hell bent on tracking down “Children of Light,” powerful humans who can thwart their plans. It turns out two of the last Children of Light live in New York State, and a mystical British chap named Elton arrives to help guide them and their friends through what could be the final world war.

I couldn’t help picturing this project working well as a graphic novel, as the villains and much of the dialogue from the supernatural characters are very comic book-like. And while this may distract some readers, Erb has a way of keeping things moving so fast (even at 500+ pages) it’s hard to let it take you too far out of the novel.

Packed with gut munching mayhem, D&D inspired magic, several epic fights, a coming of age vibe, one kick ass dog, and plenty of music references (make sure to hook up a playlist of 80s Iron Maiden, Dio, Judas Priest, and Accept tunes to play in the background as you read), THE LAST IN LINE should please zombie fans and those who like their horror heavy on the action.

Erb also leaves us psyched for what’s to come. I have my beer mug and headphones ready for the next installment...

-Nick Cato

CANDLE AND PINS by Jacqueline West (2018 Alban Lake Publishing)

Lest anyone be wondering: these poems are all inspired by folklore and superstitions. Which, if you think about it, at their core ARE horror. Like fairy tales. Deep and primal proto-horror, stirring deep and primal chills in our psyches, touching upon our oldest fears. They’re ABOUT fear.

It doesn’t hurt that I love that stuff, am fascinated by it on a Jungian level. It’s a joy to run across some bit of folklore I hadn’t encountered before, some superstition new to me yet instantly understandable. This collection gave me that joy (as well as sparking some story ideas; thank you for that, Ms West!).

There are 61 poems in here, all short and sweet, or dark chocolate bittersweet. They haunt. They linger. They brood. These are poems that smart, historical-minded Goths and occulty-types in particular would go for. Teenage me would’ve wanted to read these out loud in a cemetery to impress a crush. Heck, current-day old me would be more than half tempted.

A few of my personal stand-outs:

“Menstrous,” which should be required reading for junior high girls during *that* special health class when the guys all got sent out to play dodgeball or whatever; forget Judy Blume and even Carrie; this is feminine scary power and moonblood mystery like whoa.

“Spider’s Web” … I’m majorly creeped out by spiders, and this one made me take one of those uncomfortable looks inside myself to wonder if I’d be able to overcome that to help a loved one.

“In Its Crib” speaks to those uncanny moments I think every parent experiences at least once, even if just as a brushing, fleeting thing; the last line is a breathtaking icicle right to the heart.

All in all, eerie and beautifully shivery, like the unexpected caress of a gentle finger on the nape of your neck when you’re alone in the room. I caught myself going “ooh” in out-loud admiration several times during the course of the read, occasionally needing to pause and just sit and reflect and let things sink in. Artful, evocative, clever, gorgeous. Highly recommended!

-Christine Morgan

RITUAL by Tim Miller (2018 GutWrench Productions / 240 pp / trade paperback) 

Okay, this was a first for me by the author. It was an originally dark and brutal tale accurately centered around crooked religious beliefs and practices, black and white magic, witches, paganism, and witchcraft. The story keeps the reader engaged and wanting more at all times, so much so, that I literally finished this book in one sitting after picking it up on a whim, while looking for something new and dark and gory to read. Mission accomplished and then some here, folks.

While going door to door handing out church pamphlets, a group of friends who attend a private church school meet an old man who tells them a story about his daughter joining a Satanic cult before disappearing during her college years. The group of friends soon start to notice not everything is as it seems, especially the two pastors from their school, a couple of other teachers, and even the police in town appear to be involved in the reoccurring murders going on. After meeting a real-life witch with white powers, the group of friends consult with her to take on the cult of Satanists in hopes of ending their life long secrets of betrayal and murder that everybody either seems to be covering up, involved with, or ignoring. With nowhere to go and nobody to trust things begin to get more gruesome and bloodier than ever, as we soon discover the cult's plan is to plant a demon seed into one of the church’s most outgoing teenage female supporters. Will the crew get there quick enough to save her in time? I guess you'll have to read it for yourself to find out.

WARNING: This book contains explicit content that fans of Splatterpunk and Hardcore Horror will appreciate and adore; think Edward Lee, Wrath James White, and Ryan Harding here. If you’re easily offended, you may want to proceed with caution or turn the other way now and run for the hills as fast as you can!   

Definitely Recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers


TOMORROW’S JOURNAL by Dominick Cancilla (to be released 7/18 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 320 pp)

This one definitely goes on the short list of absolute mind-blowers, one which made me have to set it down several times to walk around for a bit or take a breather and just let my thoughts go “wow” on a loop.

It’s also one about which I can’t say too much, because even a little might be spoilery and ruin everything. It needs to be experienced on its own terms. You’ve just got to trust me, it’s good … it’s brilliant, it’s intense, it’s breathtaking, it will keep you guessing and dreading and wondering from start to finish.

As something of a hint, imagine a teenage girl finding a book, a journal with some sections clipped together and an opening list of instructions about not peeking ahead. Imagine that girl being able to write in this journal as one side of a conversation with someone who knows a lot about her, and about her future.

Someone who’s got tasks and requests and demands, but who isn’t very forthcoming with answers. Someone who’s proven chillingly right, as the girl finds out the hard way when she doesn’t follow those instructions or try to cheat around the rules.

And imagine being the person on the other end, trying to help, trying to solve problems, but risking making things worse. It quickly becomes heavy on torment from both ends, a doomed Cassandra vibe going both ways, each new revelation cranking up the tension and terror, each new page bringing another deeper layer.

A truly phenomenal, emotionally agonizing, nail-biting read. If I had to nitpick, my sole issue would be with one section where the girl’s relating of events is more of a narrative than a journal entry; I could see why it was necessary, but to me it just didn’t flow as well with the rest of the book.

Making Tom Riddle’s diary from Harry Potter look like kid stuff, TOMORROW’S JOURNAL wasted no time becoming a strong contender for my top pick of 2018.

-Christine Morgan

OLD ORDER by Jonathan Janz (2018 Amazon Digital Services / 42 pp / eBook) 

Next up is the rerelease of this controversial Amish tale first published back in 2010, apparently the book had originally received a number of negative reviews, as some readers thought they were purchasing and reading an Amish Romance Novel given the title. And, although there is plenty of romance to be found in this novella, expectations of that nature and given the context of the book description, one would be sure to find plenty of other controversial and equally explicit material within the pages of this obvious Horror book.

With that being said, the author delivers a unique story of a man pretending to be a member of the Amish community. He goes door to door looking to work for room and board. After stumbling on an old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, the main character is swept off his feet by the immense hospitality received from the eclectic members of the household. He almost feels bad for plotting to rip them off, but as for the goods in the house there are several high dollar items, watches, rings, diamonds … exactly what our main character needs to kick things off and start anew after he pulls off his master scheme. Low and behold, the family isn’t quite what they seem, not only are they all female underneath their clothes, they are some sort of coven of undead mutants, who soon seek revenge as the main character’s plans begin to quickly unravel at the seams.

With plenty of perversion, sex, and violence, the author delivers a quick and solid novella engaging readers in an original story from the very first page. Just remember, folks. This is not some lovey dovey Amish Romance Novel written in some genre we never knew existed until now.

This is the real deal.

-Jon R. Meyers


TRIPLE AXE by Scott Cole (to be released 7/2/18 by Grindhouse Press / 89 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Porn star Jesse Jinx day dreams of starting her own film company. She spends her days acting in adult features and her nights hanging out with fellow porn stars, thinking of ways to get the money to make her dream a reality.

Porn stars begin showing up dead, choked to death by (oh MAN do you have to read this! Sorry, not going to spoil it!). It turns out someone is waging a holier-than-thou war, trying to clean up the scum infesting the world. And when Jesse's close friends are attacked, she comes up with an idea to protect them with the help of a male porn star, one that leads to a finale resembling an XXX version of KILL BILL.

Cole's novella is like an amped-up Troma film, complete with shady characters, ample sex, a weird cult, a behind the scenes look at adult movie making, and a healthy does of 80s slasher-film style axe-mayhem that helped me finish in a single sitting. A genuine cult film on the printed page.

TRIPLE AXE is arguably the wildest tale of 2018 with one hell of a cool title!

-Nick Cato

ERIE TALES 666 edited by MontiLee Stormer, Nicole Castle Kelly & David C. Hayes (2013 Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers / 120 pp / trade paperback)

Not everyone’s going to be comfy with an entire anthology of 666-themed horror, the darker sides of religion, devils and demons, biblical prophecies, and so on. But, if you don’t mind a little blasphemy here and there, this book is a lot of fun. Its eleven stories run the gamut from real-worldly to otherworldly, from grim to goofy, an entertaining variety of well-written tales (and creepy/cute illustrations!)

First up is “It’s Not What You Think” by Peggy Christie, in which several students fall sick and begin behaving strangely, and one of their teachers has an obvious explanation. Next, a pilot’s revelation during a routine refueling mission threatens to bring on doomsday in Shad Kelly’s “Sound the Trumpet.”

M.E. VonBindig’s “Swine Flu Blues” gives one of the classic cases of possession a clever, updated whirl. On the quieter side, there’s a little deal-with-the-devil temptation in Ron P. Maxwell’s “The Dark In The Night.” On the gorier side, “Jigsaw Jimmy” by Justin Holley sends a workplace shooting in unexpected directions.

For funnier fare, “Which One Of You Guys Is 666?” by John Pirog takes the Maury/Springer afternoon trash talk show approach, while Michael Cieslack’s “The Numbers Don’t Lie” has an orphan in for a big surprise when a demoness drops in for a visit.

Numbers also feature strongly in Ken MacGregor’s “Danica’s Inferno,” when all those six-six-sixes turning up stops seeming like coincidence; and the allure of random chance leads to temptation and obsession in “The Wheel,” by Trico Lutkins.

Nicole Castle’s “Standing Watch On A Hot Summer Night” puts a dire twist on kids-vs-small-town supernatural coming-of-age nostalgia. And speaking of coming-of-age, the final story is my favorite … Rachel Weisserman’s delightfully wry “Birthday Party of the Beast” reminded me favorably of a mash-up between The Omen and “The End of the F***ing World.”

This is the first anthology I’ve read from these Great Lakes Association folks, but if this is what they’re up to, I’m glad I have the next couple volumes waiting in the wings!

-Christine Morgan

A WINTER SLEEP by Greg F. Gifune (2018 Independent Legions Publishing / 226 pp / trade [paperback & eBook) 

This book easily made its way into my top 5 favorite books read so far this year list, and, I have a feeling that it’s going to be hard to beat. Not only is the author’s writing, storytelling, and craftsmanship so top notch here, it’s engaging, sexy, haunting, eerie, unique, discomforting, emotional, suspenseful and all the above times a million. It’s a perfect modern-day horror story with enough darkness and suspense to last for days and then some. There’s even a bit of an underlying sci-fi twist present that cryptically adds to the overall tension, leaving behind a beautifully horrific and tragic tale of lost love affairs, regrets, disloyalty and betrayal, psychosis, and madness. The author does an absolutely stellar job keeping us turning the pages at all times. Just remember not everything is always as it seems. There may be a lot more than meets the eye going on in this one. And even then, you might not know exactly where to turn or who to trust, even yourself and your sanity is on the line here.

Ben Hooper is traveling in a snow storm on a dark highway after catching his wife sleeping with his neighbor. After the storm appears to be picking up and getting worse, he stops off at an unknown tavern for a drink, where he meets a rude bartender and a strange elder man who tells him of a nearby hotel he may want to seek refuge in, as the winter storm is about to get worse. After cocktail hour is over, Ben goes to leave but can’t help noticing the elderly drunkard stumbling for his keys through the snow, before vomiting, and literally falling over before him face down in a snow bank. In no shape to drive, Ben offers to give him a ride home and low and behold he stays at the same hotel that he’d recommended to him. As the story unfolds we learn of Ben’s tragic background with his wife and their neighbor, but that’s not the only thing holding him back from happiness right now. There’s a whole gang of eclectic weirdos seeking refuge at the hotel. And, it’s beginning to look like they don’t want him to leave … ever. In fact, aside from blaming the roads being too bad to drive, his car is drifted over with snow, the hotel seems to be taking hold of him and his mind; the nightmares are getting worse and more frequent, he can’t think straight, and the guests begin getting stranger by the second. He’s not even so sure as to what exactly happened with his wife after leaving, perhaps there was more to the story he’s not coming to terms with, lying about his past and motives like everyone else in this godforsaken and strange hotel.

Everyone plays their part. There’s no other way. Once you’re chosen, you cannot leave. Death is the only thing that is certain. Be quiet and don’t wake mother. What’s that? Are those impregnated hives in the cellar? Another generation? There’s a new Queen Bee in town and she’s nobody’s goddamn business? I guess you’ll have to check this out, read the book, and find out a whole lot more for yourself.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

DAY OF ATONEMENT by Martin Berman-Gorvine (2018 Silver Leaf Books / 326 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The third in the Days of Ascension series continues the adventures and misadventures of a world in which each new rising god (or demon) seeks to take over, and the people caught in the middle of the ongoing conflicts.

Suzie, Vickie, and Amos, who were high school students back in the days when Moloch reigned – when jocks and cheerleaders were supreme, and nerds were the lowest – are now part of a small band of survivors in the wilderness beyond Chatham’s Forge. They have allies, enemies, children of their own, and live with constant dangers both from outside and within their own circle.

Things have changed in the intervening years. These days, the goddess Asherah is in charge, though her rule has its own harsh drawbacks. The social order of high school and society has been upended, with poets and math nerds the top castes. Yearly ‘virgin’ sacrifices have been replaced with matriarchal fertility festivals. Asherah’s priestesses are quick to wreak Her vicious wrath upon those who transgress.

But Asherah’s got competition; bad old Ba’al wants a shot at the spotlight. He’s ready to recruit followers, raise the dead, and punish anyone in the way. Some are eager to welcome another shift in power. Bitter grudges and none-too-hidden jealousies come to the forefront, sparking betrayal and revenge.

Meanwhile, a young bottom-of-the-pecking-order Cheerleader has the temerity to develop a crush on the school’s premiere Poet, sparking an unlikely association that will lead to the heart of Asherah’s very own inner circle and beyond. A star Mathlete’s secret is exposed. Renegade priestesses try to atone for their deeds and break free from an unforgiving goddess. And more!

There’s a lot going on, a lot of characters and cross-plots to keep track of, but everything’s well-handled and intriguing. Good action scenes, great descriptions, all-too-solid ghosts, vivid gore, fraught emotions … a solid, engaging read.

-Christine Morgan


  1. Hi! Awesome blog :) I'm sorry but I don't understand the submission information. "Contact her through all your favorite social media sites" I've been through the blog and I can't find any social media or email. Where should I reach out? Thank you! :)

    1. Christine is very active on Facebook and Twitter.

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