Sunday, December 2, 2018

Reviews for the Week of December 3, 2018

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THE BOY WITH THE CHAINSAW HEART by Carlton Mellick III (2018 Eraserhead Press / 182 pp / trade paperback)

Undisputed Bizarro master and unstoppable writing machine Carlton Mellick III is back again, with his own take on a rather different kind of unstoppable machine … it’s time to get mecha!

But these aren’t your ordinary giant-fighting-robot-vehicles. These are diabolical, biological Hell-mech demonesses, waging a perpetual war against the armies of Heaven. Each must be paired with a pilot, a damned soul who will provide fuel and determine the mech’s available weapons by what’s in their hearts.

It certainly isn’t the afterlife Mark anticipated, after blowing his brains out in a moment of grief-stricken despair. Suddenly, he’s in a strange place with other recently-deceased men, about to be chosen and assimilated. Mark is chosen by Lynx, who’s pleased to discover he brings her the ability to manifest a giant chainsaw.

The better, as they say, to kill angels with! As the latest battalion trains and marches off to confront their foes. Lynx gives Mark the real rundown on Heaven and Hell.

He’s shocked, but what horrifies him the most is the idea that his deceased wife – the reason for his grief-stricken despair – might end up a casualty. After all, someone as devout and good as Amy would’ve been bound to go to Heaven, and now here he is about to help attack it. Not to mention that Heaven sure doesn’t sound like such a nice place, either.

He wants to find her. To save her. Even if it means persuading Lynx to go against orders, even if Lynx insists he’s hers now forever … or as long as he lasts. It’s a tricky situation, made trickier by demonic rivalries and personality clashes, loyalty, betrayal, conflict, and questions of faith.

This one didn’t engage me as much as a lot of Mellick’s other works, felt a little rushed and the writing a little bland for what I’ve come to expect. Not that it’s BAD; I doubt he could write a bad book if he smashed his forehead against a keyboard for a couple hundred pages. Just … not so much my thing this time around.

-Christine Morgan

THE TERATOLOGIST by Ward Parker (2018 Pandamoon Publishing / 287 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Here’s another I went into without knowing anything about it beforehand but the title (NOT, by the way, to be confused with the one by Edward Lee and Wrath James White; VERY different stuff, both good, but VERY different!) And here’s another where I found myself utterly swept up and blown away.

It’s historical, for one, set in 1902, with high society spending the ‘season’ in Palm Beach Florida. We’re talking Gilded Age, shades of Wodehouse, the fancies and fashion … add in cameos by Vanderbilts, add in the ever-witty and charming Samuel ‘Mark Twain’ Clemens as a supporting character … yes please!

Even without disappearances and burned/mutilated bodies turning up to make a mystery of things, I’m there. But wait, there’s more! Because the protagonist is a teratologist. Not in the ‘monster hunter’ sense, but in the medical sense of studying birth defects and human oddities.

Doctor Frank Follett has come to Florida partly on vacation and partly because he’s still struggling with his traumas from the war and the loss of his young wife. While there, however, he can’t help but be intrigued by rumors of ‘Angel Worm,’ a little girl born without limbs, who’s also said to have the voices of the dead speak through her. He’s anticipating a new case. He’s not anticipating to hear his beloved Isabel, and find his beliefs in science and the rational world deeply challenged.

Nor is he anticipating being called in on another case, involving the son of a wealthy family … the youth appears to be suffering from hypertrichosis (the thing with the hair, like circus dog-faced boys, etc) as well as other ailments … and other unusual abilities, abilities of the mind.

Or is something else going on? Something with demons and dark forces? Can Dr. Follett and the urbane Twain figure it out before more lives are lost? I read the whole thing in a single night, unable to look away, captivated throughout. This was a welcome discovery of a treasure, and I was delighted to realize it’s the first in a series. Will be eagerly awaiting the next!

-Christine Morgan

THE SIREN AND THE SPECTER by Jonathan Janz (2018 Flame Tree Press / 288 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

In his latest and arguably best work to date, Janz returns to the classic haunted house story, but with a much more modern approach. His prose is super tight and well-crafted, plot is original and unique even amidst such an overwhelming and overdone trope and is all-in-all an absolute pleasure to read. I want to also point out that I read this book in between binge watching episodes of “The Haunting of Hillhouse” and found myself preferring the plot here far more than the limited daytime soap-esque of a storyline in that of the recently and highly trended horror series while embarking on a couple lazy days of “Netflix and Chill.” Tomato/banana, I know, but still… think about it. This is quite a feat in the year 2018, don’t you think? I feel like Brian Keene’s blurb on the cover says a lot about what this book really has to offer. “One of the best writers in modern horror to come along in the last decade.” This book, in my opinion, is no exception to that claim, having watched Janz hone up his skills from release to release before placing this haunted masterpiece of a gem in the palms of our dirty little horror hands.

“When David Caine, a celebrated skeptic of the supernatural, is invited by an old friend to spend a month in “the most haunted house in Virginia,” he believes the case will be like any other. But the Alexander House is different. Built by a 1700s land baron to contain the madness and depravity of his eldest son, the house is plagued by shadows of the past and the lingering taint of bloodshed. David is haunted, as well. For twenty-two years ago, he turned away the woman he loved, and she took her life in sorrow. And David suspects she’s followed him to the Alexander House.”

Check it out!

-Jon R. Meyers

PIZZA MAN by Bryan Higby and Rick Snyder (2014 BH Books / 258 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Subtitled “Or: The Pizza That Crawled Out Of My A-Hole,” this is not exactly a book of class or subtlety. It’s more a book of wacky grossness, crude juvenile humor and action, the kind of thing you might get from a bunch of teenage boys gaming far into the night hopped up on Mountain Dew and other substances.

Now, I don’t mean that in a bad way. Clearly, the authors had themselves a lot of fun writing this; it shines through on every page. What the book is missing, at least the draft I got, and DIRELY needs, is the stern and thorough attention of an editor. The energy’s there, the story, the characters; it’s lively, it’s tacky, it’s entertaining. But it’s pretty well laden with errors, some problematic language, and other issues. Given a good proper whip-into-shapedness and polish, it could be a treat.

Summary-wise, a town is beset by what initially appears to be the undead, then rampaging pizza-monsters, then demons … all on the eve of a comic-con with special guest Nic Cage … plus secret government plots, family conflicts, friend drama, even romance.

I was reminded of certain SyFy Channel and low-budget schlock features, most notably “Scouts Vs. Zombies” (mostly because I’d seen that one fairly recently). Again, not in a bad way. They have their own kind of guilty low-brow appeal, and that’s where this book fits. These authors have spirit and potential, and I’ll be interested to see what they do next.

-Christine Morgan

PREDATORS by Michaelbrent Collings (2018 Amazon Digital / 351 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Every so often, I think how amazing it would be to go on safari, to experience nature and see wildlife in all its untamed splendor. Then I remember I hate heat, bugs, camping, dust, and being outside in general, so the impulse usually passes long before I have to add in worries about being hideously mauled to death and/or eaten alive.

Then along comes a book like this to gleefully reinforce ALL those feelings, while being able to sit safe and comfy at home reading about hapless tourists doing it instead. Not just any hapless tourists, either, but some examples of the most obnoxiously entitled ‘ugly American’ types, spoiled celebrity brats, and all-around jerks getting what they deserve.

Of course, not every character is like that; some of them are nice, good, decent, worthy people you aren’t necessarily eager to see being chomped into bloody pieces while they scream. You root for them, you feel for their suffering. And then, in the case of this book in particular … there’s that one character … that one about whom I wasn’t sure how to relate.

Looking at you, Evie. I know I’m supposed to like you, to cheer you on as you find your strength and face adversity and overcome obstacles … but dang if I didn’t spend most of the book wanting to give you a good shaking and stern talking-to.

No opportunity for that, though. Evie, and her husband, and their fellow safari-goers, are headed out in hopes of seeing some lions to liven up their thus-far disappointing vacation. They’re going to get far more than they bargained for, leading to an epic alpha-female showdown when the queen of a hyena pack sets her hungry sights on dinner.

Red-in-tooth-and-claw survival horror, another winner from Michaelbrent Collings!

-Christine Morgan


1 comment:

  1. Mellick is always a great read, but THE BOY WITH THE CHAINSAW HEART . . . damn, I need to get a copy of that ASAP!

    THE SIREN AND THE SPECTER was fantastic, dark and depraved. Definitely worth checking out.