Sunday, March 10, 2019

Reviews for the Week of March 11, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. If you're reading this on your cellphone there's a good chance you're not going to see it. Break out the Mac, Jack. Or the Dell...

2003 - 2019

WOLVZ: WHISPERS OF WAR by Toneye Eyenot (2018 Luniakk Publications / 129 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The reputation of vampires may have taken some severe hits in recent years, what with the sparkly angsty tormented stuff … but at least werewolves have for the most part been spared. Even the surge in urban fantasy and shifter romance lets them still, overall, be beasts (however sexy). Hungry, violent, often moon-ruled beasts.

In the were-world according to Toneye Eyenot, there are pure-blooded Lycans and mixed-blood Werewolves, living in packs according to strict hierarchies and laws. There may be power struggles, territorial disputes, feuds, rivalries, but for the most part they’ve been content to lead their mostly secret lives alongside humanity. Humans are prey, food, sometimes useful as thralls, and occasionally recruited into the change by tooth and claw.

For the most part. Until now. Until Claude, alpha of the Wolfhaven pack, decides the time has come for Wolfkind to take their undisputed place at the top. Driven partly by revenge for the death of beloved wolf matriarch Pharo, he rallies his pack and their nearest allies for war.

Shona, one of Pharo’s daughters, is all too eager to join the slaughter. Even in her grief, she’s able to enjoy finally unleashing the full fury of her wrath and hate, killing with impunity, feasting to her heart’s content, making the humans suffer for what they did to her mother.

As word spreads, neighboring packs put aside their disputes to join the cause. Nothing less than total domination will do. They must strike hard and fast before their hapless enemies have a chance to organize. It’s thousands of years of folklore nightmares made real as the growing army moves from town to town.

And it is a bloodbath. This is not a sexy-beast werewolf story. This is carnage, particularly when some opportunistic packs and pack-leaders have their own ideas of how things should be done.

-Christine Morgan

A GOD OF FLIES AMONG THEM by Philip LoPresti (2018 Dunhams Manor Press / 82 pp / trade paperback)

LoPresti's latest novella finds Jessop Thorn returning to his childhood home to deal with a seriously dark past: his entire family had gone missing, one at a time, over the years, yet he was the only one to get out of his small town. Now trying to find answers and closure, Jessop gets help from an old crush (now prostitute), an old friend, and a local witch, although he senses everyone is hiding something from him, and is worried the dead children who haunt his dreams may actually kill him...

Like his previous novella WYTCHCULT RISING, LoPresti's strength is in hinting at potential terrors, making us form our own understanding of what has been going on in the small town of Cedars Parish. With ghosts, incest, and a possible cult or ancient religion at large, A GOD OF FLIES AMONG THEM is a tight read that delivers chills and will leave you checking over your shoulder.

-Nick Cato

THE FOREVER BIG TOP by Jeremy Thompson (2019 Necro Publications / 59 pp / eBook)

I can just imagine the elevator pitch … Dante’s Inferno with clowns. Boom. Mic drop. Sold.

Clowns are already bad enough on their own. Clown Hell? Descending through the worsening levels of it, witnessing hideous torments and punishments? The concept is just so twisted and wrong, even readers who aren’t fond of clowns (though, is anyone, really?) will get a kick out of this.

Okay, yes, the cover’s creepy, almost creepy enough to be off-putting on its own. Flip past that quick and you’ll be okay. Jump right into a concert with clown-rappers Sirkus Kult, fronted by Freshy Jest and Criminal Prankstah. They’re riding high, doing shows, making money, taking their pick of the clowngirl groupies.

It’s certainly better than Freshy’s ‘real life.’ As Franklin Jasper, he’s a scrawny loser. As Freshy, he’s got it all. Then he meets up with a hot little harlequin called Sally Slitz for some post-show R&R, only to learn the hard way that Sally’s got some strange ideas about bonding with her perfect man.

Ideas that include double-suicide. Or, when he hesitates but she won’t be denied, murder-suicide. Next thing Freshy knows, he’s waking up in the circus tent to end all circus tents, the first level of the Forever Big Top, a hell of and for clowns.

Partly by accident, partly out of a desire to find an escape back to the land of the living, Freshy undertakes a journey lower and lower through the levels, encountering every type of clown from mimes and mummers to modern mascots. It’s a carnival of craziness, wackily entertaining, wildly envisioned, wickedly clever, tons of fun.

-Christine Morgan

PUNKTOWN by Jeffrey Thomas (2018 Forma Street Press / 244 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

Okay, folks. Here’s the scoop. I had the pleasure of speaking with the author to better clarify a couple of things before diving into the review for this kindle re-release of the original 2005 edition with just under twenty stories of the author’s epic Horror and Science Fiction and Cyberpunk-esque infused masterpiece that is PUNKTOWN. In which, the prior genres seem to compliment each other so well, unlike anything else available on the market, with a beautifully written introduction by Michael Marshall Smith and an introduction to the Punktown mythos and city by the brilliant man himself. PUNKTOWN is a place where only the darkest and wildest dreams may spark to life whether you want them to or not. So, what exactly do we have here before our glowing and radioactive eyes set to kill and murder and create so dark and beautifully on the grimy streets of electric oblivion? The answer… well, what we basically have here is the definitive version of each of the stories collected prior in print from yesteryear. This is exciting for a number of reasons but mainly because the universe, prose, and characters, and alienlike creatures created in the Punktown universe are just so highly enjoyable and unforgettable within themselves and now we can enjoy them even more, so on the electronic platform, as we as the reader impatiently keep awaiting the forthcoming Omnibus’ set for release with Centipede Press, in which, all Punktown stories are being collected and put into one hot spot to restore faith in humanity within. I also thought now would be an appropriate time to put out a little shout out for the new ‘Transmissions from Punktown’ anthology edited by Brian M. Sammons, as this anthology was a collection of stories inspired by the revolutionary world and vision created by Jeffrey Thomas’ beautifully surreal, dark, enigmatic, and extremely versatile sci-fi megalopolis known as ‘PUNKTOWN’. You’ve been warned. Proceed with caution. What happens in Punktown, stays in Punktown. If you’re even able to make it out alive.

There’s too many favorites to list here so let’s start at the beginning to give you a little taste of what’s in store. ‘The Reflections of Ghosts,’ a unique tale where a squatting, hopeless romantic street artist engage in a different sort of art form. His works of art are far more personal as his blank canvas refers to cloning versions of himself, selling them to high dollar clients, and is currently sitting on a beautifully rendered female version of himself, so much as to where he is unsure of wanting to give her away to the client as they begin a more hot, steamy, and intimate relationship that eventually spirals into madness and chaos and out into the grimy streets of Punktown, where one can see dead clones hanging in the gutters, laying on the streets covered in graffiti. The tale touches on some deep and sentimental undertones that are almost too hard to try to explain but we get a deep sense of abandonment and love and the power an intimate and emotional relationship can grab hold of someone when sharing with someone else, and thus even more so when trying to love one’s self, being a prisoner in your own mind, demons under your own skin, and don’t forget about those bony skeletons piled up to the ceiling in your closet. In ‘Pink Pills,’ a woman with a mysterious tumor seeks medical attention unlike anything you’ve ever seen befor. Not everything is as it seems as her dreams spiral out of control and onto a conveyor in a factory where there’s way more than meets the eye going on. Think aliens. Think eggs. Think national pandemic and pandemonium on the mean streets of Punktown as the slow jazz blares up through the soils of this vast sci-fi metropolis of corruption and wires and the sound of static drowns out all hopes of making it out alive. Other favorites, ‘The Library of Sorrows’, ‘Dissecting the Soul’, and ‘Precious Metal’.  

If you haven’t already read this book or any other works by the author, do yourself a favor and check them out. This would be a great place to start. This would be a fantastic place to end it all.

-Jon R. Meyers

a HFR second look...

THE FIREMAN by Joe Hill (2016 Harper Collins / 768 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, eBook, audiobook)

I did not read this whole book in one day. But I came close. 690 pages in one day, the rest on the next day. Now, I always read obnoxiously fast anyway, but even for me this might’ve been a record. I freakin’ devoured this tome, hooked from the very first line. (it probably helped that I took it along to the hospital for my most recent surgery, to pass the time in pre-op and recovery; it also made me all the more determined not to croak under anesthesia and leave it unfinished!)

Storywise, it’s a global end-of-days civilization-breaking epic, but with pinpoint focus. We don’t get, and we don’t need, a cast of thousands or scenes from everywhere else as the outbreak unfolds. What we do need to know about the rest of the world is conveyed naturally, expertly, almost seamlessly.

The outbreak is of a terrifying condition which causes people to spontaneously combust. Society disintegrates into fear and paranoia; someone might ignite and burn at any time. The main outward indication is a blackish-goldish tattoolike patterning on the skin (hence, dragonscale, the name for the disease).

Harper Grayson is a school nurse when it begins, then attempts to aid the response teams. She and her husband have a pact in event of infection – given her line of work, a foregone conclusion. But, discovering she’s pregnant causes her to rethink that plan. Trying to escape her husband, she encounters a group who claim to be not just surviving the illness, but mastering it, learning to harness and use its fiery powers.

For all the heft, for being a tome with the hardcover of which you could club someone to death, let me assure you … it’s all muscle. No fat, no bloat, no padding, no sprawl. We’re talking rock-solid powerhouse muscle here, a tank of a book, a warhorse of a book. My favorite thus far of Hill’s longer works. I kind of wish I’d read it sooner, but I’m also glad I didn’t because it helped me sail through an otherwise rough day.

-Christine Morgan

THE FEN by Michael Baeyens (2018 Independently Published / 522 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Initial impression from the synopsis made this seem like one that should’ve been right up my alley … an academic-type paranormal thriller linking back to Viking times, I mean, come on … that hits several buttons.

The prologue, in which two surviving raiders are fleeing through the woods so terrified of what pursues them that they eagerly seek refuge at a Christian abbey, does a good job with atmosphere and ratcheting up the tension. I was ready to see what happened next, expecting some grisly historical horror.

Unfortunately, then the story jumps ahead to modern day and loses a lot of its promise and momentum. There’s too much mundane detail of routine activities, bogging things down, making what could have been interesting very dry and even dull instead.

Hanna Stevenson is a PhD student of early medieval history, focusing on the eventual distribution of wealth from Viking attacks on the Church. She visits abbeys, looks at manuscripts, uncovers some intriguing leads about an ancestral family that doesn’t seem to appear in other records from the era, and is gradually drawn down the trail of investigating.

Then weird stuff starts to happen; there’s a mysterious old mansion that clearly isn’t what it seems, remnants of that family are still around and have a strange power over the locals, people snooping too closely have fatal accidents, etc. When Hanna becomes too involved, a colleague picks up the trail and finds himself also enmeshed.

Occasional action scenes – particularly inside the mansion – are spooky and well-done but all too brief and lack follow-through, which makes the rest all the more disappointing because the potential for cool story is there, just lost amid the rest of it.

-Christine Morgan


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