Monday, June 17, 2019

Reviews for the Week of June 17, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. If you're on a cell phone you probably won't see it. Break out the lap top amigo...


SCUM OF THE EARTH by Cody Goodfellow (to be released 7/1/19 by Eraserhead Press / 164 pp / trade paperback)

The latest offering from the always wild Cody Goodfellow is a sex-charged, post-apocalyptic sci-fi romp wheremost of humanity has been exterminated save for small groups who are hiding across the galaxy on strange planets. We learn aliens have been stealing human brains for hundreds of years and selling them (apparently our brains/imaginations give a better high to extraterrestrials than super crack). Mankind's only hope is a motley crew of space pirates, led by a former stripper (and insatiable nymphomaniac) named Callista Chrome, and MAN does she like to get busy in the sack regardless of who it's with (there are a few great gags with her shape-shifting first mate that had me laughing out loud).

Our crew travels on a gigantic ship that's actually a starfish, and getting it to go in certain directions requires some witty planning by Callista and co. And as they try to rescue the remaining humans, they come up against some of the craziest obstacles in the universe, including space Vikings, intergalactic drug dealers, sex-charged platypuses and a host of characters who'd make George Lucas blush and possibly commit suicide.

Goodfellow's writing (if you've never read him) is frantic (in a good way) and never lets you rest. The humor level is fantastic and I cracked up a few times, even during some of the more disgusting sexual situations. SCUM OF THE EARTH is definitely not for everyone, but those with a taste for dark humor, bizarro and some great meta-style jokes will eat this up as fast as I did. If you enjoyed Christopher Rowley's "Pleasure Model" trilogy, you'll probably enjoy this, but be warned this one's a lot more extreme … and weird.

Grab this on July 1st and try reading it on the beach … those sunbathing around you will definitely hear you laughing (or gagging).

-Nick Cato

THE BONES OF THE EARTH by Scott Hale (2015 / 308 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

This book – the start of a series, I’m pleased to see – nicely manages to meld post-apocalyptic with paranormal, sweeping dark fantasy, and touches of cosmic horror. It’s our world, but well into the future, after humanity’s crossed the inevitable destructive border. Although relics and language (including slang) and ruins have survived, new societies and beings of various types have developed.

Most of surviving humanity has become what’s called Corrupted, marked by a tell-tale discoloration of one arm. Vrana is not one of them. Her people, though largely human in appearance, take on masks and characteristics of various other creatures. Vrana is the Raven, and has just come of age to undertake the trials of adulthood set to her by the village elders.

What follows is an epic adventure of exploration, discovery, stirring up ancient evils, uncovering hidden truths, the classic hero’s-journey with strong overtones of semi-YA dystopia. There are monsters to fight, menaces to overcome, mysterious places to venture into, strong action scenes, and cultural references that don’t feel as out of place as they otherwise might.

Vrana as a character is gutsy, believable, and fun; she doesn’t suffer from most of the annoying YA heroine traits; her capabilities and flaws are nicely balanced, and her relationships with other characters ring natural and true. We get just enough backstory and tantalizing foreshadow to hint at further story developments as the series progresses, but without any sort of chosen/destined one vibes.

The writing style is particularly well-done, lavish and beautiful, featuring some truly stunning turns of phrase. On several occasions, I’d have to take a moment to just sit there and silently wow. I was reminded more than once of the gorgeously-turned prose of Damien Angelica Walters. Definitely a potent start to what’s sure to be a solid series.

-Christine Morgan

TOXIC LOVE by Kristopher Triana (2019 Blood Bound Books / 164 p / eBook)

Remember the show DIRTY JOBS? Mike Rowe’d be out there doing stuff all eew and gross and disgusting and awful? Septic stuff, veterinary, hoarders, cadaver farms? Well, even that show didn’t tackle the job THIS Mike has.

Mike Ashbrook cleans up places where bad things happen. Messy, biological, terrible things. Crime scenes, accidents, the home of that neighbor nobody’s seen for a few weeks, you get the idea. Worst of the worst, bodily fluids and rot, mangled corpses, etc. But, the pay’s good, and he’s pretty good at dealing with the horrors, and at this point in his life he’s feeling too old and burned out to change careers yet again.

Then, along comes Sage, his new partner. She’s young, vibrant, gorgeous, smart. Her family’s got money; she doesn’t even need the job. But she enjoys her work. REALLY enjoys it. A lot. A LOT a lot. We’re not just talking mildly turned on. We’re talking full-blown sex-maniac fetish. This is the only way she can satisfy her cravings, and she’s not adverse to sharing her fun.

And Mike, though initially hesitant for a variety of very good reasons, can’t resist the temptation. Soon, they are right down there wallowing in it, each new job pushing them to wilder and freakier extremes … until they get caught, and fired, and lucky not to land in jail.

By then as hooked on Sage as she’s hooked on gore, Mike is desperate to find a way to continue their relationship. Even if it means breaking a few laws, and not just the laws of common decency. Even if it means shedding some blood, or worse.

What follows is a fast, slippery (very slippery) slope into absolute depravity. No level of hazmat suits will help. No amount of showers in scalding bleach will let you feel clean again. The final scenes will stain your brain in a way that is NEVER coming out.

Each book I read by this guy only further convinces me he’s one of THE names to watch, an extreme horror superstar in the making. Can’t possibly say enough good things!

-Christine Morgan

DIRTY ROTTEN HIPPIES AND OTHER STORIES by Bryan Smith (2019 Grindhouse Press / 256 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This new collection by Bryan Smith is jam-packed with unique short stories, the novelette ‘Some Crazy Fucking Shit That Happened One Day’, and a mini-collection referred to as ‘Seven Deadly Tales of Terror’, both previously only available in eBook format. The first thing I noticed upon reading was the author can spin a unique and original zombie tale, a once highly over-indulged sub-genre of horror fiction, but there’s no worries in that department here, folks, because he’s just that good of a writer and he pulls it off with ease and then some. From EC and Creepshow comic book-esque horror, creature features, and unique tales of the undead. This highly universal collection has a little bit for everyone. 

‘Dirty Rotten Hippies’, the main novella in this collection, is an action-packed Woodstock-era NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD but with more sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. A mystery drug sickens the entire crowd, and it’s not just the classic tunes of The Grateful Dead that start to rise from the ground that keep these groovy fans screaming for more. 

‘Some Crazy Fucking Shit That Happened One Day,’ my personal favorite from the entire collection is a novelette that features a guy stepping outside for a smoke, when a mysterious bus full of Satanic cheerleaders stop to pick him up. After, realizing this wasn’t just another strange trip, the main character fears for his life as they are heading to the cemetery to summon Nazi era zombies, and this far out groovy tale of terror only gets much weirder and more enjoyable from there. A good old-fashioned blood-soaked hoot and holler.

Other honorable mentions: 'Chainsaw Sex Maniacs from Mars', 'We are 138 Golden Elm', and 'Bloodsucking Nuns for Satan.' 

Do yourself a favor and check this one out!

-Jon R. Meyers

A HAWK IN THE WOODS by Carrie Laben (2019 Word Horde / 270 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A HAWK IN THE WOODS takes the ominous atmosphere of dysfunctional families with secrets, combines it with a mysterious half-rustic kind of southern gothicness, add in supernatural abilities and ties to cosmic horror / eldritch magic, and then modernize the whole deal with a good social media kick in the pants.

Abby Waite is even more of an attention-junkie than everyone else on Twitter and Instagram. As a kid, she realized she not only had a knack for making people do what she wanted, but she could feed off their attention. Positive or negative, didn’t matter; as long as they were thinking about her and directing emotional energy her way, she’d get that needed rush.

She comes by it naturally – well, sort of. Her mom and grandfather and Waites going back as far as their New England roots have similar abilities, up to and including fully taking people’s bodies over, or coming back from the dead, or summoning things best not summoned.

Her twin sister Martha, however, takes more after their grandmother, with a different sort of gift. Martha can alter the flow of time, making hours or days pass in a flash, resetting and altering events … as long as she can hold onto it.

Thing is, for Abby, time is suddenly a concern. She’s been diagnosed with something terminal, and her only hope is to unlock the rest of the family secrets. To do that, she needs the help of her sister, whom she has to bust out of prison. And there are other forces at work that don’t want them to succeed.

It’s a strange sort of chick flick sister adventure, paranormal THELMA AND LOUISE on the road and on the run, trying to stay ahead of the powers out to stop them, while working out the issues in their own relationship. An odd mix, but it works very well!

-Christine Morgan

THREE DAYS IN ASHFORD by Ty Tracey (2018 Bowker / 349 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m sorry to say I had a hard time slogging through this one. The writing’s fine for the most part, but it is very detailed and precise, particularly for something done mainly through first-person perspective as well as letters and transcripts … the expected immediacy and intimacy is not much to be found.

The dialogue, as well, comes across as really stiff, stilted enough to be dressed as Uncle Sam in a 4th of July parade, rarely sounding like the way real people would talk, except for the occasions when characters attempt banter, but even then tend to come off as arrogant or unreal.

That’s all even before getting into the plot, which is on the face of it promising enough: the crew of a popular paranormal-investigation show get invited to a town that, although it apparently doesn’t exist on any map or in any legal record, has multiple disappearances and a long history of weird occurrences.

So, naturally, they decide to go check it out. Despite things going off-the-charts bad wrong before they even GET there, things like being tracked by a total men-in-black rig, or like, oh, one of the team suddenly shouting in Sumerian and trying to bite the face off another of the team …

Daniel Hollowell, the show’s lead, is the one relating most of the story, though other parts are brought in through later court transcripts and what he reads in an old journal. While the descriptions are strong, the best bits of the book are the bits not even directly connected to the main storyline – flashbacks involving other cases, and Daniel’s relationship with his wife and daughter, for instance.

It then basically goes full Twin Peaks / X-Files / cults / government conspiracies / meta-religion / time displacement / legal drama, as if an entire fall lineup from one of those documentary channels was crammed together. I suppose, under the right circumstances, it’d make for an interesting backdrop or setup for a roleplaying campaign, but as was, the dryness and blandness sucked the life out of the story.

-Christine Morgan

MOONLIGHT SERENADES by Thom Carnell (2018 Macabre Ink / 306 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection spans several years, including pieces previously appearing in various issues of Carpe Noctem Magazine as well as several until-now-unpublished tales. In the author’s foreword, he’s open and candid about the loss of his mother, his resultant writer’s block, and eventual return to the page. Each story also features a small introduction, and mood-setting/amplifying quotes throughout to enhance the impact.

From organized crime in exotic foreign cities to teens at a small-town carnival to an old woman on her lonely mountain … from poignantly beautiful tales of love and loss to the perils of self-pleasure in a post-apocalyptic world … from a couple of cleverly-twisted takes on a familiar horror classic to a parent’s nightmarish revenge … they run a strange but engaging gamut. With lots of zombies, but not all zombies!

Many of the stories, particularly those involving recurring character and general tough guy Cleese, showcase the author’s extensive studies and practice of martial arts. While I appreciate the technical aspects of this, I’ve always found too much detailed precision and play-by-play choreography somewhat tedious and off-putting in combat and other action scenes. Important for the author to know, maybe, but for the reader it can often bog things down and turn what’s meant to be exciting into a skim-past-it or a slog.

My personal favorite of the collection is the gleefully-imagined “Clown Town.” It’s clown noir. Yes. Clown noir. In which society is structured of every type of clown you can think of, from the elite Harlequins at the top down on through rodeo clowns, keystone-cop clowns, and mimes.

-Christine Morgan


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