Monday, July 30, 2018

Reviews for the Week of July 30, 2018

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

THE VERY INEFFECTIVE HAUNTED HOUSE AND OTHER STRANGE AND STUPID STORIES by Jeff Burk (2018 Clash Books / 140 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Hey, you! Yeah, you. No, not you. Behind you. No, not you. C’mon, why would I want to talk to you? Behind you. Yeah, you. Okay, I’ll stop as this could literally continue on and on forever, but, perhaps, you’re in the mood to lighten the mood lighting a little bit, turn things down a notch, you know? And what better way to do so than the latest from Jeff Burk and Clash Books? It’s a riotous romp through the haunted hands of time and space. A little bit bizarre. A little bit comedy. A little bit Horror. A little bit of poetry to be found in this new short story collection.

My favorite story was the main one, 'The Very Ineffective Haunted House.' The story was well-written in a way that was very easy for the reader to read, following along and written from the POV of an aging haunted house with a new family that has just moved inside of it. This is a clever hammer of a story that packs a mean little nail punch to the head (pun intended). All is well and good as long as the new family leaves the house alone in the attic where it can keep working on its drawing and coloring skills. Maybe, when it gets bored enough it will mess with them a little bit, but only if it can remember how. It’s not easy being a haunted house. Other personal favorites in this collection were 'The Dog Who Stared' and 'The Satanic Little Toaster.'

All in all, there’s a little bit of something strange and stupid for everybody in this extremely versatile and humorous collection worth checking out from Clash Books. Check it out for yourself!

-Jon R. Meyers

Jeff Burk may be mostly known as the head editor of Deadite Press, but the guy writes too, and not just about William Shatner! In fact, the Shat doesn’t appear in any of the dozen stories forming this nifty new collection. Plenty of other weirdness, however, does.

The title tale is oddly both demented and sweet, when the ghost of someone who wanted to be an artist (but wasn’t a very good one) finds himself haunting an unfamiliar house. Having little in the way of personal memories, drawing mainly upon what he recalls from the movies, he sets out with the best of spooky intentions once the nice young family moves in. Except, it turns out, he’s not very good at haunting either … embarrassing, especially when his house is right down the street from a certain God of Hungry Walls (in-joke, see Cook, Garrett). A smattering of illustrations accompany the whimsical recounting; I particularly like the pic of the cat.

Cats, btw, do tend to feature prominently in Burk’s work; he’s a crazy cat person in good standing. The second story, revealed in the notes to have been drawn from a dream, is an autobiographical peek into his everyday life … well, until “The Window That Shouldn’t Be There” makes an appearance. You’ll get to see his house and garden, meet the housemates, the girlfriend, the many cats.

You’ll also find a Clickers story from the J.F. Gonzalez tribute anthology, a sideways look at the possible effects of drug use, a decidedly left-handed nod to GG Allin, possessed household appliances, a weird tattoo infestation, a Lynchian easter-egg hipster hunt, some unusual tentacle porn (wait, there’s usual tentacle porn?), and more.

“The Dog Who Stared” is probably my personal fave of the batch, even if it’s about a dog instead of a cat. We’ve all known those pets who stare at things we can’t see; in this one, a cultish following forms around one, to the confusion of its owners.

Burk’s main strength here, aside from his innate sense of fun and playfulness, is in taking a wry but astute look at many aspects of modern society. From bronies and collectors/collectibles to click-bait articles and the punk scene, the absurdity is all around us.

Also, the essay “Mother[bleep]ing Dinosaurs: An Ode to Dinosaurs Attack!”? Totally true. I even have a whole set thanks to him.

-Christine Morgan

DERBY CITY DEAD by Darren Madigan (2014 CreateSpace / 328 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

One thing that often gets done to death in zombie books, so to speak, is having the characters be supposedly of our current modern world yet utterly clueless about what’s happening. In Derby City Dead, that’s not a problem … thanks to pop culture, nearly everyone’s familiar with the classics and the basics. The term “zombie apocalypse” is brought up early and readily accepted. People have seen Walking Dead and Zombieland. They know something of the rules, of how this works.

Except, that’s where the REAL problem arises, because the classics and the basics and the usual rules don’t apply. When you’ve been taught that “shoot ‘em in the head” is the only way, or that they’re mindless shamblers easily fooled, or that a bite is an automatic death-and-turning sentence, suddenly finding out the hard way it isn’t necessarily so can be a bigger stumbling block than the fact of zombies themselves.

As a result, when the (bleep) hits the fan, many of the survivors are both more, and less, prepared to deal with it. The primary goals are the same either way – survival, shelter, weapons, water, food, family.

This is when practicalities and preparedness come into play, the common sense issues of defensible buildings and supplies. Learning more about the nature of the zombies leads to makeshift plans of attack. And, of course, there’s dealing with the other groups of survivors who might not be so friendly.

The main hitch for me is that some of the characters, the ‘bad guys’ in particular, are presented as so glaringly unpleasant – racist, sexist, homophobe, religious wackadoo – as to come across almost as caricatures, making them too easy to despise.

Aside from that, though, it’s action-packed and clever, poking fun at the tropes and presenting some new twists.

-Christine Morgan

DEATH OBSESSED by Robert Essig (2018 Grand Mal Press / 294 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If you can't tell by the cover art, DEATH OBSESSED is aimed at fans of gruesome horror films of the VHS era, and while it took a bit to get going, Essig, for the most part, delivers the goods wrapped in a gore-soaked loved letter.

As a kid, Calvin was a major horror film freak. He managed to see everything he could, the sicker, the better. He was especially fond of the real-life (or supposed real-life) mondo films like Faces of Death and anything he could get his hands on. Today, he works a humble job as an electrician's apprentice and has a pregnant girlfriend who wants him to better himself. But he's still very much in his own world, more concerned about his dark hobby than the idea he's about to be a father. Essig makes it clear Calvin's entire being is sold out to horror, and after he gets his hands on a mysterious, unmarked VHS tape, his world takes a grisly and supernatural turn.

With a host of unsavory characters (goth chick Hazel gives Calvin a run for his money), some truly disturbing images (one sex scene will test even fans of the extreme stuff), and the true feel of a low budget Z-level horror film, DEATH OBSESSED, despite a few minor flaws, is a lot of gruesome fun, even with a cast who seem like the lowest form of scum on the planet. But, perhaps that was the author's intent: we may despise some of these people for the things they say and do, yet doesn't that mirror the films Calvin and others here are obsessed with?

DEATH OBSESSED is not for everyone, but it should be enjoyed by anyone who has a love for the darker side of cinema...and cult horror fiction.

-Nick Cato

MIDNIGHT'S ETERNAL PRISONER by Matthew Pungitore (2018 BookBaby / 50 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This slim novella reads rather like a gothic adult video game, in which our protagonist (Moneo) is trapped in a magical/haunted castle being slowly consumed by darkness as its master seeks to bring his dead lover back to life. A demon/goddess, also trapped, offers Moneo a deal – if he helps her, they can escape together.

He accepts, and the story follows this main quest with various objectives, side quests, and wisecracking NPC sidekicks along the way. Keys to collect, spells to cast and break, a succession of increasingly difficult boss battles, and unfolding backstory all come into play. Some passages even read like cut scenes.

The writing style is unusual, shifting tenses from present to past and back again, sometimes as often as every other sentence. I did stumble over that a few times, unable to determine how intentional it was, and with what purpose. A few too many non-said dialogue tags for my taste, too.

But the descriptions in particular are gorgeous, lavish visuals and lush scene-setting, broody atmosphere, fantastical creatures and monsters. I don’t play many video games myself, but I would watch the heck out of someone else playing it. I kept thinking about Ravenloft and classic D&D modules from years past; it just has that kind of FEEL.

-Christine Morgan

GLASS SLIPPER DREAMS, SHATTERED by Doungjai Gam (2018 Apokrupha / 79 pp / eBook)

Gam’s first collection may be short but there’s plenty going on here to show off the skills of this fresh newer voice.

The first batch of flash fiction comes fast and furious. There are a few pieces about scorned lovers and a couple of end times tales that manage to feel epic despite being only a few sentences long. Some stand outs are ‘I’ll Make You Famous,’ ‘Swallowed in Pieces, Consumed n Whole,’ ‘Torn,’ ‘The Key is the Key,’ ‘Light Box,’ ‘Candy Apple,’ and ‘Dead Weight.’

Among the slightly longer stories are ‘What Remains,’ a real Chiller about an adult still suffering with childhood fears, ‘Thy Ink is Thy Blood,’ finds a depressed author getting a most unusual psychological revenge on her boyfriend, and ‘That Girl With the Hair’ is a clever take on a famous mythology.

A quick and solid read, Gam gives her own flavor to some classic tropes and managed to spook me out a couple of times. Fans of flash fiction will surely eat this up.

-Nick Cato

THE ORGAN DONOR by Matthew Warner (2017 Bloodshot Books / 316 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

15th anniversary and I only now learned about this one? Medical/body horror combined with mythology? Sheesh, I must not have been paying attention! This is seriously good stuff!

We’ll start off by saying the organ donor of the title isn’t exactly, um, willing. Not someone carrying the little card in his wallet. More of an involuntary harvestee. And this isn’t the old urban legend of waking up in a motel bathtub full of ice with a kidney missing, or the desperate poor selling their own organs on the black market … it goes even darker.

Executed prisoners, for instance. Executed prisoners for whom the execution might even have been put on an accelerated schedule (or whose sentence hadn’t included it in the first place). But, when you’ve got a rich client with a tight timeline and loose morals, well, hey …

Paul and Tim Taylor don’t quite fit that bill, but their father once did a favor for a very influential Chinese ‘businessman’ who is eager to repay the debt. The brothers fly to China, where Tim is set to get a new kidney, and Paul, injured in a terrorist attack while there, suddenly needs some drastic medical care of his own.

Their benefactor is happy to let them think their donor was a voluntary match who just happened to die at the right time. They don’t know about prisons and executed criminals and teams of surgeons operating (literally!) outside the law. They certainly don’t know about Shen, the source of their new spare parts, who turns out to be far from any ordinary prisoner. And far from happy about being shot and cut up.

Shen wants back what is his, even if it means following the Taylors home to America and retrieving his missing pieces personally. Before he gets there, his connection to the brothers is having bizarre effects, but Paul has a hard time convincing anyone that something strange is going on … until the violent, inexplicable deaths begin … until it seems a figure out of Chinese mythology is on the hunt … until Paul himself might have to fight for more than his life.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, July 16, 2018

Reviews for the Week of July 16, 2018

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


COCKBLOCK by C.V. Hunt (2018 Grindhouse Press / 150 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sonya and Callie are looking forward to their date night at a new restaurant. Sick of their jobs, they just need a night away. But on the way to their destination, they become victims of catcalls that get increasingly hostile, and they pick up their pace when they notice women being verbally and physically abused by crazed-looking men. They take refuge in the restaurant and discover the President of the United States is broadcasting a message on a loop that's turning men into crazed rapists.

Our ladies meet military captain Megan Naff and decide to take their chances, but when things get too brutal in the streets a nun waves them over to safety in a church. But things aren't what they seem and our girls are in for one crazy ride, including a mission to storm the White House in an attempt to stop the brainwashing messages.

Hunt continues to deliver some of the craziest ideas in the genre, twisting tropes in ways you’d never expect. COCKBLOCK is full of social and political subtext and an urgent cry for justice, done in an irresistible way. Things may seem absurd one minute, and the next we wonder if this could possibly be where we're headed as a nation.

With 15 titles under her belt, Hunt has become a force to be reckoned with, and COCKBLOCK is easily one of her best. It's an epic tale told in an easily digestible size.

-Nick Cato

NEVERDAY by Carlton Mellick III (2018 Eraserhead Press / 200 pp / trade paperback)

I’m still not caught up on his backlist, and he comes out with new books almost too fast for mere mortals to keep up with. Mellick really is a phenom unto himself, demonstrating a staggering range and talent, from the gonzo to the profound. I did once think QUICKSAND HOUSE was his best … until I read NEVERDAY.

‘Best’ is one of those iffy terms, though. My personal favorite, how about. Of everything of his I’ve thus far read, NEVERDAY knocked me the most for a loop. My only complaint with it was that it ended too soon (or, indeed, ended at all; I could have gone on reading it forever, fittingly enough).

We’re all familiar with the deja vu repetition thing, with Groundhog Day and time resets and living the same sequence of events over and over. Wondering what can be changed, what could be done differently, if there’s a way to break the pattern. Such scenarios are their own special kind of haunting purgatory, but NEVERDAYNEVERDAY … wow. Takes it to such new levels, such extremes. Elevates it, as the cooking show judges say.

As for this particular story summary: Karl Lybeck has been repeating the same day for so long, even he isn’t sure. He has the same food in his house, the same money in the bank, the same books on his shelves. The same critters go through the same routines in his garden. No matter what he does, no matter what he tries, nothing changes. Even when he ends the day by blowing his brains out, he wakes up alive and same as ever at the usual time the same morning, and gets to go through it all again.

Except, then, something does seem to change … Karl notices he’s not alone … there are others reliving the same day. People like January, who’s suddenly caught in a loop of crime and betrayal, on the run from the police. And more than just the police. There are some who know what’s going on and are determined to maintain the eternal status quo.

To say more would be spoilery, so I’ll just repeat myself and reiterate – of everything he’s done so far, NEVERDAY is my all-time fave.

-Christine Morgan

THE NETWORK PEOPLE by Bob Freville (2018 Psychedelic Horror Press / 100 pp / trade paperback)

This book looks exactly like you’d expect a book from something called Psychedelic Horror Press to look like … garish eye-bleedy nightmare colors, freaky fonts, freakier artwork … and then you open it to find the stories and illustrations within are just as weird, if not weirder!

The illustrations, courtesy of Nicholas Patanaude, are of the sort that might get a kid’s parents called in for a special conference with the principal or school counselor. I mean that in a good way, of course. A good-but-seriously-messed-up way.

And the stories? Wildly bizarre. There are three of them, deviously interconnected, sharp with cutting and insightful social commentary, and some wickedly clever word use.

Things start off with “We Buy Souls,” stripping away the plastic facade of modern everyday life when a recently-released ex-con happens across a pawnshop/knickknack-emporium with a peculiar, sinister shopkeeper.

Then comes the unsettling title tale, “The Network People,” in which an actor receives an invitation to a secret society with some unusual hazing rituals and unspeakable secrets, and once you’re in, there’s no way out. How far would you go for fame and fortune?

On a similar note, how far would you go to save your marriage / spice up your love life? That’s the question for Eric and Elle in “Sex Toy,” who visit an adults-only business but don’t find anything exciting … until they notice a secret back room, and something very different catches Elle’s eye …

-Christine Morgan

ANIMALS EAT EACH OTHER by Elle Nash (2018 Dzanc Books / 216 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Well, this book just easily climbed to the top of my ten favorite books read in 2018 list. Here’s why: First of all, let’s take a look at the beautiful, stunning, and artistically skillful pink cover design by the master of the book cover universe, Matthew Revert, am I right? The book looks amazing. But, here’s the even more exciting part: The author’s stunning and unforgettable debut found on the pages within are just as intriguing, creative, sexy, dark, erotic, heartfelt, honest, and amazing. Nash manages to deliver a brutally honest tale on the dark side of love and obsessive relationships through the eyes of Satanism, love, anti-love, and jealousy. ANIMALS EAT EACH OTHER is a sadomasochistic anti-romance novel and modern late teen masterpiece that indirectly pays homage to the likes of Joel Lane’s Queer Punk Rock debut FROM BLUE TO BLACK, GO ASK ALICE, or, maybe even a bit of Chbosky’s perks THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, but instead of making cute and cuddly mixtapes for Patrick, we’re listening to goth superstar Marilyn Manson, and taking fistfuls of synthetic drugs at a Rave Party, before embarking on an emotionally devastating and destructive rollercoaster of a relationship with more than one sexual partner.

From the back cover, “A girl with no name embarks on a fraught three-way relationship with Matt, a Satanist and a tattoo artist, and his girlfriend Hannah, a new mom. The liaison is caged by strict rules and rigid emotional distance. Nonetheless, it’s all too easy to surrender to an attraction so powerful she finds herself erased, abandoning even her own name in favor of a new one: Lilith. As Lilith grows closer to Matt, she begins to recognize the dark undertow of obsession and jealousy that her presence has created between Matt and Hanna, and finds herself balancing on a knife’s edge between pain and pleasure, the promise of the future and the crushing isolation of the present. With stripped-down prose and unflinching clarity, Nash examines madness in the wreckage of love, and the loss of self that accompanies it.”

Whether you like your fiction dark and sexy, heartfelt and emotional, or just plain well-written with a little bit of nitty gritty. There’s a little bit of something for everybody to be found here. Check it out for yourself as I highly recommend it.

P.S. Elle, if you’re ever in the neighborhood and get bored and are, you know, looking for something to do. My phone number is 555-666-6969.


-Jon R. Meyers

THREE A.M. WAKE UP CALL (THE TERROR PROJECT, VOL. 3) by Nick Cato, David Daniel, Rob Watts (2018 Books & Boos Press / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Hmm, volume three, three stories, three authors, three in the title … methinks I spy a theme going on here! The foreword by Rob Smales sets a stage with which we’re all familiar, waking to a ringing phone in the middle of the night and how we can all instantly identify and empathize because you just KNOW it’s going to be bad news. At best, maybe a wrong number or drunkcall, but tell that to your nerves and imagination, hardwired to jump to the worst conclusions.

The stories themselves don’t necessarily include a phone call, but draw upon similar shared universal experiences, such as the related late knock on the door, or “breaking news” bulletins, the kinds of things that interrupt your normal routine, sometimes with the inexplicable or dangerous.

In the dark, fun, twisted “Chew Toys,” by Nick Cato, the emphasis is definitely on both. It’s a take on the infamous ‘Son of Sam’ killings … but what if Berkowitz wasn’t crazy, what if there WAS a talking dog who could influence people to do terrible things? What if Berkowitz had only been a test drive, and now the dog is gathering a whole team? What if the dog’s got a vendetta? Who’s going to believe it?

“Clinton Road” by Rob Watts pulls the rug out from under a woman’s life, flinging her from happily married big-city socialite into pending-divorcee living alone in a rundown cabin on a creepy stretch of road where urban legends outnumber actual neighbors. Must say, I didn’t care for this one as much because Melissa’s character annoyed me; I spent more time wanting to smack her than sympathize.

David Daniel’s “Roons” deftly combines elements of the classic coming-of-age and the return-to-the-hometown. An email about a former neighbor’s funeral stirs Erik’s memories of childhood crushes and frowned-upon friendships, and leads him to a hoarder’s storage unit, where he uncovers some disturbing secrets of the past. Reminiscent of Hill, or King without the bloat; good stuff.

-Christine Morgan

ABODE by Morgan Sylvia (2017 Bloodshot Books / 308 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I love it when an author manages to take a classic trope most people might think has already been played out or done to death, and then blows the doors off by presenting it in an effective, clever way.

Sure, you might think, “oh, another hapless family moves into a spooky old house with a history, here we go again.” But not like this. Even if it was just another haunting – which it isn’t; there’s way more to it – the manner in which it’s told is riveting.

I mean, come on: it’s in the form of emails from a grown man to someone he believes to be the reincarnated sister who died when they were both kids. Hooked me from the get-go. How fascinating is that? How can you NOT need to read and learn what happened?

An unreliable narrator who admits his unreliability up front … a one-sided correspondence with a recipient whose responses aren’t shown … this insane-seeming story of tragedy and past lives … taking stalking to unnerving new levels even as he’s claiming to want to help … yeah. The depth and complexity of emotion going on, half of it off-screen and left to the reader’s imagination, is wonderfully done.

It’s also one of the best ‘haunted house’ stories I’ve seen in a long time, not only for the paranormal elements but because of the way the reactions of the family come across as genuine and believable in their denial and dysfunction.

A big bonus for me was the nostalgia factor; the events our narrator’s telling us about took place when he was a kid in the 1970s. That was some spot-on memory lane stuff, the cultural references, the toys and shows, the interior d├ęcor; I had no trouble at all stepping into that world.

-Christine Morgan

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Reviews for the Week of July 2, 2018

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

2003 - 2018

BRING HER BACK by Jeff Strand (2018 Amazon Digital / 265 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Frank is one weird-looking, awkward guy, and his physical appearance is only made worse by the memory of his father shooting up an office. He goes about his daily routine as quiet as he could, until he spots someone selling flowers near his job. He becomes infatuated, and eventually works up the nerve to ask her on a date. To his surprise, she says yes, but before they can go further than a first date, Frank's world is about to implode...

It seems Frank has been helping his shady neighbor Marc do drug deals, and by help, he was asked just to stand there for backing support. Not crazy about it, Frank goes along on several deals to be a good neighbor, until they run into a real crazy dealer named Wulfe, who is double crossed by Marc. What follows is Strand at his gruesome best: hit men, freaks, off the wall situations, torture, horror, suspense, all wrapped up in some of the darkest humor you'll read this year (or any year for that matter).

Told from Frank's point of view as he writes his crazy story (with a couple of surprises along the way), BRING HER BACK is another satisfying thriller from Strand, who continues to straddle the line between terror and comedy like no one else can. A great beach read that can be consumed in a sitting or two.

-Nick Cato

BLUE SLUDGE BLUES AND OTHER ABOMINATIONS by Shannon Lawrence (2018 Warrior Muse Press / 193 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Best disclaimer I’ve seen in ages; just reading that let me know I was in for a good time. I admire above all else in writing a sense of cleverness, creativity, and having fun. Happily, on all fronts, this collection of fourteen tales more than delivers. Subtle, spooky, evocative, and cool.

First up is “Blue Mist,” moody lonely horror in which an old prospector unwillingly confronts a mysterious evil long lurking in them thar hills. Aloneness of a very different pace and sort stars in the tense clock-ticker escape room of “Salvation Lottery.”

“Maelstrom” is a first-person account of friends accidentally waking an evil. The suffocation factor of the opening scene of “Shifting Sands” is a breathtaker for sure.

Port-a-potties are nasty at the best of times; after the visceral gut-wrenching ickiness of title tale “Blue Sludge Blues,” the prospect of ‘holding it’ a while longer will seem by far the wiser choice … or ‘holding it’ forever, kthx.

“What The Fire Left Behind,” especially after the past few real-world summers, hits way too close to home. So, in a chillingly different lock-your-windows way, does “The Tourist.”

“Cravings” is both grisly and, for the parents out there, kinda all too relatable. So is “Sound Advice” for those long night-drive road trips through strange country, and “In The Dark” for blind dates to the carnival.

“Faceless” strikes a familiar chord for travel fatigue as well as mistrusting our own perceptions. Then, “For Love Of The Hunt” brings a real old-man-and-the-sea change of scenery, and we get an up close different look at the outbreak in “Metamorphosis.”

“Know Thy Neighbor” finishes things off strongly when a woman’s late-night routine leads to a deadly encounter. As a final aperitif, author notes add the optional (never optional for me; I love those!) insights into how each story came to be. Good stuff!

-Christine Morgan

A GLIMPSE INTO MADNESS by Sean Walter (2014 Amazon Digital / 196 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sean Walter is fairly new to my acquaintance, this collection my first introduction to his work, but I’ll say it now – he’s one to watch. These stories are fresh and creepy, thoughtful, surprising. There are twenty-seven of them, but it’s not a thick book, so you’ll find a lot of quick page-or-two vignettes and shorter pieces that still manage to pack a big punch, lingering in the brain.

Some start in the familiar, lending a sense of comfort and complacency, before stealthily whisking the rug out from under the world. Some are out-there from the get-go; ‘experimental’ is the word that comes to mind, experimental and different.

“Writer’s Block,” for instance, about having nothing to write … and the contemplative advisory of “Roads Never Traveled” … musings on the meaning of love in “The Four-Letter Illusion” … they might not be ‘story’-stories, but they are powerful and resonant.

So is “A Letter to a Friend,” which hits right in the feels, as they say. As does “Not my Proudest Moment;” I found myself doing the pained inward hiss of breath on that one.

For the more ‘story’-stories, there are weird left turns, forks in the road and full-circle twists … journeys through memory and into imagination, across time and outside of time … travels of all sorts, around the world or between this world and the next … contemplations of reality and alternate realities.

Among my other favorites have to be:

“An Evening’s Ride,” when four old partners gather again.

The longest piece, the terrible choice presented in “Twist of Fate.”

“Etiquette,” which filled me with sorrow and fury.

As a bonus, there’s also an excerpt from the upcoming novel MORIBUND, a small taste of the post-apocalypse I’m eager to read. All in all, this book lives up to the promise of its title; you get many glimpses into many madnesses, and might recognize more than you’d want to admit.

-Christine Morgan

A BETTER LIFE by Kyle M. Scott 2018 Amazon Digital / 188 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The author shows us with ease he’s got the skills to spin yet another dark and twisted tale, filled to the brim with legendary occult and supernatural goodness, brutal violence, and unique nightmarish twists and turns at every turn of the page. Not everything is as it seems and not everything always goes according to planned out here in the Mojave Wilds. Some secrets are best kept in the dark where they belong.

Jess and her friends plot to kidnap a wealthy politician’s daughter to help come up with the money needed for a dire medical treatment. But, after her parents don’t care to pick up the phone to take the ransom call, the group of friends start to notice the mysterious girl they kidnapped may be hiding something much more sinister beneath her eight-year-old smile. How could her parents just abandon her like that? Don’t they care about her? The group of friends soon find the girl too calm and collected for having just been kidnapped by four strangers and she seems to know things about them. But, how? What are they going to do? They need to come up with a new plan and fast.

After the girl begins to take a liking to Jess, the mysterious little girl slowly begins to unravel her deep dark secrets, as members of the crew begin to drop one by one, all in hopes of ending the nightmare once and for all and setting out to find a better life.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE LAST CHILD, BOOK 1 by Sean Kerr (2018 Amazon Digital / 185 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Opening with a nifty prologue, in which the Seven Deadly Sins personified show up to taunt a dying woman, then jumping ahead two thousand years, this biblical thriller follows an age-old secret society preparing for a prophesied confrontation between the Antichrist and a Merovingian descendant.

Samuel is a misfit orphan, bullied at school, abused at home. His only solace is in his gift for art and inner conversations with ‘the Universe.’ Christina, one of his teachers, lost her parents in a fiery tragedy when she was young, admires his talent, and stands up for him even when it gets her in trouble with the headmistress.

Little does Christina know her own long-destined part in what’s about to unfold. Even her best friend has been keeping secrets … not only from her, but in defiance of fellow conspirators. Around them, the state of the world is steadily worsening, with wars and other conflicts building toward a terrible conclusion.

And something else is on the move, something no longer contented just with punishing bullies. Something vengeful and hideous from the darkest shadows, something with an avid taste for suffering and blood.

Decently written and entertaining, though ending on an abrupt to-be-continued cliffhanger, it’s The DaVinci Code meets The Omen.

-Christine Morgan

THE POWER AND THE BLOOD by Tabitha Baumander (2011 Speaking Volumes LLC / 214 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Claire Anderson is a fantasy writer finally hitting the big successes most can only dream of … the high-powered agent, the book deals, a speaking tour, paying off her mortgage. But all that in no way necessarily means she’s got it all together. She dithers around, she can’t garden, she hasn’t much of a social life.

When, one night, a strange man goes walking down her street, Claire is quick to notice a few things. For one, he’s naked. For another, he’s a hottie. For a third, he’s got a distinctive unusual tattoo a place most people wouldn’t normally see. She approaches to ask if he needs help and notices something else: he’s behaving very oddly, like someone who’s just been through a trauma.

And then he disappears. Not quite before her very eyes, but close enough, leaving behind a sooty outline on a brick wall. Of course, writerly curiosity compels her to investigate, but the more she does, the weirder it gets. Soon, she’s neck-deep in a case involving a cult trying to open a doorway to Heaven, a missing FBI agent, ties to an infamous military experiment, and murder.

I saw an early copy that looked in pretty rough shape, so I’m hoping most of the editorial issues got sorted out before it went to print. My only other quibble is that there were a few too many convenient coincidences, seriously straining the suspension of disbelief.

Otherwise, I found it a fun read, moving right along. I enjoyed the characters and the tones of self-awareness; they joke about writers solving mysteries, there are some literary snit-fits with academics, that sort of thing. The religious aspects aren’t heavy-handed, and the ending in particular has a satisfying cleverness. I’d certainly read more!

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC no. 63 / May-June ‘18

Opening commentaries feature Lynda E. Rucker on the importance of the writer’s work being his/her main voice, and Ralph Robert Moore talks how writers can endure (using, of all things, canned foods in apocalyptic literature as a symbol). You just HAVE to love this stuff...

-First up in the fiction offerings is a fantastic novella by Steven J. Dines titled ‘The Harder It Gets The Softer We Sing,’ about a husband accepting he and his wife’s hereditary madness. Simon, a writer, is haunted by dreams of spending time with Bukowski and Bradbury while his wife Sue is convinced she never miscarried and is indeed pregnant with their second child. Their son has major mental issues, and they come to grips with everything in an unforgettable scene at a children’s park as onlookers gawk. Unlike the recent spat of dysfunctional family horror films, this won’t lull you to sleep and offers an emotional gut punch.

-In ‘Raining Street’ by J.S. Breukelaar, a trip to the market leads to a strange encounter in this unsettling ghost (or is it?) tale full of wonderfully strange people and a dream-like aura. Breukelaar’s attention to detail makes this one a pleasure to sift through.

-Matt Thompson’s ‘Bones of Flightless Birds’ finds a doctor, Sandvik, dealing with an unknown epidemic on a remote prison island during wartime. It seems inmates’ bones are deforming at an alarming rate, slowly wiping out the isle’s population. Paranoia abounds as Sandvik figures out what’s happening...

-‘Pyralidae,’ by Kristi DeMeester reminded me of an old EC horror comic, albeit with DeMeester’s always top notch writing. Josephine inherits her late father’s orange grove and begins having nightmares about something living in the basement. Her dream becomes real and acts more like a guide as would-be boyfriend Alex arrives just in time for planting season.

-Finally, Nicholas Kaufman’s ‘The Fire and The Stag’ follows Kenneth as he searches the forest for his missing sister April, who has always taken care of him after their parents died in a fire when they were kids. April, an anthropologist, is trying to prove a lost tribe actually existed, but what she (and Kenneth) find brings them back to the night they lost their parents. A gripping, melancholy study of sibling love.

It can't be understated just how good the fiction is in every issue. Writers who aren't familiar with this magazine would do well to take note.

Gary Couzen’s Blood Spectrum looks at the beautiful Criterion ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Blu-ray, The digital restoration of King Hu’s ‘Legend of the Mountain’ and the huge ‘Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent’ box set. As always Gary’s insightful reviews make everyone’s wallets shrink, so be warned...

Peter Tennant interviews Priya Sharma and reviews her debut collection ‘All the Fabulous Beasts,’ then he looks at three titles by John Llewelyn Robert, the best of which seems to be his latest collection ‘Made for the Dark.’ There are also four more in-depth novel reviews that’ll have most readers making a shopping list (next issue will be Peter’s last column, and I’m already missing him).

Grab a copy (or better yet a subscription) right here: BLACK STATIC no. 63

-Nick Cato