Monday, October 22, 2018

Reviews for the Week of October 22, 2018

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

TRAIN THOUGHTS by Jay Sigler (2018 Amazon Digital / 237 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

So often, we all just go about our business, our daily routines, with little to no idea what’s going on in the minds or lives of others around us.

Like this fellow here on the train … the one who goes to work every day, his regular commute … even after the devastating loss of his wife. In fact, loss is too soft a term; he came home to find her brutally murdered, and has been dealing with his grief the way plenty of people do – going through the motions, hiding his feelings, drinking too much, trying to dodge the well-meaning efforts of a compassionate co-worker.

Feeling cut off from everyone else, he develops imaginary relationships with fellow commuters who ride the same train. Then, one day, there’s a new guy in their usual car, and something about him seems not quite right. Seems sinister, even malicious. What can a struggling widower do when his new ‘friends’ simply stop showing up on the train? What about the horrible nightmares of their violent deaths?

He’ll follow the new guy, of course. He’ll get some answers. He’ll learn the hard way how far a person might have to go, when driven by desperation.

It’s an intense read, an up-close-and-personal descent into desolate madness. Those death-scene nightmares contain some seriously effective, creepy, disturbing imagery. Even when you think you know where the story’s going, surprise twists keep cropping up, and as soon as you finish (and catch your breath), you want to go back and read it again to see the hints you missed the first time.

-Christine Morgan

SLEAZELAND by Cody Goodfellow (2018 Eraserhead Press / 182 pp / trade paperback)

Don’t be fooled by the crudely-scribbled-looking d*ck on the cover; this book is intricate and complex, deeply bizarre, sharply insightful, and thought-provoking in a hundred different, startling ways.

Then again, we are talking Cody Goodfellow here, a deranged genius in good standing if ever there was one. He has a knack for slicing through reality like a surgeon with a laser-scalpel, folding back the tissues to expose its innermost workings.

SLEAZELAND depicts the Hollywood most of us never see, behind the glitz and glamor, behind the movie-making magic. It’s all about the constant hustle, scheming, greed, and desperation. The eternal quest for recognition and fame.

It also presents a fundamental truth about actors that I’d never even contemplated before … what a special, unique hell that must be; an artistic calling yet dependent on the creativity of others. Of everything disturbing about the story (of which, believe me, there’s plenty!), it’s a moment of cold-horror realization that left me shivering inside.

Summary-wise, things start off simply enough. Charlie wants to be somebody, and is determined to do whatever it takes to get there, no matter how dubious or skeevy. He lives on the streets and by his wits, picking up what roles he can, guided by a book about the sordid rise and fall of a child star. On its own, his story would be interesting enough, but ‘interesting enough’ isn’t going to cut it here.

After a strange encounter with a young pregnant woman, Charlie finds himself hurtling through a craziness of alternate versions of Hollywood, drastic funhouse-mirror different ones where movies are only educational, or religion is the true entertainment. Matters quickly take a turn toward the messianic, leading Charlie toward an ultimate confrontation for which he may not be prepared.

-Christine Morgan


THE RUST MAIDENS by Gwendolyn Kiste (to be released 11/16/18 by Journalstone / 218 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Kiste (author of last year's stellar novella PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW) delivers her first novel, another dark fantasy, this time (mainly) set in a small industrial town in 1980 Ohio.

Phoebe and her friend Jaqueline were just out of high school when some of the girls in their neighborhood started...changing. They turned into something resembling the decaying landscape that surrounded them, hinting at an aimless, desolate future.

As Phoebe plans a way to move away from her hometown, news of the Rust Maidens spreads, and soon her neighborhood is invaded by everyone from government officials to tourists who otherwise would never be there, all tring to get a glimpse at the local phenomenon. To make things worse, the steel mill is shut down, sending most of the area's workforce into unemployment, and houses right on Phoebe's own block are marked for demolition...

Kiste divides her tale through two time frames (it actually begins 28 years after the events, when Phoebe returns to her hometown for closure), but keeps things tight so the reader is never lost. Phoebe slowly discovers what the Rust Maidens are all about, and is able to receive messages from them. The novel is a depressing but powerful look at growing up facing a future that doesn't seem to hold too many chances, but somehow through the muck our protagonist manages to survive, and in Kiste's hands we're pulled along at a perfect pace.

For those who complain there aren't enough female "coming of age" stories, THE RUST MAIDENS should satisfy, but there's a lot more to be mined here. A fantastic debut novel.

-Nick Cato

PRESSURE by Brian Keene (2016 Thomas Dunne Books / hardcover, eBook)

I picked this one up at a convention and read the whole thing on the first leg of my flight home. Now, it didn’t turn out to be entirely the deep-sea creature feature chompfest I was expecting from the title and the cover, but I wasn’t disappointed; while I do love me some deep-sea creature features, I also love me some taut, tight, action-packed science adventure thrillers. Besides, the title has many different interpretations and implications, from the literal to the metaphorical, so it works on several levels.

Celebrity free-diver Carrie Anderson on an expedition to the site of ancological crisis near Mauritius, where an underwater sinkhole dubbed the Mouth of Hell has opened, causing parts of the ocean floor to collapse, devastating the aquatic life, and threatening a populated island. With the eyes of the world on them, courtesy of news coverage, she and her partner descend to investigate.

Only Carrie returns to the surface, surviving thanks to her training but seriously shaken by what she experienced and witnessed. Leaving the hospital against medical advice, dodging the media and her corporate sponsors, she assembles a smaller team for a return visit to verify her suspicions.

But she’s not the only one who knows something even bigger than what’s being reported is going on, and is soon caught up in conflicts and conspiracies, hidden bases, politely sinister operatives, mercenaries, and all sorts of shifty double-dealings … plus, to add to the tension, an encounter with a former flame.

Fans of the author will notice a few familiar names popping up among the characters, the occasional reference or easter egg. And there’s one scene in a truck where you just know Keene was chortling like a fiend the whole time he wrote it.

-Christine Morgan

INTO THE SOUNDS by Lee Murray (2018 Severed Press / 263 / trade paperback & eBook)

Having greatly enjoyed the author’s previous Into the Mist, you’d better believe I was all over this sequel! It brings back Sergeant Taine McKenna of the New Zealand Defense Force and biologist Jules Asher, as well as now-assigned-to-desk-duty Trigger Grierson, and the aged mystic with whom Taine shares a spiritual bond.

This time, Taine and Jules think they’re just tagging along on a routine deer-culling expedition, where the most dangerous risks they’re likely to run into are poachers and opportunists looking to capture and sell endangered animals. To be sure, there are some of those about … but the discovery of a legendary tribe with unusual abilities quickly raises the stakes for everyone. Forget exotic rare birds coveted by collectors; there are people (and organizations) who’d pay a lot to get their hands on specimens like these.

Several of these groups cross paths, and as determined as the bad guys are to plunder this lost civilization, Jules and Taine and the rest of the good guys are equally determined to protect it. What follows is a captivating thrill-ride, deftly combining science, action, folklore, and fun characters; exciting and believable.

Into the Sounds has got many of the trappings of a classic cliffhanger adventure serial, but updated and refined, without the over-the-top melodrama. There are plenty of shoot-em-ups and impromptu wilderness traps, plenty of strong women who do more than need to be rescued, lively banter, hints of romance, fascinating well-thought-out anthropology … there’s a submarine, and the remains of a long-missing helicopter, and underwater passageways with very deadly guardians.

A great read, every bit as exciting as the first; I would already be clamoring for another sequel without the surprise emotional gut-punch at the end, so now I am clamoring for another sequel SOON. Murray has firmly established a spot on my must-read list.

-Christine Morgan