Monday, July 15, 2019

Reviews for the Week of July 15, 2019

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. If you're on a cell phone you probably won't see it unless you click "switch to desktop" or break out your actual desk/laptop. How's THAT for mansplaining?


THE PLACE OF BROKEN THINGS by Linda D. Addison and Alessandro Manzetti (to be released July 19, 2019 by Crystal Lake Publishing / approx. 50 pp / eBook)

In this team-up collection of 35 poems, Addison and Manzetti cross genres, pay tribute to some of their influences, and create verse where the haunting, the beautiful, and the sublime often become one.

Among my favorites, the title story 'The Place of Broken Things' which examines the haunted thoughts of a parent contemplating their child's death in a car crash. I read this one a few times and it managed to dig itself deep under my skin. 'City Walkers' gives a slick look at the werewolf mindset, while 'Animation' plays like a cyberpunk version of an apocalyptic scenario. 'Cathedral Lane' humanizes the plight of the homeless while keeping things mysterious, and 'Like Japanese Silk,' one of several pieces dealing with faith and religion, excels in its use of suggestion to create irresistible atmosphere.

Like all good poetry collections, THE PLACE OF BROKEN THINGS is full of short but powerful prose, each author showing off their skill as a team and on their own, with everything gelling together incredibly well. A fine, highly enjoyable collaboration that will hold up well to repeat readings.

-Nick Cato

STRANGE COMPANY & OTHERS by Peter Rawlik (2019 Gehenna and Hinnom Books / 224 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

“Is Lovecraftian pulp-punk a thing? Because that’s what Rawlik’s doing here, at its action-packed, cinematic best!” – Christine Morgan, author of Lakehouse Infernal

Yes, that’s me, blurbing this book all official and stuff! An honor to be asked, a pleasure to do. I’ve shared many a Mythos anthology TOC with Peter Rawlik, and his stuff has always been among the books’ bests. He’s got a way of taking a genre that’s normally overbloated with dense stuffy wordiness and making it both accessible and entertaining without losing any of the cosmic horror feel.

This collection proves it beyond any shadows-over-innsmouth of a doubt. The stories are grouped into three sections – “Mainstream Mythos,” “Other Horrors,” and “Alternate Mythos,” each encompassing a different sub-style but all carrying the same skill, immersion, and talent.

The opening tale deftly combines a classic carnival freakshow with a familiar name in reanimation circles … repercussions and characters of which also appear in some of the subsequent stories for that nice same-universe feel. Connections to certain famous works, including Frankenstein and Jekyll & Hyde, appear throughout, as do references to others of the author’s projects.

Some are done epistolary-fashion, told via letters and journals, transcripts, statements, etc., as is fitting for the genre. Setting-wise, there’s everything from the dusty Old West to the gritty noir city streets, from sleepy seaside towns with secrets to the post-Biblical-apocalypse, from the cold Arctic to airships on high. There are monsters galore, eldritch and indescribable (yet wonderfully described!)

My favorites include “Things Change” (cosmic on a cosmic scale and timetable indeed!), “The Gumdrop Apocalypse” (an odd departure into twisted fairy tales, another I always enjoy!), and the truly outstanding “The Nomenclature of Unnameable Horrors.”

-Christine Morgan

MIDNIGHT SOLITAIRE by Greg F. Gifune (2019 Bloodshot Books / 156 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This author’s work has become a favorite over the years. Book after book, Gifune’s dark words crawl from out of the woodwork and continue to shock, torment, and entertain us. This rerelease of Midnight Solitaire from Bloodshot Books tailored with a more fitting cover is no exception to this.

There’s a sadistic serial killer on the prowl amidst a massive snowstorm in New England when four strangers become a part of something much more horrific and sinister than their typical day-to-day. How does this stranger know so much about the killer on the loose? That’s easy as he’s been following him around for a longtime. Why not stop him? That’s where things begin to get a little more interesting. Simple answer, because he can’t. The Dealer is far more powerful than that. Think blood sport. Think demonic rituals. Think how do you even kill something that is not essentially alive? A little different than the author’s other work. It’s kind of a dark, psychological thriller that puts you alongside the main characters as they’re running from their own personal hells … and they’re kicking and screaming along the way.

Check it out!

-Jon R. Meyers

GARDEN OF ELDRITCH DELIGHTS by Lucy A. Snyder (2018 Raw Dog Screaming Press / 184 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection from Lucy A. Snyder demonstrates her range of genre-hopping talent, often with a cosmic/Lovecraftian twist (as the title suggests) but also including more standard horror, sci-fi, fantasy both traditional and dark, and expert meldings of all of the above.

There are a dozen stories in all, drawn from an impressive list of anthology appearances and including a Year’s Best honorable mention nod. Reading them, it’s not at all hard to see why.

Particular favorites of mine included: “Fraeternal,” a tale of twins and experiments and uncanny abilities and insidious twisting destiny, a truly outstanding piece of work, one of the best short stories I’ve read in quite some time;

“The Gentleman Caller,” in which a disabled phone-sex operator has the opportunity to reinvent her life, only to find that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side;

“That Which Does Not Kill You,” a graphic and grisly bit of betrayal body horror told in rare and unusually well-done second person POV;

and “Executive Functions,” where a callous corporate sleazeball gets a rude awakening to the true nature of reality.

From small-time crime with a touch of witchery, to high-stakes crime with a cyberpunk edge … from the intimately personal to the end of the entire world … from the alternate past to possible futures and other places far removed … this book has a little something for everyone, all well worth the read.

-Christine Morgan

HORNWOLF by Evan Romero (2019 Blood Bound Books / 112 pp / eBook)

The third entry in Blood Bound Books' "Redline" series will be of interest to fans of the extreme stuff, this time with plenty of twisted humor thrown in.

When mutilated bodies start popping up around the small town of Ashwood, Cynthia Carver figures they're nothing more than animal attacks. Is a bear on the loose? Maybe even an unusually irritated, malnourished coyote? But when our lovely police chief discovers one of the bodies has been sexually assaulted, Carver takes a closer look into things and quickly realizes whatever is doing this is unlike anything that's ever been reported...

HORNWOLF is written at a lightning fast pace, it seeks to offend at every turn (and does), yet despite the hardcore nature of the narrative we're right there with Carver as she ends up fighting for her life against one of the more bizarre versions of a werewolf story to come down the pike in quite some time … or I should say, to come down the sewer. Loaded with redneck humor, some inventive transformation scenes, and enough splatter to satisfy even the most jaded of gorehounds, make sure you buckle up before strapping on (full pun intended) this wickedly insane novella.

Like the sleaziest pulp novel from the 70s, HORNWOLF is massively offensive, twisted, politically incorrect, and guaranteed to piss off nearly everyone. This is a nasty, dark tale for those who can handle the extreme side of extreme. All others, take cover.

-Nick Cato

BEDTIME HORRORS by Nic Kristoffer Black and Jorge Gonzalez (2016 Internegative / 50 pp / hardcover)

I got this one as a PDF and found it something of a challenge at first to read, thanks to the layout and choices of design (black background, pale text) but the overall unconventional look of it is both striking and potent. And the illustrations! Oh! The illustrations are lavish and lovely even when they’re horrific and grim.

Billed as “for adults and young adults,” it contains ten short stories of a thousand words each. As for their suitability at bedtime … that depends on how well anybody hopes to sleep. There’s not a lot of room here for bloat and meandering, giving the stories a nice quick campfire feel, dark gooey sweet treats to end the night, like sinister s’mores.

Monsters in the closet make their appearance, as do horrors from the depths of the sea and beyond the stars. Sometimes the monsters and horrors are all too human. Other times, they’re unimaginably Inhuman.

If I had to pick a favorite story, it’d be “Spare Parts,” a fun take on a classic, in which a disgruntled teenager tires of being ignored and belittled by his father.

And if I had to pick a favorite illustration, the ones accompanying “Glass Jars” are simply beautiful uses of color and light, luminous and alive, right off the page (or screen, as the case may be).

-Christine Morgan

WHERE THERE ARE DRAGONS edited by James Jakins, Austin James, & J.L. Mayne (2019 Robber’s Dog Pub / 179 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, this is another in which I’m privileged to have a story, so, am admittedly biased. Especially because one of the editors liked my story so much from elsewhere, he sought me out and requested to include it. How can I say no to flattery like that?

Besides, dragons! Besides, amazing Luke Spooner cover. 21 cool stories and poems. AND interior illustrations for each by Betty Rocksteady!

Also, most important of all, the book is for a cause. Proceeds go to support suicide prevention and awareness; the real dragons all too often are inside us. With all of that, it’d be hard to go wrong … and it doesn’t.

My personal favorite, Eric James Stone’s “Accounting for Dragons,” starts things off with delightfully fun tax tips and hoard-managing advice, sure to bring a grin to all the D&D and gamer types out there.

Other top picks include:

Bo Herno’s “The Dragon’s Tear,” presented in an interesting and well-done omniscient/tell style, with bonus points for pitting a techno-dragon against a horror from the deep;

“Dancing With Fire” by Dr. Benjamin Anthony, taking addiction to deadly new levels with the transformative power of powdered dragon’s bone;

Melanie Bowling’s “Ashes From the Beast” presents a sort of northern-backwoods-gothic in journal form, in which a small town houses a chimney attached to no ordinary furnace;

and “Dragonspeak,” a short but gorgeous poem by Ashley Dioses.

Spanning genres and settings, with tones and emotions from silly/fun to deep/serious, with dragons both literal and metaphorical, the combined result is a strikingly varied anthology of really cool stuff.

-Christine Morgan


EARTHQUAKES IN CANDYLAND by Jennifer Robin (2019 Fungasm Press / 320 pp / trade paperback)

I used to think Jennifer Robin just *had* to be exaggerating and taking creative liberties with her observational recountings of life on the weird streets of Portland. Then I went to one of her readings, thought I’d take public transit like a true city person, and on that trip alone witnessed a guy in a teddy bear onesie lugging a huge garbage bag full of aluminum cans. On that one MAX trip! Not even on the bus!

So, okay, I take it back, I eat my words. It really *is* like that out there. And in her latest work, she goes far beyond the Pacific Northwest, examining this great nation of ours in insightful detail by the unflattering lights of our own flame wars and dumpster fires.

It’s over 300 pages of mostly short essays and memories, interspersed with occasional longer travelogues and narratives as well as a few single-line thought-provoking zingers right out of an existentialist’s fortune cookie. Inside perspectives of recent Portland protests and riots are included, as are reflectively intimate personal stories.

There are far too many to go into detail here, but I will say that if you read the whole thing in one sitting, you just might be overwhelmed with frustration and despair and the determination to *do* something (or the wild urge to burn it all the hell down). The ones that cover statistics about war, politics, and social injustice are soul-wrenching. Drugs, sex, religion, abuse, menstruation, guns, health care, racism, and countless other issues are unflinchingly addressed.

Are these works fictional? Some, sorta, maybe so / maybe no. Allegories abound. The language is both poetic and frank, starkly honest in a starkly beautiful way, taking no prisoners. Bizarro? Horror? Yes, and yes, and all the more so because they’re born of our modern reality.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of attending one of her performances (readings are what ordinary authors do; Jennifer Robin is living performance art), you’ll probably hear this entire book done in her voice and rhythm, which is exactly as it should be.

-Christine Morgan