Sunday, May 20, 2018

Reviews for the Week of May 21, 2018

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


THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW

2003-2018
NOW IN OUR 15th YEAR!




LAST DAY by Bryan Smith (2018 Bitter Ale Press / 298 / eBook)

This pre-apocalyptic blood bath poses the question: If the earth had less than a day before a massive asteroid strike promised extinction, what would the lunatics be doing in their final hours? Hint: in Smith’s world, repenting at a church rally isn’t it. Quite the opposite, actually.

LAST DAY follows three sets of people whose lives (and fates) meet during a gut-wrenching finale right before earth is struck. And the ride there is as brutal as anything Richard Laymon or Ed Lee ever dreamed of (hence, if you’re squeamish, beware).

Uptight office worker Reece, caught in an eternal traffic jam en route to work after the news breaks, is rescued by bad girl/stunt woman Daisy on her motorcycle. She tells him they’re now in this together wether he likes it or not, and while weary he figures what does he have to lose?

Caleb and his sister Ella discover their successful, clean cut parents are much different than their outer selves appear to be: their dad turns out to be a ruthless serial killer, and their mom, his helper. Smith takes this part of the novel to places that will surely bring nightmares to some.

And finally Shawna, tired of her stale relationship with boyfriend Adam, decides to spend her final hours torturing him and murdering her neighbors. She’s an off balanced girl who sees the end as an excuse to let her darkest desires run wild.

While the world erupts into chaos (we’re given glimpses via news reports), Smith dedicates each chapter to these three scenarios until fate brings them all together in the final moments. Somehow, among the endless carnage, Smith employs some dark humor, especially in Chapter 23, but any laughs to be had are quickly quieted by the ever-grueling story.

LAST DAYS is a sick, hyper-violent, at times terrifying, and lightning-paced descent into madness. I actually held on to my junk a few times and winced, causing me to finish some sections through one eye. The violence gets so extreme it borders on the absurd, but Smith’s characters are relatible (whether we want to admit so or not) and it forces us to read on.

I can only imagine, if anyone survives the asteroid strike, what Smith’s POST apocalyptic world will be like.

Be very afraid.

-Nick Cato



DARKWALKER 2: INFERNO by John Urbancik (2018 Amazon Digital / 204 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Picking up a few months after the first book left off, we join Jack Harlow struggling to deal with the tragic loss of his lover as well as coming to terms with his new not-just-a-watcher role in the world of the supernatural.

His main goal is to find Lisa and bring her back from whichever afterlife may have claimed her, so he’s taken up questioning the various ghosts he meets. But their answers aren’t very helpful, and when he’s contacted by a former acquaintance with an offer, Jack can’t help but agree.

Accompanied by an acolyte of magical arts, he sets off on a strange journey, with no idea just how strange it’s going to get. We’re talking Dante-level strange, niftily paralleling that Inferno as Jack – without a Virgil to play tour guide – fights his way through various realms of actual Hell in hopes of finding his Beatrice.

The depictions of eternal torment are harrowing and effective, with suffering damned souls, fallen angels, cruel demons, and entities darker than anything Jack’s run into before. His efforts just to get back to the mortal plane again will shake the underworld to its very foundations, not to mention letting some real nasties slip through.

And, as if that’s not enough, powerful adversaries are closing in, some with connections to Jack’s past, forcing him to deal with multiple problems at once. Or, to put it in a zingier way, EPIC DEMON GHOST NINJA BATTLES!!! Which, if that’s not enough for you, I don’t know what more I can say.


-Christine Morgan



TIDE OF STONE by Kaaron Warren (2018 Omnium Gatherum / 427 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The Time Ball Tower is located on a small island off the coast of Australia. It's a prison where criminals are sent who have made the choice to live within it's walls eternally rather than suffer the death penalty. Of course the majority of these prisoners quickly regret not taking the other option, and although we only get quick glimpses of these criminal's lives, Warren gives us just enough that we feel little (if any) pity for them.

TIDE OF STONE centers around Phillipa Muskett, who is about to become the latest "Keeper" to work at the Time Ball Tower. Keepers pledge to work for one year, alone, among the prisoners, and in turn they'll be set for life when they get out ... if they survive the year of loneliness and taunting from the desperate inmates. The prisoners are so weak and brittle (some hundreds of years old) that even a young woman like Phillipa can handle the physical tasks of the job, but we're never quite sure how she's faring on the mental end until the final pages.

A big section of the book is made up of brief annual reports from other keepers, as far back as 1868, that Phillipa reads to prepare herself for the job. She gains insights into some of the prisoner's minds as well as what her fellow Keepers had to go through, yet even all this doesn't fully prepare her for the task ahead.

Philippa's own journal takes place in 2014, and if you've never read Warren before you're in for a treat of deep psychological head games, supernatural spookiness, and some of the finest prose the genre has to offer. It was interesting seeing these criminals attempt to bribe and mess with Phillipa, who turns out to be a lot stronger than anyone would've imagined. I'd love to see a story about her life post-Time Ball Tower.

TIDE OF STONE is a sublime fever dream of ever-building dread with some fantastic atmosphere and a dark fantasy slant that's only given to us in tiny bites as to keep the tale grounded in reality (the odd condition of the prisoners, for example, kept me flipping the pages to find out more). I haven't enjoyed a "quiet horror novel" this much since the classic T.M. Wright novels of the early 80s.

I've been a fan of Warren since her 2009 debut SLIGHTS, and can say this is her finest novel yet. Don't miss it.

The Ball dropped.*


-Nick Cato 



SPLINTERED ICE by Stuart G. Yates (2016 Creativia / 279 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Jed Meres is just having one of those lives … bullies at school, exams coming up, a grouchy headmaster … oh, and his mother just up and left, presumably with a lover, which neither Jed nor his dad are dealing with very well.

It’s a lot to deal with all at once, but for Jed, this is just the start. His good deed of rescuing a fisherman fallen through the ice makes him a local celebrity, except there’s something odd about the man he saved. Something ultra-charismatic, almost hypnotic, almost controlling. Meeting him makes Jed fall under his sway, doing things he can barely remember.

It leads to trouble, of course. Trouble at home, trouble with the law, trouble at school, trouble with a girl. It leads to trouble for his dad with a neighborhood widow. There are mysteries and questions – why is the man Jed rescued believed to be dead? How does the violent murder of Jed’s only friend fit into things? What about Jed’s estranged half-brother, who says this isn’t the first time their mother’s abandoned her family?

Poor Jed is one of those characters in over his head, used and misused, played with and strung along. Those who seem to know what’s going on won’t give him straight answers. Frustration abounds, not just for him but a bit for the reader (at least for this reader; the urge to grab characters and shake them until they quit the smug teasy games is a strong one).

With whispers and chills and hints of the paranormal, I found SPLINTERED ICE an occasionally muddled but overall engaging read that held my interest until the end.

-Christine Morgan



FEAR OF FREE STANDING OBJECTS by Doug Rinaldi (2018 Mayhem Street Media / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’d read a couple of the stories from this collection before, in their original appearances, but it’s always nice to reconnect, as well as being able to enjoy the tales I hadn’t yet seen. They total thirteen, a nice devil’s dozen, spanning a range of horrors from the quietly artful to the whole-hog gory.

First up is “Unfurl,” a brief but haunting piece with some darkly beautiful descriptors and turns of phrase. It’s followed by the part-medical / part-diabolical invasive body horror of “Osteogenesis,” and the fun chaos and destruction of “An Incident in Central Village.”

The protagonist of “Bequeathed,” searching for answers about his deceased mother, finds more than he bargained for. In “Alchemy of Faith,” a priest follows a wounded angel’s last request and creates a new life … to the outrage of his fellow clergymen.

Urban exploration and poking into places best left alone feature in the next two – “The Yattering” has ghost-hunting in a derelict bookstore become all too real, while in “Egregore,” a fraternity initiation turns out to have far more sinister purpose.

“The Sickening” veers off into more historical epic dark fantasy territory as a lone man braves an ancient cavern in hopes of finding the source of a plague. “And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’” serves a professional killer a very unwelcome surprise.

In “Lotus Petals: Liminal Personae,” the quest for physical perfection outweighs all other concerns, even flinchworthy mutilations. And you know it’s a bad day at the office when someone unleashes a deadly curse on a co-worker, as happens in “The Jatinga Effect.”

“Sybarites: Or, The Enmity of Perverse Existence,” follows a desperate father trying to rescue his daughter from a depraved sex-cult. Finishing things off is the longest work, “A Different Kind of Slumber,” pitting cop against no ordinary kind of killer.

-Christine Morgan



HARVEST NIGHT by Darren Madigan (2014 Amazon Digital / 674 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If an extreme horror short story is a quick, brutal 100-yard dash, then this book is a marathon of steadily-paced ongoing relentless atrocities with no rest and little reprieve along the way. Also like a marathon, others might wonder why you’d subject yourself to such grueling punishment just to end up feeling grimy and exhausted by the finish line; is the endorphin rush and sense of satisfaction worth it?

Well, if you’re a die-hard sicko like me, the answer to that question is a decided YES. As much mental fortitude as it took to keep on reading, to push through the depravity … I can only imagine how much was required to sustain the writing at such an unflinching level.

We’re talking serious nastiness here. Remember the stuff about devil-worshiping child molesters? Welcome to Redhaven, where there isn’t just a small secretive cult lurking behind the scenes while the rest go blissfully unaware. In Redhaven, most of the town IS the secretive cult, and it’s been that way for generations and centuries. Newcomers quickly learn things aren’t right, and often learn just as quickly to simply keep their heads down and look the other way.

Nor is it only Redhaven; the cult is widespread and powerful, a conspiracy reaching to the highest levels. And why not? It’s more than just mindwashing, total control, an endless supply of sex slaves, wealth, and political power. The members of the ‘congregation’ each have patron entities, demons and demigods representing many mythologies, who grant their followers favors of various paranormal kinds.

For much of the year, the denizens of Redhaven try to keep things mostly low-key, but when Harvest Time rolls around, those newcomers and non-congregation types are really in for it. It’s hunting season, killing season. But, any conspiracy so far-ranging is going to have those fighting it, working to bring it down … and this year may be a bloodier Harvest Time than anyone anticipated.

-Christine Morgan




*-private "joke" for readers of TIDE OF STONE.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Reviews for the Week of May 7, 2018

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


THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW

2003-2018
NOW IN OUR 15th YEAR!





FISHING IN BRAINS FOR AN EYE WITH TEETH by William Markley O’Neal (2014 Lightning Strike Press / 348 pp / eBook)

Seeing this collection, you might think, “Wow, that is one freakyweird title; I wonder what it means!” Then you might start reading the stories and be so drawn in and captivated you forget … until the moment when, in a deft bolt-from-the-blue, you’re hit with the answer. You know what it means, it suddenly makes perfect sense. And, if you’re like me, you’ll have to just stop for a moment of headshaking admiration (perhaps tinged with self-chagrin for not seeing it sooner).

The stories themselves are fantastic. Among them, you’ll find murderers and monsters and vampires, poetry and painting, how local legends develop and what happens to those who don’t heed them, sleep-talk secrets, and even a brief foray into the robozoid future.

First up is “Sensory Desolation,” in which a drunken sheriff berating himself for his failure to catch a serial killer receives an offer of help from some mysterious ladies, only to find out too late the cost of solving the crime. Intensely unsettling and creepy for sure.

Some particularly sinister fun is to be found in “www.$sellYerSoul2Satan.hel,” when a listener to a radio call-in show realizes HE’S the stalker the caller is talking about, and takes drastic measures to save their relationship and his reputation.

“I Was A Teenage Beehive” sent me into the screamy bug-dance; I know we’re supposed to be protecting the bees to save the planet etc., but phobia is as phobia does and yeeeeesh … my skin will hopefully stop crawling one of these days.

Closing the book out is “Bob Bodey’s Body Parts,” which may make you think twice about those little coin-op novelty dispensers; its up-close-and-personal vivid detail and descriptions are simultaneously hilarious and horrific.

Top-notch writing laden with clever twists and original takes. Serious good stuff. I don’t know how I’d managed to miss out on this author for so long.

-Christine Morgan



FICTION by Ryan Lieske (2018 Burning Willie Press / 300 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

There have been plenty of tales where an artist or writer’s creations come to life, and here, in his debut novel no less, Lieske manages to give it his own flavor.

CaitlĂ­n, under the tutoring of her ever-excited mentor, learns some characters from her stories are coming to life. One happens to be a killer who manages to photograph the souls of his victims at the time of their deaths (and some of the murders are quite gruesome). They wind up in a sort-of limbo, and when they realize CaitlĂ­n is responsible for their current whereabouts, they become hell bent on revenge.

Caitlin’s latest story leads to one of her close friends waking up with almost no recollection of his life, and the aforementioned lost souls discover a way to act out their ever-lusting vengeance.

Things build at a nice pace, and a few seemingly confusing elements are tightly wound up in the satisfying finale.

FICTION, despite it’s blah-sounding title, offers a feast of the horrific, with some edge of your seat moments and a couple of terrifying ideas. There’s plenty of twists and enough ghoulish mayhem to keep any genre fan flipping the pages. (And I really shouldn't rag the title...at least it doesn't have DARK or GIRL in it!).

An impressive debut that leans heavily on the dark side.


-Nick Cato



ALPHABET SOUP edited by Tobias Wade (2018 Haunted House Publishing / 234 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, first of all, this anthology ended up being a little better than I thought it was going to be. We have a little psychological horror, gross out horror, and even some well-constructed conspiracy theories. The editor and authors involved in the project put together a timeless horror anthology that should hold up for many years to come. The concept of the overall project is what interested me to check it out in the first place. We’ve all seen the ABCs of Death, right? Right!? That video anthology where different horror directors picked or were assigned a letter of the alphabet and then they filmed a bunch of those badass little horror shorts. Same concept here. 27 authors. 27 stories. Awesome artwork for each story. The project started on a reddit forum and was put together and placed into our dirty, little horror hands.

Another thing I found surprisingly pleasant was all the stories seemed to go together very well and every single one of them were well written. Usually, with the larger horror anthologies there are too many hit or miss stories, with perhaps a couple stand-outs here and there, but occasionally we luck out and find gems like this one, where all the stories are well put together, extremely versatile, and properly executed.

Some of my personal favorites were 'D is for Daniel' by Dover Hawk, a tale, in which, the main character is haunted by an alien hand syndrome: an uncontrollable alien force is possessing his left hand. After it takes the wheel and tries to kill him in a car accident, the doctor performs another surgery, amputates his left arm, which sets the malevolent force free. In 'F is for Formaldehyde' by Kyle Alexander, an old lady winds up dead and nobody knows because the smoke from the tenants’ downstairs leaks up into her apartment, where her windows are open during the winter time, and her body is preserved with no stench for over twenty-six days. And, 'N is for Necrosis' by J.Y., a tale, in which, a student drops out of college to take care of his mother, who just so happens to be suffering from necrosis. As her condition worsens he finds it harder and harder to confront her about some of the disgusting things she does. Even after she dies, the memories are hard to erase.

Definitely recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers



LOST AND LONELY by Brian James Freeman (2018 Cemetery Dance / 175 pp / hardcover)

I should know better than to think “I’ll just read a little before sleep.” I can ‘one more chapter’ or ‘one more story’ myself beyond the point of no return, and then hours go by or I reach the end of the book, or both.

With this sleek collection, my only saving grace was that it is a slim book. Only five stories. I could read them all without losing out on too much of my sleep time. Good thing too, because yeah, as soon as I started, I was going to be ‘one more story’-ing myself all the way home.

“Losing Everything Defines You” is done in the form of a transcript of a recording, opening with the ever-compelling line, “If you’re listening to this, I must be dead.” Between that, and the information the recorder is a writer, and the question we all must be asking about whether he killed his wife and son … who couldn’t keep reading?!?

In “Loving Roger,” a wife is determined to save her marriage with a romantic surprise, but gets a shocking surprise of her own.

I really liked “How the Wind Lies,” a historical frontier tale in which a malevolent force follows the settlers to their new homesteads.

“Perfect Little Snowflakes” follows a couple of desperate teenage lovers as they try to decide what to do about a certain not-uncommon problem.

Last but not least is the chilling “The Plague of Sadness,” in which a 911 dispatcher can’t shake the effects of a troubling call.

As bonuses, the book also includes an intro by Simon Clark, and some spooky-lovely interior art by Glenn Chadbourne. Well worth a look!

-Christine Morgan



RED DIAMOND by Michales Joy (2018 Bloodshot Books / 378 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I went into this one knowing nothing but the title, kind of like a blind date with a book. Unlike most blind dates you hear horror stories about, these ones – horror story blind dates! – tend to work out better.

RED DIAMOND is definitely one of those worked-out-better. It combines several killer elements: the small town suddenly isolated and trapped, the rapid unraveling of societal structure, a shady conspiracy, a vicious monster on the loose … and adds the extra kick of a reality show.

Imagine getting a call to inform you that, congrats, your town’s been flagged ‘red diamond,’ selected for the next surprise monster rampage! In half an hour, the walls go up; anybody who wants out better get out pronto, and anybody still inside is fair game! Imagine having to deliver that news, oversee the panicked evacuation, and deal with the fallout. No pressure, right?

Sheriff Yan Corban of Pikeburn is the one who gets that call. The clock is ticking and the scramble is on. His sense of duty won’t let him abandon his post, even when several of his deputies prove not so noble. Soon, he’s trying to keep people alive – not only the people who couldn’t escape in time, but the ones who choose to stay and ride it out … and the ones for whom it’s gung-ho get-the-guns monster-hunting time!

Factions quickly form, and it doesn’t help that the leaders of some are not exactly Corban’s friends or fans. As if he doesn’t have enough to worry about, a couple of outsiders have also ended up in Pikeburn. One is a superfan, the Red Diamond reality show expert. Another is a technician who got caught (or abandoned) on the wrong side of the wall.

All, of course, while the latest genetically engineered killing machine taking its debut field test. It’s exciting plunge-right-in action with no reprieve, barely a chance to catch your breath, tons of crazy mayhem and fun.

-Christine Morgan



THE CHANGELING by Victor LaValle (2017 Spiegel & Grau / 432 pp / all formats)

One of the most highly praised novels of 2017, I finally got around to this wonderful fairy tale-type horror yarn and it lived up to the hype and then some. And no, this has nothing to do with the 1980 horror film of the same name (I was asked this by a few friends).

Apollo (who helps support his wife and son as a rare book seller) is determined to be the father he never had. His own dad abandoned him at a young age, leaving him with only a box of books and continually haunting his dreams. And now as an adult, those dreams are back, stronger than ever, each one acting as an omen of sorts. His wife Emma starts acting odd, and despite their seemingly happy home, Apollo finds himself tied up by her hands one day as she commits an act of atrocity against their infant son in the next room.

The rest of THE CHANGELING finds Apollo on a quest to find his missing wife and come to terms with the murder of his son. But at each turn Apollo discovers things in New York City and its surrounding boroughs aren’t what they seem as he comes face to face with witches, folklore that’s all too real, as well as his own role as a father and a human being.

LaValle has delivered an irresistible tale, turning local NYC areas into sights of wonder, making us believe the fantastic is lurking right under our noses (and in that regard this, at times, reminded me of Tim Lebbon's RELICS). Everyone here shines, from Apollo to his wife to his business partner Patrice, even characters who play small (but pivotal) roles such as Cal, the leader on a secluded island of protected women. This may be a fairy tale for adults, but it is undeniably a horror novel, full of emotion and questions that may haunt the reader for days.

So, yep, all the praise heaped on THE CHANGELING was well deserved. A novel not to be missed and one you’ll devour in no time despite its 400+ pages.

-Nick Cato



As promised last issue, another look at...


GODS OF THE DARK WEB by Lucas Mangum (2018 Deadite Press / 108 pp / eBook)

I’m fairly sure I was one of those reviewers who named Lucas Mangum as an up-and-coming talent to watch … in this book’s intro, Gabino Iglesias says we can all stop saying that now; he’s not on his way anymore, but has solidly arrived. And I agree. Mangum’s Deadite debut is a winner, a smash hit.

Ah, the internet. What was once a shady frontier has become the everyday world for a lot of us. We’re so accustomed to it, comfortable with it. But, you know what? It’s still a shady frontier. In fact, forget shady. It’s downright DARK. There are parts of it so vile, so sordid and nasty … the bad stuff, the stuff that should be unimaginable, except, to paraphrase a savvy space guy, we’ve got quite the imagination. The most heinous, horrible things ARE out there.

Leon and his pal Shiloh consider themselves on the side of righteous activism, but even righteous activists can get nervous about their safety, and so they go exploring the “dark web” in hopes of clandestinely purchasing some defense, and end up falling down the deepest, most twisted rabbit hole instead. And those on the other side? They know. They know everything, can find out anything, can get to you anywhere.

When Leon goes missing, his older brother Niles, a true-crime writer, undertakes a little sleuthing himself. Wading through torture and depravity, he finds a possible lead to Leon’s location … but not before drawing the wrong kind of attention.

My only problem with it was that it’s SO DANG SHORT! I wanted more, lots more. I was upset at how soon I reached the ending (I may have sworn out loud in protestation and disbelief). Because this book is a sleek, sinister, chillingly plausible piece of work.

-Christine Morgan

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NEXT ISSUE:


Monday, April 23, 2018

Reviews for the Week of April 23, 2018

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





TEN OPEN GRAVES (???? Gryphonwood Press / page counts and formats unknown. Check gryphonwoodpress.com for more info)

I picked this up expecting an anthology of longer stories or maybe novellas, and instead found out it was a whole ten-book bundle … like ordering an assortment pack of cereal online and thinking you’ll get the individual serving boxes but instead they’re Costco-size and you got cereal for months!

This review should probably therefore be split into ten, but instead I’m just going to do it as one big ten-fer. Besides, it works, because these all mostly work together in a strange cohesion, a natural (or unnatural, as the case may be) flow.

CLOSET TREATS by Paul Cooley is a boogeyman tale with a twist, as a man struggling with lifelong mental illness tries to determine if what he sees behind the new neighborhood ice cream man’s seemingly ordinary appearance is in his head or real … and what it means for him and his family if he’s wrong … or if he’s right.

THE CRYPT OF DRACULA by Kane Gilmour seems very much like a retelling of Dracula, but it’s presented as a sequel, a history-repeats in which a craftsman is summoned to work on the restoration of the Count’s castle, much to the unease of the villagers.

ELDREN by William Meikle is one I’ve read (and, I think, reviewed) before, but it’s always nice to revisit his worlds and works, so I went ahead and re-read it and enjoyed it just as much as the first time.

STILL WATER by Justin Macumber goes deep, when coal miners uncover a slumbering ancient evil and its influence begins to spread through the town, just as a prodigal son returns to no good welcome, and ends up teaming with a paranormal researcher who’s shown up on an investigation.

REFUGE: NIGHT OF THE BLOODY SKY by Jeremy Robinson would be my top fave pick, no contest. I loved everything about the writing, the story, the characters … everything. A small town gets suddenly cut off from the rest of the world, shades of Under the Dome and such, but lean and quick, without the bloat. I was agonized at the end, and realizing it was part of a series only partly alleviated my pain.

DARK RITE by David Wood and Alan Baxter takes some of the familiar tropes of small towns with sinister secrets and shakes things up a bit, when a guy going through his dead father’s stuff uncovers links to a cult whose time is come ‘round again.

THE FLAT by Rick Chesler and Jack Douglas was the one I found most difficult to read, not because of any flaws in the writing but because the central relationship was SO painful, SO poison and toxic, so believable and awful and real. That was the true horror of the story for me, while the actual cursed/haunted elements take a backseat.

LAUGHING BO'S SHADOW by Steven Savile I am still trying to wrap my head around; it starts off with a late night car crash in which driver Declan thinks he’s killed a homeless person but there’s no evidence, goes into some ouchie hospital stuff, and suddenly we’re enmeshed in a Beggar King underworld paranormal war.

PIERCING THROUGH by R.J. Fanucci gave me the serious flinchies throughout, because I am an utter wimp and it’s all about piercings and tattoos and people suspended by hooks through their skin and the disputes and rivalries among various body-mod sects … horror enough even before the eerie and otherworldly elements start coming into play.

HUNGER by Jeremy Robinson, I got to it and was all “hey this guy again!” like a surprise bonus. The story landed solidly at second on my favorites; clearly Robinson is a writer to watch and one whose works I need to catch up on. This particular tale, of an effort to solve world hunger, does way more than touch upon GMO fears and technology outpacing us.

So yeah, ten whole books, ten fun reads; I did spot occasional typos and bloopers that should’ve been chased out, and it might’ve been nice to see some more ladies in the lineup. But all in all, a solid set of good stuff.

-Christine Morgan




GODS OF THE DARK WEB by Lucas Mangum (2018 Deadite Press / 102 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know that Deadite Press publishes some of the most hardcore and extreme horror books available on the market today, right? Well, if you didn’t, you probably should. This book is definitely not an exception. With that being said, if you’re not into extreme horror and Splatterpunk, you may want to proceed with caution because the author here has written a book to hold up alongside some of the legends in the genre, and what we have here is every bit as brutal.

While at a book signing, Niles Highsmith gets a phone call from his father, who tells him his brother, Leon has gone missing. Niles packs up and leaves to get to the bottom of it, knowing his brother is an activist and has been in trouble before, but he’s never been gone and missing like this for more than a few days. We soon find out the brother has been lured to a place called Avalon Lake, a mysterious ghost town he’d found while searching the dark web. The dark web is the darkest of filth on the internet. One can search and find links containing some of the worst porn imaginable, think snuff films, think real life murder videos, think weapons, think the anarchist cookbook but with more pervasive filth lingering in an online community of black markets. This is where Mangum shows us just how low down and dirty he can get with his writing and trust me, it’s just as beautiful as it is messed up and sick and demented, not to mention there’s a Lovecraftian creature from hell constructed of wires and computer monitors. Meanwhile, these masked sycophants haunt and patrol the stomping grounds of Avalon Lake. Soon Niles is confronted with some of the same decisions his brother had to make when he logs onto the dark web. Think murder. Think torture. Think cannibalism. Will he ever make it out of this alive? I guess you’ll have to read more and find out for yourself.

Highly recommended.


-Jon R. Meyers




THE NECROPHILIAC by Gabrielle Wittkop (2011 ECW PRESS / 94 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This controversial 1972 French novella (recently translated into English by Don Bapst) is beautifully written and as disturbing as it gets, but unfortunately winds up being completely pointless.

Told in a diary format, we read the thoughts of antiques dealer Lucien, a middle-aged gent who lives alone and gets off on making love to the dead. From the first entry we’re given graphic (yet artful) descriptions of his affair with a deceased young girl. There are many entries like this with other corpses, ranging from those his age to an infant who died with its mother. This will either sicken readers or, like a car crash, cause one to read on in morbid amusement.

There’s only one slight moment of suspense when Lucien narrowly evades a gang of factory workers, but otherwise THE NECROPHILIAC is a disgusting, gruesome, artsy fartsy “classic of French literature” that has been gaining newfound popularity among the arthouse crowd and I’m assuming fans of extreme horror fiction and films since it’s 2011 translation.

I’ll take nothing away from the late Wittkop’s writing, which even under Bapst’s translation sings, but there’s no story here and the craziness gets played out by the halfway point, making Lucien’s later trip to Naples seem like a failed attempt to keep things fresh.

If you want to read the morbid journal of one crazy bastard, look no further. If you want to not hate yourself in the morning and the extreme thing isn’t yours, skip to saner ground.


-Nick Cato




DARKWALKER 1: HUNTING GROUNDS by John Urbancik  (2018 DarkFluidity / 288 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a new edition, previously published back in 2012, and the kick-butt start of what promises to be a different take on typical urban fantasy. It’s our own world, yes … with vampires and werewolves and ghosts and other assorted creatures of the night … and since he was seventeen, Jack Harlow has been able to perceive them even when nobody else can.

They’re aware of him, too, but until now there’s been a strange sort of non-interference clause in play. He doesn’t bother them, doesn’t try to stop them from claiming their victims. All he does is watch, taking notes and recording the pertinent details later on a database he thinks no one else will ever need. And they, for the most part, have ignored him.

Lately, though, they’ve begun acknowledging him, talking to him more, seeming interested. It’s a change, an uncomfortable one, and one which is about to get much worse. Soon, whatever rare immunity he had has not only been canceled but reversed, as if a big target has been stuck to him and the entire supernatural population wants to zero in for the kill.

It’s hard to stay just a Watcher under such circumstances. Jack suddenly finds himself in the middle of things, caught in an infernal plot endangering his new love interest, and having to team up with a scrappy young vampire hunter.

The story moves briskly along, the various creatures are well-presented and intriguing and not bogged down by info-dumps (the ash-vampire, for instance, I particularly liked). I’m eager to find out what happens next in that world. Fortunately for me, the next one – Inferno – is waiting in the wings!


-Christine Morgan




STACKING DOLL by Carlton Mellick III (2018 Eraserhead Press / 138 pp / trade paperback)

Okay, I always get excited when I see a new Carlton Mellick book up for grabs. Here’s why. The stories are always well-written, bizarre, unique, and creative in their own way, with weird loveable or not so loveable and strange characters and creatures that you can actually imagine, and often the stories take place in highly imaginative settings and landscapes. So much so, that it’s normal to feel like you don’t want the book to end so that you can stay in the world that has been created. He does this time and time again, and he only seems to be getting better with each book released. 

With that being said, STACKING DOLL offers all of the above and more with another horrific love story. Benjamin is in love with a Russian Nesting Doll by the name of Ynaria. A beautiful lifelike wooden nesting doll who is a member of the Matryoshkans, meaning they have other smaller people living inside of them like those old wooden dolls everybody used to see at their grandparents’ house growing up, or, perhaps at antique and ceramic shops. Well, basically they want to get married, but this can’t happen unless he receives the notorious “blessing” from her parents, who are conventional Nesting Doll’s. They are sweaty pissed when they tell them over dinner, until the Father gives in, and says he can have their blessing and get married if they go through The Trial.

No other human on the face of the planet has endured the pain and suffering that is The Trial. The idea behind this is so that he can get to know her inner layers. This is where things start to get interesting. We have another layer who is more flexible and beautiful than her outer layer, a brother layer, a creature layer, another nastier creature layer, and an over emotional inner layer that smells worse than dead fish.

Will Benjamin ever make it through The Trial and happily marry the love of his life? I guess you’ll have to read it and find out for yourself.


-Jon R. Meyers



ONLY SHADOWS MOVE by David Martin (2015 Smashwords / eBook)

After being blown away by Martin’s fantastic story in BLACK STATIC No. 62 (see review last issue), I simply HAD to read more, and discovered he was offering a free copy of this 7 story collection from a few years ago via Smashwords.com. It may still be available here: Only Shadows Move

‘RELIC’ is the unsettling account of a mysterious astronaut corpse found half buried in the woods and the strange affects it has on the nearby town, then in ‘RETURNING’ a man arrives at his home after several years to find another family living there. A trippy piece that brings Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’ to mind.

‘SPIDERS’ is an eerie comparison of office life to the insect world most should relate to, ‘SUNDAY MORNING’ gives the fever dreams of its protagonist as he or she contemplates a better life, then in ‘THIS IS A WARNING,’ a down and out musician discovers a revelation in the voice of a young singer at a local pub.

‘ERASED’ is a flash piece of dark self contemplation before the final offering, ‘AN ENDING,’ a haunting, sort-of ghost story in which a man attempts to remember his late lover and the times they shared.

Martin’s stories feature much shadow and everyday characters who exist just on the edge of it. Reality and dreams often mesh to create surreal landscapes, that while seemingly ordinary, causes the reader to believe the supernatural is just waiting, impatiently, to be discovered.

Here is one writer I’ll gladly be following into the unknown...

-Nick Cato




BONELAND by Jeffrey Thomas (2004 Bloodletting Press / 172 pp / limited edition hardcover (pictured above), trade paperback, eBook)

I swear, I really did just intend to read a little bit while having my soup, and then get back to work. That was the plan. Honest, it was. How could I have known I’d be so instantly snared and reeled in that nothing would do but to finish the entire book at one sitting?

Wow. Going into it knowing nothing but the title, with no idea what to expect, I found myself more than pleasantly surprised. Blown away would be closer to the truth. It’s clever alt-history, deviously dark social commentary, outside influences, creeping technophobia, shades of noir, bug and body horror, and more … all rolled into one.

Johnny Board is only a kid in 1893 when people start going crazy thinking there are bugs and voices in their heads. He’s not much older when inexplicable rains of beetles and swarms of shrimplike creatures begin – weather fluke? migration? – or when one of his teachers gets afflicted by a giant tick.

Skip ahead several years and Johnny is a crime photographer, though his cameras are far from the kind we know. They’re living pillbug/trilobite things, taking in scenes through single glassy eyes, recording them on excreted cylinders.

Maybe you can understand why I was unable to stop. I had to know what this was, what was going on, what was with these living camera bug things! Why did they only photograph scenes including organic material, and why were they so fond of death, violence, and atrocity?

Because that’s what the Guests want to see, and why the Guests have been so generous sharing their bio-technological advancements. They like to watch humans be awful to each other … and humans, being what we are, prove only too happy to oblige.

Also, btw, my soup got cold, but I hardly cared.

-Christine Morgan



STIRRING THE SHEETS by Chad Lutzke (2018 Bloodshot Books / 113 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Elder funeral home worker Emmett loses his wife in a tragic auto accident. He goes about life as best he could, but his world turns upside down when a body arrives at his place of employment that looks uncannily like his ex in her younger years. But wait ... this is no NEKROMANTIK gross out. Lutzke's study of a lost man trying to deal with a new found fascination is like watching a car accident: you know you should keep moving but you just can't look away.

STIRRING THE SHEETS isn't about a necrophile per se, but more a man who goes to extreme lengths to deal with his grief. There's some tense moments, and hats off to Lutzke for setting up some standard ideas that go in uncommon directions. I like how Emmett's punk neighbor was dealt with, and the ending is solid and satisfying.

A smart, well paced entry into one of horror's darker subgenres.

-Nick Cato



MONSTERS AND ANIMALS by J.F. Gonzalez and Wrath James White (2018 Deadite Press / 214 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

SURVIVOR, by J.F. Gonzalez, is one of those books from which there’s no recovery. A real rip-your-soul-out-through-your-eyeballs kind of book. I’m normally a big re-reader, but, as with Jack Ketchum’s THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, one read was all I could take.

Then along comes this prequel collaboration, and I was doomed with dread because I knew I’d end up just having to read SURVIVOR again. Yet, how could I resist? Especially with the Wrath James White factor amping up the sex and depravity?

“Monsters” focuses on Melanie, whose family seems burdened with tension and secrets, most of them revolving around how Mom goes on frequent getaways, often coming back with prime cuts of meat for the freezer … and the locked room in the basement … and what happens when Melanie and her boyfriend decide to see what’s in there. Spoiler: it isn’t pork roast.

“Animals” shows us more of what Mom’s really up to on those trips, wallowing in a world of porn and torture, making snuff films, finding creative ways to dispose of the evidence. When a troubled youth (Mike Lombardo, oh my) gets caught up in the scene and his friends try to help him, the situation for all involved goes from bad to worse. We’re talking wall-to-wall carnal bloodbath here, definitely not for the squeamish or prudish.

A few other bits and pieces round out the book, including Gonzalez’s outline and notes for a project called “Mabel II,” a movie shooting schedule, and a couple of “Mabel’s Recipes” for the ambitious chef.

I believe Wrath James White and editor Brian Keene did a fine job honoring the literary legacy of a talent taken too soon. And yes, my fears proved true … now I have to re-read Survivor, and see if the intervening years of extreme horror have toughened me enough or if I’ll end up curled in the corner whimpering again.

-Christine Morgan


~~~~~~~~~~~

Please scroll to the bottom of the main blog page for updated submission info. Thank you.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Reviews for the Week of April 9, 2018

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for submission info. SPOILER ALERT: We're packed to the gills...




WOLF AT THE DOOR by Theresa Derwin (2016 Quantum Corsets / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This slim collection of ten stories does leave a lot to be desired in terms of interior layout and typesetting; a lack of indents makes for difficult reading. If you can get past that, though, and a few other little things here and there, you’ll find some fun stuff.

The title tale, “Wolf at the Door,” features forbidden attraction among the schemings of an unusual organization, and is followed by steampunk with zombies in “Dirigible of the Dead,” while a singularly unpleasant protagonist faces the future in-laws in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Then it’s back to steampunk-era historical to investigate “Abuse of the Dead,” and the quirky little “Ring and Rage” takes some nice little old ladies on their shopping rounds. Next up, “Pound of Flesh” delivers a change of pace following the diary of someone embarking on a drastic weight-loss plan.

“Muse” is one I’m sure many of us can relate to, examining the lengths we might have to go to in order to satisfy the hungry voice of our art. Then it’s time for squicky laughs in the schlocky pulp of “Giant Vampire Spiders From Outer Space.”

“Meat is Murder” plays with some revenge twists as a disgruntled vegetarian goes off the wagon in a big way. And, wrapping things up is my fave of the bunch … “The Things I See” is nicely creepy while also sadly sweet.

-Christine Morgan




SACRIFICIAL LAMBS AND OTHERS by Sheri White (2018 Macabre Ink / 116 pp / eBook)

After an introduction by Monica O’Rourke, White’s debut collection opens with a batch of flash fiction, many of which are quite gruesome. Some great ideas are touched upon and I think a couple of pieces would make for good, longer works.

The short stories section opens with ‘The Storm People,’ a supernatural chiller proving you should always heed the words of your grandfather, then in ‘Red Handed,’ a man in a struggling marriage learns an extreme way to relieve the pressures of life.

‘Spider Bites’ finds Marty, an arachnophobe, dealing with a white spider his spider-loving wife Kate has brought into their home. It’s bad enough Marty accidentally kills Kate, but when said spider sinks it’s fangs into him, the real trouble begins. In ‘The Phone Call,’ a brother and sister who haven’t spoken in 10 years contact each other ... via ghostly channels. ‘Wasting Away’ is a dark (and surreal) look at anorexia, while ‘Ashes to Ashes’ follows a widow who goes to extreme lengths to be reunited with her late lover.

‘Watch Your Step’ is a fresh take on the apocalyptic thing, Sheila gets more than she bargains for with her two unruly sons in the heartbreaking ‘Sacrificial Lambs,’ and ‘Maternal Instinct’ pits a pregnant woman against an irritated female Bigfoot on an isolated stretch of road.

A workaholic watches his wife, son, and other vacationers *melt* on the beach from the safety of his hut on a tropical island in ‘Paradise Lost,’ but he discovers too late that what’s causing the ghastly phenomenon isn’t what he originally thought. In ‘The Lying Dead,’ a widowed husband discovers, from a dead guy, that his son may be the product of an affair, then ‘Scarecrow Night’ highlights a prosperous community and its adults who will let nothing—not even their disobedient children—get in the way of their unholy blessings.

‘Things Happen Here After Dark’ follows a young couple who sneak into a carnival after hours and become prey to a supernatural clown, then lastly, Christina learns of her fate from an unusual machine in ‘Orgasm,’ and her husband unknowingly has a hand in it.

This is a fine introduction to White’s story telling, and we see her skill develop through each piece. There are some ballsy moves here, as no one is safe and the supernatural pokes its haunted head in at unusual times. A few stories will disturb you (especially ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Scarecrow Night’) while others take common tropes and give them entertaining spins.

A short but solid collection that will surely turn (and twist) many heads.

-Nick Cato


SEXTING GHOSTS by Joanna C. Valente (2018 Unknown Press  / 114 pp / trade paperback)

Okay, this one’s a little tricky and I’m not quite sure where to begin… So, what do we have here? Another poetry collection? Yes, we have that. But, is it like all the other poetry collections available out there on the market today? No, it definitely isn’t and if it were I wouldn’t read it. On to the next questions… Is it horror? Does a review of it even belong here on The Horror Fiction Review? I’m going to have to say, yes. It is and it does. Valente’s collection is unique and creative and disturbing, it’s haunting, often thought-provoking, it’s brutal, has the power to mess with your head and emotions, it’s sometimes cute and cuddly, but don’t let it catch you off guard. It’s also just as dark and demented and depressing as it is all those other things. It has the right amount of psychological horror flair built up between this sort of new, hip, modern, and edgy prose. Plus, the concept behind the overall collection is absolutely brilliant, in my opinion.

Some of my personal favorites in this collection were 'No one Likes You Until You’re Dead,' 'The End of the World Happened on the Internet,' 'When Blue Becomes Magenta,' 'I Am Home Alone on a Friday Night Because No One Loves Me,' and 'God of Destruction.' 

Definitely recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers




THE PLEASURE HUNT by Jacob Floyd (2017 HellBound Books / 352 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is a book about sex and obsession, power and submission, darkness, madness, and did I mention the sex? Strongly written from a first-person present-tense POV, the reader definitely gets a front-row seat for the action, which is some steamy, steamy stuff. But wait, it’s not only erotica … there’s much more going on behind the scenes.

See, there’s this secret online hook-up club, where real names are a no-no and refusing a ‘match’ is forbidden. Rules are strict, penalties severe. The member known as Sexy Cupid, who claims his arrow never misses, has been a very active and satisfied customer. Then he connects with a mystery lady called Dark Dance, and his whole world changes.

Their encounter is unlike anything he’s ever experienced, overshadowing everything else. He can’t stop thinking about her. He’s frantic for a follow-up. But, when he tries to find her again on the site, he can’t. His inquiries start getting him warnings from the admins, yet he can’t stop searching and prying. Eventually, his efforts are – you know, ‘rewarded’ might not be the right word here. He finds Dark Dance, with whom he’s by now utterly obsessed. He wants to be hers utterly, to belong to her, to serve her. He promises to do anything she wants, anything she says.

Thing is though, Cupid’s a stubborn entitled jerk. When Dark Dance tells him to wait for her to come to him, of course he won’t. He continues his stalking, trying to find her, demanding her attention. All to show her how devoted and obedient he is and how much he adores her, by doing the exact opposite of what she says.

It turns out, Cupid is not the first man to become fixated on Dark Dance. It turns out, Dark Dance is far from an ordinary woman. It turns out all sorts of things, with unearthly powers and unholy tortures (for which we also get that front-row seat!) and ancient evils. Much more than Cupid’s life is on the line, and the jerk still won’t learn.

-Christine Morgan



SHARKWATER BEACH by Tim Meyer (2017 Severed Press / 182 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

People keep saying sharks, like zombies, are played out, done to death, have even (so to speak) jumped the shark. To that, I say, phooey. Just because some unimaginative grumpypantses don’t know how to have fun anymore, they have to try and bring everyone down?

It’s no secret by now that I’m a big fan of the aquatic toothy monster genre, especially when tropes get turned on their heads and wild new angles are added to spice things up. I’m pleased to report that, in those regards, SHARKWATER BEACH definitely delivers.

I mean, sure, it’s got your secret lab and scientists doing experiments and things go wrong and the hungry fruits of their labor escapes … sure, it’s got a remote island about to be cut off by a convenient storm so calling for rescue / assistance is impossible … those are practically required! It’s also got black-ops mercenaries dealing with betrayal, a promising marine biologist who gave it all up for a career in law enforcement, a professor who gets too close to some of his students, and mostly …

This is not your ordinary shark! This is not even your ordinary giant shark, smart shark, or airborne cyclone shark school. This shark has something extra. This shark is also preggers and about to unload a litter of monstrous hybrids as capable on land as at sea.

So, aw yeah, bring it on, let the carnage commence! Which it does, with no holds barred, no mercy given. There’s lots of chomping, lots of action and destruction. Characters die unexpectedly, unexpected characters die. Another great summer vacation read, though not if you’re planning to get in the water.

-Christine Morgan



MAGAZINES:


BLACK STATIC no. 62, Mar-Apr 2018

In the opening commentaries, Lynda E. Rucker looks at the author’s life in the public eye (in particular with social media), then Ralph Robert Moore discusses a childhood friend and, as a writer, how it has affected him later in life. I still don’t know if I should laugh or say HUH?! over Moore’s concluding paragraph, but either way both columns are compelling and act as fine appetizers for the coming pages.

This issue’s stellar fiction offerings are three novelettes and two short stories, beginning with E. Catherine Tobler’s ‘Sanguinary Scar,’ which is sort of an aquatic take on ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (why can I hear some readers screaming at this comparison?). It’s a well written piece with unexpected, sudden violence, but I feel a bit out of place in a horror fiction publication. Good tale, but perhaps better suited for BS’s sister sci-fi/fantasy magazine, INTERZONE. You’ll most likely enjoy it and tell me to shut up, so...

Jack Westlake’s ‘Bury Me With Broken Light Bulbs, Bury Me in Shattered Glass,’ follows two men battling different addictions, yet our protagonist learns they’re alike in certain ways. Despite the nihilistic title this one ends on a dark yet oddly hopeful note.

In ‘Things Behind the Sun’ by David Martin, a music fan, learns a song he has become obsessed with was recorded by a band from a small town he used to live in. A hipster music journalist discovers Martin has a copy of their rare lone album, and together attempt to find out what the band is up to. But what they discover left me in a genuine state of wonder. One of the finest short horror stories dealing with music I’ve ever read. Honestly! Bravo.

Kay Chronister’s ‘Your Clothes a Sepulcher, Your Body a Grave’ is a beautiful dark love story told in an almost poetic style. A man recounts how he met and fell in love with “the niece of my mother’s first love’s spinster sister” as a child and how he has remained in love with her despite becoming married and a father of three children. Chronister places poisonous spiders and creepy nuns alongside hyacinths and descriptions of sunny afternoons to give this a surreal, unsettling vibe. I re-read a few sections for full affect.

Finally, in Michael Wehunt’s ‘Caring for a Stray Dog (Metaphors),’ Kent leaves his wife and home after the death of their young daughter via a senseless mass shooting by, of all people, a Baptist pastor. He befriends and takes care of a homeless dog and, like the subtitle says, begins to find metaphors at every turn...metaphors that help him heal. Kent is haunted as he not only visits random Baptist churches, but attempts to make sense of their oddly spelled names. A fever dream of loss, grief, and the unusual ways we deal with moving on, this is the second story that concludes on a hopeful note.

Gary Couzens delivers another batch of Blu-ray reviews, hence my list of to-see titles now includies WITCHHAMMER, a 1969 shot in Czechoslovakia film that sounds right up my alley, and the violent actioner KILLS ON WHEELS. There’s also an insightful look at the box set of the latest season of TWIN PEAKS.

I enjoyed the interview with author Anna Tambour, and Peter Tennant’s reviews of her collection and latest novel have grabbed my attention. Tenant also provides in-depth reviews of 6 other books, including Mira Grant’s INTO THE DROWNING DEEP and Wlliam Meikle’s Collection THE GHOST CLUB, which sounds like a clever, spooky time. I used to save Peter’s reviews for last but now find myself getting right to them.

As mentioned, this issue’s fiction is simply the Best of the Best, and still the main reason to be reading BLACK STATIC. Get on that right here: BLACK STATIC subscription

-Nick Cato