Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reviews for the Week of May 22, 2017

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

RELICS by Tim Lebbon (2017 Titan Books / 382 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Angela is a criminology student from Boston now living in London with her boyfriend Vince. Their life is picture perfect until Vince doesn't come home one night.

Not being able to believe Vince would walk out on her, Angela sets out to find him, and quickly learns the man of her dreams is involved with the London underworld. It turns out Vince works for notorious gangster Fat Frederick Meloy, yet he is no common hitman: Vince is a relic hunter, finding parts of mythical creatures and bringing them back to his obsessed boss. Vince has also caught the eye of a rival gangster and her two brutal assassins, which leads to the current mess he's in.

Angela's world gets weirder than discovering her boyfriend's true profession when she learns there's a living, breathing network of legendary creatures lurking right in the shadows. Creatures who owe Vince a favor...

RELICS is the first in a planned trilogy. In this opening installment, Lebbon introduces us to a solid cast, my favorite being Fat Frederick, who, although a ruthless gangster, is impossible not to like despite his reputation. The normal and the fantastic are brought together so smoothly you'll have no problem buying the idea of satyrs and fairies interacting with humans in the literal (and figurative) London underground.

With plenty of action and hints of great things to come, you'll be counting the days until the next book.

-Nick Cato

GRANDMOTHER by Gregory Thompson (2017 Fear Front Publishing / 213 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

A nice quiet vacation, a long and restful chance to kick back at childhood home / grandma’s house, two weeks to do nothing but enjoy sweet tea and good cooking and nostalgia while working on your new book? Now, that is a deal a lot of writers I know, myself included, would jump at the opportunity!

Okay, so practically the first words out of grandma’s mouth are to ask how you’re doing with Jesus … and maybe being there dredges up some painful memories of how your parents died … and maybe you then find out your grandma’s been having fainting spells … only they aren’t just fainting spells but involve visions and biblical visitations …

Well, for Samuel, it does kind of interfere with those plans for finishing his book. Even before he gets roped into investigating the visions, trying to change the horrible things that are about to happen. Once that starts, once Samuel keeps turning up at the scenes of these accidents and crimes, I did find my suspension of disbelief slipping a bit.

The police aren’t more interested in all those apparent coincidences? In his presence at these violent injuries and deaths? And, not to be spoilery, but the arm scene, the logistics of and reactions to, really bugged me in the plausibility/realism department.

All in all, I would’ve liked to see a little more fallout and follow-through, and the ending might’ve left something to be desired, but it held my interest well enough.

-Christine Morgan

THE FETISHISTS by A.S. Coomer (2017 Grindhouse Press / 145 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Jefferson Wellman is a successful lawyer with a taste for kinky sex. After his friend invites him to attend an unusual auction for fetishists, he jumps on the chance and finds himself at an isolated house. His friend never shows up, but Jefferson quickly wins a "pony girl," and is given a room to do whatever he wants with her.

Of course things take a dark turn, and Jefferson finds himself on an incredibly bleak downward spiral.

The first few chapters are short and addictive, then the second half of THE FETISHISTS is told in one long section, as Jefferson becomes a mad woman's slave. A few scenes caused me to flinch, which isn't an easy thing to do.

Coomer's novel isn't for everyone. There's plenty of extreme violence and really sleazy sex, yet for those willing to sift through the grue there's plenty of subtext dealing with class, the nature of desire, and society in general. This is an intense blend of physical and psychological horror the squeamish need not apply to.

-Nick Cato

SNAFU: FUTURE WARFARE edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding (2016 Cohesion Press / 285 pp / eBook)

There is one upside to all these awesome-cool amazing anthologies I don't get into ... just means that then I can review them later with a clear conscience! And this is one I know I couldn't have gotten into if I tried ... sci-fi military horror is a ways beyond my skill set.

Fun to play or watch, though; I can appreciate a big plasma cannon as much as the next gal (maybe should rephrase that). And, when done by authors who know how to do it right, as is the case here, also very fun to read!

Steve Lewis starts us off very strong with 'Suits,' one of my top picks of the whole book, in which hardy pioneer colonists on an alien world defend their homesteads with some of the best-named mechs I've ever seen. My only quibble, however slight, was that it would've been nice to see at least one suit piloted by one of the ladies.

But, the gender-role lines get nicely erased in several of my other fave tales ... 'Under Calliope's Skin' by Alan Baxter pits rugged space marines against super-stealthy lethal monsters in an action-packed and fairly creepy excursion, Case C. Capehart's 'The ASH at Ft. Preston' gives us the ultimate badass warrior woman for full-scale combat carnage, and Jake Werkheiser's 'Perfect War' looks at what remote strike drones mean for more than one type of equality.

A special nod has to go to 'Kill Streak' by Samson Stormcrow Hayes, for presenting in a fun but also unsettling way a mindset/worldview with which far too many of us are far too familiar. And to Jack Hillman's 'Scout Mission' for creating a landscape so insidiously hostile and deadly I never want to go outside again even on Earth. Mike Resnick provides a more light-hearted reprieve in the form of 'Romeo and Julie,' a cleverly fun example of letting our vehicles and computers get too smart for our own good

With a grand total of thirteen stories, including heavy hitters such as Weston Ochse and Tim Marquitz, this book makes for a rollicking and rock-solid fine addition to the SNAFU library.

-Christine Morgan

A TIDING OF MAGPIES by Pete Sutton (2016 Kensington Gore / 262 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Sometimes there are writers flying under the radar, and this guy's one of them. His fiction is smooth, stylish, subtle, just the right kind of spooky, and very well done. All that is on excellent display in this collection, woven together by a seamless and sometimes understated central theme.

Of the thirty-two stories contained herein, 'Sailing Beneath the City' is my top favorite, for its simply gorgeous imagery and the emotion it evokes; one of my greatest personal fears involves loss of memory, while at the same time it often feels like the inability to forget can be a curse. This one gave me all kinds of shivers.

That said, it was a hard decision ... lots of these tales are really, really good, highly effective at stirring disquiet. Several are short, like, a page or two, but in their very sparseness they pack a wallop; more words would have been doing them a disservice.

Others sprawl luxuriously; 'Le Sacre Du Printemps' is opulence and tragedy, an agony with which most creatives can identify; haven't we all yearned for, searched for, and been infuriated with our Muse from time to time?

They also range from eerily dreamlike dark fantasy to chilling sci-fi, from global threats to intimate single-person terrors ('Bruised' being a prime example of the latter, and another favorite for all it made me ache everywhere to read).

I also have to give special mention to 'Swan, Wild,' which does something I always enjoy -- takes a look at the fairy tale beyond the happily-ever-after; in this case, the one prince who was left with a swan's wing in place of his arm after his sister broke the spell.

On a similar note, 'Once Were Heroes' examines how superpowers might be dealt with in the real world; I am a big supers fan and think there's not nearly enough superhero fiction, so as soon as I realized what I was reading, I may or may not have made a happy little "eee!" noise (note: I totally did).

-Christine Morgan


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Reviews for the Week of May 8, 2017

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


BURIED IN BLUE CLAY by L.L. Soares (to be released 5/9/17 by Post Mortem Press / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Reddy Soames is working on a book about the urban legends of his childhood hometown, Blue Clay, Massachusetts. Now on the west coast, Reddy decides it's time to go back home and meet a few people he has been speaking with on the internet.

It doesn't take long for Reddy to meet up with some real nutjobs, and when his friend Luke's dogs are killed by a bizarre-looking creature, Reddy's simple research assignment leads him into an underground world that would baffle even Mulder and Scully.

Reddy is befriended by a man named HEK, who lets him stay at his mansion that seems to constantly be filled with college students partying. It becomes obvious HEK is some kind of cult leader, and he's now prepping Reddy to take over his position.

Like Soares' previous horror novels (the Stoker winning LIFE RAGE and the grossly underrated ROCK 'N' ROLL), BURIED IN BLUE CLAY is a weird and original tale that kept me guessing until the last chapter. I had no idea where this was going even into the third act, and while Soares throws everything at you including the kitchen sink, he ties everything up during the satisfying finale.

Part monster mash, part strange occult sex drama, and with a feel all it's own, Soares' latest novel is a refreshing treat in a genre flooded with rehashes.

-Nick Cato

APOLOGIES TO THE CAT'S MEAT MAN by Alan M. Clark (2017 IFD Publishing / 158 pp / trade paperback)

Back in August, appropriately enough, I read and reviewed another in the author’s victims-of-Jack-the-Ripper series, A BRUTAL CHILL IN AUGUST. It blew me away, historical fiction done right, so you’d better believe I was ready for more!

Oh, and if you’re one of those brats saying yeah but they all must be the same because of how they ended, like someone I knew once refused to watch La Bamba because it’d have the same ending as The Buddy Holly Story, well, *raspberries* to you; that’s totally not the point and you know it!

These were real people. With their very own real lives, pasts, hopes, fears, dreams, and feelings. Different people. Individuals with their own stories, who deserve to be remembered as something other than statistics.

Sure, on the surface, there might be similarities between Annie Chapman in this book and Polly Nichols in Brutal Chill – both were underprivileged women of their time, struggling to get by in a difficult world. They had their flaws and weaknesses, they made their mistakes.

In Annie’s case, she was plagued by what we might call ‘being a sensitive soul.’ It’s hard enough even these days to be squeamish and easily upset, in a world with modern hygiene and conveniences. She had troubled relationships with her family and friends, and with alcohol as so many did and still do.

The real horrors of this book have nothing to do with the Ripper and his knife. They have to do with futility and hopelessness, the devastating legacy of realizing you’re becoming just like a loved/hated parent, the desperation, the loss of control.

For me, the most harrowing scenes by far, still haunting me even now as I write this, have to do with the move-along policies directed at the city’s legions of homeless. Not allowed to rest more than a few minutes in any given spot, hundreds take to the streets in an unending, plodding, circular trudge through the long hours of the night. It’s a cruel purgatory, and I couldn’t help thinking that too many places in this day and age still haven’t come very far, in terms of how society treats its least fortunate.

Once again, Clark’s skill shows through in terms of bringing the era and setting and characters to vivid life. Not a feel-good read, not a fun read, but another powerful one, and a stirring memorial for a woman who was more than a mark on a killer’s score sheet.

-Christine Morgan

WAILING AND GNASHING OF TEETH by Ray Garton (2016 RGB Publishing / 303 pp / eBook)

I found this collection to be a difficult read, not in a literary sense but a psychological one. Difficult, but necessary. In the way a lot of the works of Wrath James White are, for instance. Forcing us to face very real problems in society, problems like intolerance and blind righteousness and unwillingness to change or compromise.

It is intense. It is personal (perhaps very personal; many of the stories evoke elements seeming intimately autobiographical, the kinds of things that must have been both hard and cathartic to write). It digs in deep to the emotional core. It confronts some painful, turbulent, fraught issues. Profound issues of identity, belief, belonging, worth.

What this book isn’t, though I can see how it might get the reputation, is a big long hate-bash on religion. The greater sense I got from it was of hurting, of sheer bafflement and bewilderment, of a wounded sort of loss and betrayal.

Then again, I’m not much of a religious person, so, maybe I don’t have as much at stake. I do know that I’ve lost friends due in part to religious differences, just as I’ve had relationships damaged over politics, race- and sex-based differences, and those other hot-button issues.

As for the stories themselves, well, they venture many dark places. Into the “he seemed like such a good boy” upbringing of a killer, into supernatural horror, into hubris and hypocrisy, and the making of monsters of many varieties. As is often the case, it’s the real-life could-happens that prove far more horrific and spine-chilling than the more paranormal aspects of some tales.

Side note: in the introduction – itself a must-read chapter, to appreciate the full impact – Garton mentions getting angry letters when he writes about the deaths of pets … those, okay, those he does deserve; I’m very upset!

-Christine Morgan

DEMONS BY DAYLIGHT by Ramsey Campbell (2017 Venture Press / 190 pp / eBook)

I was very glad to see an affordable digital rerelease of this 1973 hardcover brought to the Kindle earlier this year, and I just had the exquisite opportunity to finally check it out for myself after forking over a whopping $2.99. Let me tell you this: it was two dollars and some odd change well spent on some of the author’s earlier, more Lovecraftian voice, or, as stated in the introduction, “a collection of stories written with Lovecraft in mind.” The author’s motive worked out quite well because what we have here is a set of very original stories in the vein of one of the masters of macabre himself, but executed with Campbell's own dark, disturbing, and weird take on them. The stories collected here are by no means part of the constant regurgitation found in the genre, but arevery much a fantastically phantasmagorical, unique and powerful, with a strong sense of the author’s earlier roots shining through. One can get a strong sense of the beginning stages of his vividly dark, slow-burning prose being constructed here, as well as a distinct correlation between Horror and Weird Fiction.

Some of my favorites in this collection were 'The End of a Summer’s Day,' a tragic love story in a deep, dark cave tour led by torchlight, in which, a lover loses a loved one amidst the darkness by the end of the Summer Day. 'Sentinels' was my absolute favorite in the collection: A group of friends talk Science Fiction and Fantasy books and conventions over drinks at the pub, before venturing out to checkout a mysterious hillside location, in which, large concrete structures stand and shadows lurk eerily behind many structures are there at Sentinel Hill? And 'The Franklyn Paragraphs,' a true homage to H.P. Lovecraft that packs quite a punch!

Recommended for fans of Dark, Horror, and Weird Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

MEATCOW MAKER by Matthew Warner (2017 White Noise Press / 30 pp / limited edition chapbook)

Nove is a meatcow, a genetically engineered creature who serves its skrall master (skralls are pretty much human) in a post nuked earth. While traveling the desert wasteland with his master Jebediah, they come upon a seaside community where Nove is quickly abandoned.

Meatcows were designed to feed skralls (their flesh heals overnight, providing fresh meat every day), and in return meatcows live off their master's feces. Yet now skralls have figured out how to grow vegetables, and meatcows are becoming obsolete.

Warner is a master of the revenge story (see his intriguing 2005 collection DEATH SENTENCES), and here he wraps one in a bleak, heartbreaking post apocalyptic sci-fi adventure. As always White Noise Press presents the tale in a gorgeous chapbook design (with cover art by the author's wife Deena) so collectors best hurry before this beauty sells out. Fantastic all around.

Grab one here: Meatcow Maker

-Nick Cato

THE ORPHANARIUM by S.T Cartledge (2017 Eraserhead Press / 226 pp / trade paperback)

Given the title here, my first thought was FUTURAMA, so I got it set in my head I’d be reading about some bizarroland orphanage of little misfits and mutants getting up to all sorts of adorable, quirky hijinks … that it’d be all fluff and fun and frivolity.

Wrong-O! And was I ever! The ORPHANARIUM is a surreal futuristic dystopian pandimensional temporally fluctuating epic. Vastly complex, intricate, intertwined. I like to believe I’m no slouch in the smarts department, and even I was left jawdropped and gobsmacked here. This is next-level stuff, upper division, way high concept like whoa.

I’m not sure how to even begin attempting a summary. There’s a pair of orphans, Daff and Dil (I first thought they were a bro-sis duo but turns out they’re brothers) with their cyborg guardian and their computer generated dog, on the run from these hulking warrior lizard enforcer things, while various demi-godlike Elementals help and/or hinder them as they travel through space/time/dimensions against a backdrop of love, loss, and war.

I mean, yeah, philosophical transcendence through breathtaking prose. Cosmic mythologies, not cosmic in the Lovecraftian sense but cosmic in a way far stranger, more distressingly beautiful, and just plain mythic … both put together, cosmic mythologies and mythic cosmologies … stunning imagery and language use that plain blows the doors off the ordinary or conventional.

Seriously, this one’s going to join works such as SKULLCRACK CITY and QUICKSAND HOUSE in the growing category of books with which to smack upside the head those people who think bizarro is (or should only be) nothing but crudity and outrage.

-Christine Morgan

DEADLY LAZER EXPLODATHON by Vince Kramer (2017 Thicke and Vaney Press / 198 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

If there’s an award for most use of the word lazer in a single book, we have this year’s winner and probably a new world record. Not even Lazery McLazerface’s Compendium Lazerium of Lazers would have a shot.

This book is also pure Vince Kramer, who is one of the rarest living exceptions to the “show, don’t tell” rule. Reading anything by him is just like hearing him relate an anecdote or adventure ... which is, to wit: with more sheer gonzo exuberance and enthusiasm than anyone else I’ve ever met. Imagine a half-grown golden retriever turned loose in a tennis ball factory, and you’ll have an idea.

So yeah, DEADLY LAZER EXPLODATHON is Vince at his Vince-est. It’s a crazycake romp of fun-poking love at classic sci-fi, turning tropes inside-out, and ruining your childhood with cheerful offensiveness at no extra cost!

We open with terrorists from the future destroying the set and lazer-slaughtering the iconic cast of 60’s Star Trek, thereby changing history. Another time-traveler (who calls himself “Doctor Y”) collects a team selected from various eras – from cavemen to cyborgs! – to crew a spaceship against this temporal menace.

If you think that sounds kind of GALAXY QUEST, with the lovable misfits overcoming their differences, discovering their own strengths, and learning to work together to save the day … wellll … maybe a little, but with sloppy sex, psychedelic space-mushrooms, and of course ALL THE LAZERS.

Now, do be warned, there’s rude content in here. There’s violence and rapey stuff and racist stereotypes and lots of uses of lots of words that many people consider not fit for polite conversation. It may upset. It may offend.

It may also make you laugh your head off and then feel vaguely dirty and ashamed of yourself for doing so; the hilarious guilty going-to-hell pride/shame of winning a game of Cards Against Humanity is the feeling I’m talking about here.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC issue no. 57 / Mar-Apr 2017

Lynda E. Rucker opens this issue's commentary, this time on staying true to your craft, and Ralph Robert Moore's piece on understanding art will be of interest to David Lynch fans.

Opening novelette (also by Ralph Robert Moore) 'Will You Accept These Flowers From Me?' deals with a struggling but dedicated magician named Michael, who, along with his monkey assistant Bella, work with a hat that's actually magic. But its inconsistency causes trouble for Michael and ultimately, reveals he and his assistant's destinies. A spectacular story not to be missed.

'Sunflower Junction' by Simon Avery: a man becomes fascinated with a musician named Hugo Lawrence. With only one CD to his credit, and no longer playing gigs, our protagonist goes looking for Hugo, talking to his old band mates in the hopes of understanding one of his stand out songs. After finding a recorder possibly containing Hugo's final recordings, our narrator manages to find...himself. A moving tale of self discovery.

In the third novelette this issue, 'Shadows on Parade' by Mike O'Driscoll, James is trying to understand his new girlfriend Gillian's past: she keeps pictures and videos of her former boyfriends, claiming it helps her remember who she is. Jealousy begins to overtake James, and he eventually destroys her photo journals. O'Driscoll brings the weird and the chills in this excellent freak-out, complete with a truly haunting finale.

This issue's lone short story, 'The Chambermaid' by Aliya Whiteley, features Bonnie, a hotel worker, whose future is revealed by an allegedly clairvoyant resident named Xania. But Bonnie is determined to have a different outcome for her life in this well written if routine entry.

Gary Couzen's latest DVD/blu ray column includes a nice crop of old and new films (the Arrow release of 'Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia' sounds particularly good) and among Peter Tennant's always reliable book reviews we get in-depth looks at recent releases from "in house" authors Lynda Rucker, Gary Couzens and Ralph Robert Moore, plus a nice interview with Andrew Hook along with reviews of 4 of his books.

An all around great issue highlighted by Ben Baldwin's dazzling cover art, BLACK STATIC continues to deliver some of the freshest fiction in the genre.

Grab a copy (or better yet, a subscription) right here: Black Static No. 57

-Nick Cato

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Reviews for the Week of April 24, 2017

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

SYCORAX'S DAUGHTERS edited by Kinitra D. Brooks, Linda D. Addison, and Susana M. Morris (2017 Cedar Grove Publishing / 564 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

After an excellent forward by Walidah Imarisha, Kinitra Brooks' introduction explains the anthology's title and purpose. If you are unaware, this is both a celebration of black female horror writers as well as a major showcase for their work, which for the majority of the book is top notch.

Then we go into a lengthy mix of short fiction and poetry, but let's look at the fiction first:

Opening story 'Tree of the Forest Seven Bells Turns the World Round Midnight' by Sheree Renee Thomas finds confused stud Wilder discovering why his girlfriend Thistle is such a zealot environmental activist. This has the feel of a classic EC comic albeit with wonderfully creepy prose and a slick double message.

In Cheyenne Sherrad's 'Scales,' sisters must choose to live among humans or go back to the sea from where their ancestors came from. One of several stories here that use mythical creatures as a metaphor for race, and Sherrad's offering is a tightly wound and latently emotional winner.

In 'Letty' by Regina N. Bradley, a dying girl meets her own personal grim reaper, who turns out to be a former slave. The story of the slave's attempted escape from her nasty masters is as heartbreaking as it is grim.

Tracey Baptiste's 'Ma Laja' follows a murderous woman who I at first thought was a vampire but by the end, it becomes clear she's a werewolf. Baptiste's slang dialogue gives it an authentic feel.

Jane is a 140+ year old vampire in 'Born Again' by RaShell R. Smith-Spears. She befriends a younger vamp named Jackie and together they overcome Jackie's abusive husband. A solid take on vampirism full of history and sacrifice.

'How to Speak to the Bogeyman' by Carol McDonnell: An exorcist tries to help a young man who has been jailed after years of raping and murdering, and only the exorcist knows it's due to a powerful demonic entity. Creepy although it ends kind of quickly.

In 'The Monster' by Crystal Connor, a black female war veteran is forced to team up with three male white supremacists to battle a horde of shapeshifting creatures. A great set up that ends abruptly, I would've loved to have seen more.

'Taste the Taint: A Cursed Story' by Kai Leakes: Climbing the corporate ladder costs Kendrick more than his soul in this familiar but satisfying look at friendship and betrayal.

Tish Jackson's 'Cheaters' features a woman who is able to kill unfaithful boyfriends with her mind. Talks with her therapist may even be leading her down a darker path...

'Kim' by Nicole D. Sconiers takes place in 1982 in a small mill town, as Crystal and her teenaged crew practice to be the world's first female rap artists. But when a strange white girl named Kim appears out of nowhere, she begins to turn Crystal's crew against her, and they start changing in strange ways. With the help of an older neighbor, Crystal learns who (or what) "Kim" really is, and a battle ensues for the fate of her friends. One of my favorites and a real standout.

In 'Summer Skin,' Zin E. Rocklyn introduces us to a girl with an ugly, oozing skin condition that she manages to control with the help of her aunts. Original, creepy, and quietly metaphorical.

'Taking the Good' by Dana Mcknight: Two lesbian thieves meet a seductive woman at a bar. The woman turns out to be a tentacled monster who offers one of the lesbians a chance to follow her. I'm not sure of the hidden meaning (if any) but Mcknight held my interest.

'Mona Livelong: Paranormal Detective II' by Valjeanne Jeffers is an excerpt from her forthcoming novel. Mona is hired by a witch who has had her powers stolen. I'm not big on the urban fantasy genre but this is a fun preview fans should enjoy.

'The Ever After' by L. Marie Wood is a study of several lives just before the moment of death. A dark heartbreaker that begins like a sci-fi action story but quickly becomes so much more. Another standout.

In 'Perfect Connection' by Deana Zhollis, a woman and her familiar spirit meet their male counterparts in a world where "Splitters" are a threat to the human/spirit familiar union. An interesting fantasy although it read like the intro to a longer story.

'Foundling' by Tenea D. Johnson features a woman named Petal who is able to rescue people via teleportation. After being transferred for losing a young life during a tele-rescue, she's soon sent to a woman's prison where she learns her own company framed her for sex trafficking. Like a few other stories here, this one ends as it seems to just be starting, but it's quite an enjoyable sci-fi romp.

'Rise' by Nicole Givens Kurtz: Trixie and her brother Fox travel across the desert wasteland on their way to live in a perfect city. But their mutant powers are exploited in this great entry dealing with racial acceptance.

'Of Sound Mind and Body' by K. Ceres Wright: Slick spy thriller featuring a female agent who, with the help of a secret government experiment, can change her outward appearance. Would make a slick novel.

'Asunder' by Lori Titus: a young college woman uses the help of a spiritualist to right her cheating boyfriend. A dark tale of voodoo, heritage, and the downside of not heeding parental advice. Good stuff.

'The Tale of Eve of De-Nile' by Joy Copeland is another voodoo-ish entry about a woman who can't afford to have a third abortion. But after visiting the isolated home of a herbalist, Eve's unwanted pregnancy takes a terrifying turn. Creepy with some genuinely bone-chilling images.

'Sweetgrass Blood' by Eden Royce: A woman of African descent goes against tradition and begins to write stories for new generations to be used in modern media. But she ends up becoming a story herself. One of my favorites here and a great symbol of the entire anthology.

In 'The Armoire' by Patricia E. Canterbury, a California newspaper reporter purchases a haunted piece of furniture at an antique fair and her home becomes a brief place for the spirit who lived within it. A routine ghost story with a message of motherly love.

'A Little Not Music' by LH Moore: In 1939, a college student earns tuition dancing at a jazz club. She, along with two house mates, become the target of an evil specter. Held my interest but could've used some kind of twist.

'The Manaka-kil' by L Penelope: a strange creature makes a young black girl and a young Asian boy its apprentices. They're the only minority children in an exclusive sea side, white community, and their lives are changed in incredible ways. A wonderful horror fantasy and one of the best of the bunch.

'Mama' by A.D. Koboah: Fantastic, emotional tale of a woman taken to the new world on a slave ship and how she uses witchcraft to help her daughter and granddaughter. Powerful and very well written, Koboah gives this the same feel and scope as a full length novel.

'To Give Her Whatsoever She Would Ask' by R.J. Joseph: An older woman grows weary of not having her prayers answered to have a baby. But something besides her Christian God answers her prayer in this classic-styled horror romp.

About the Poetry: I was taken aback by several pieces here, in particular verse from Andrea "Vocab" Sanderson, Tiffany Austin, Carole McDonnell, A.J. Locke, and Tanesha Nicole Tyler's 'Polydactyly' actually gave me goosebumps. Excellent!

The first afterword features editor Linda D. Addison summing the anthology up in her classic poetic style, then Susan's M. Morris caps things off with some final thoughts that will surely inspire (not only) black female authors but anyone passionate about writing.

SYCORAX'S DAUGHTERS is a massive undertaking delivered with style and substance. Many of the stories here would work well in any speculative anthology, not just one showcasing black female authors, and that's the beauty of this project: These stories and poems suck you in and take you to their own worlds, making the reader forget, at times, that this is a themed anthology. There's some serious talent on display here, and here's hoping to see more from those involved.

-Nick Cato

THIS SLAUGHTERHOUSE EARTH by D.A. Madigan (2016 Amazon Digital / 160 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Another day at the office, another run in the rat race, the white-collar grind ...

... until you and your co-workers are rounded up by invading alien fish/lizard monsters armed with shock wands, herded into a conference room, and held there until they march you off one by one to some unknown but probably unpleasant fate.

Suddenly, it's all about survival. Lloyd, a few days past his forty-fourth birthday, may not be the fittest or fastest or strongest, but he's smart, he's read a lot of sci-fi, and he's got a plan. Not the noblest plan, since it only involves saving himself, but it's still a plan.

And it's a plan that can be adjusted to accommodate a partner, if that partner is buxom blonde Megan who says she'll do anything-yes-she-means-anything. If Lloyd feels a little bit sleazy about taking advantage, well, it's a dream come true in the middle of an insane bloodbath nightmare.

They soon find out it isn't just their office building under attack, and the threat to humanity ranges far wider than fish/lizard monsters ... but saving the day might mean having to put those sex plans on hold.

A fast-paced and fun wild B-movie ride, an overt middle-aged-nerd wish fulfillment heroic action hot chick fantasy that knows and owns exactly what it is, unabashedly cheesy and quite enjoyable!

-Christine Morgan

X2 by C.M. Saunders  (2015 Dead Pixel Publications / 108 pp / eBook)

This collection of ten short and not-so-sweet stories runs a creepy emotional gamut of dark varieties, from the flinchworthy flash-fic of "Tiny Little Vampires" to the anxiety-building tragic ("Treat Night").

"Little Dead Girl" starts things off with a chilling bang and is probably my favorite of the bunch, as a man in a foreign country is tormented by an inexplicable haunting.

I also particularly liked "The Night Visitor," about a guy who sneaks into peoples' houses just to look around, maybe play a harmless trick or two, nothing bad; until the night he gets caught in the act.

The final story, "Roadkill," closes it off with a horror-comics style grisly adventure of a couple of freelance ambulance drivers who pick up a patient that sure seems dead at first ...

Many of these tales come with that final ominous reveal that reminds me of urban legends, a wicked little twist right there at the end to further drive it home. Nice quick reads, fairly fun.

-Christine Morgan

SUBSTRATUM by Jonah Buck (2016 Grinning Skull Press / 262 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It's usually Chicago that gets the attention in Prohibition-era tales, so seeing a book set in -- and under -- Detroit makes for an interesting change of pace. Not only is it home to the burgeoning auto industry, not only does it have its share of crime bosses and illicit speakeasies, it sits atop an immense salt deposit riddled with miles of mineshafts and tunnels.

Those tunnels are also home to something else, something eager to prey on the hapless miners who've ventured too far below the surface. Needless to say, their disappearances don't go unnoticed. Jasper O'Malley, of the Attican Detective Agency, is hired to investigate.

Soon, accompanied by a gutsy gal and a femme fatale, Jasper is on his way back to the salt mines (but literally!). With old enemies, new ones, and inhuman monsters all trying to kill him, he's in a race against time not only to solve the case but save the day ... the city ... maybe the world ... no pressure.

My only stumbling block with this book was with issues of historical accuracy, mostly in terms of language use but some with just general various anachronistic-feeling things and details. A lot of the phrasing seemed to have too much of a modern/contemporary feel, and I found myself pausing mid-read several times to ponder whether such-and-such was common during that era or when so-and-so was invented, and stuff like that. Jarred me out of the story.

Which was a shame, because especially as it ramps up toward the explosive finale, things go from gangster-noir to full-on pulptastic Saturday matinee cliffhanger serial adventure. We're talking nonstop escalating headlong action, certain doom, and perilous escapes, with all the wisecracks, betrayals, before-I-kill-you villain monologues, delightful turns of phrase, and witty banter your heart could desire.

-Christine Morgan

THE ENDLESS FALL AND OTHER WEIRD FICTIONS by Jeffrey Thomas (2017 Lovecraft Ezine Press / 238 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is as of recently now one of my favorite short story collections to date. Thomas is a brilliantly talented author, who without error manages to engage the reader into the heart and soul of his characters, often taking them along for the wild ride through his unique imagination as these fourteen weird tales of hopeless horror, cosmic dread, and perverse despair unfold before our eyes. There are many powerful stories in this collection that will perhaps stay with you, like they did for me for some time to come, keeping you on the edge of your dream feet and peeking your head around the corner of the next dark alcoves of your mind.

Amongst my favorites in this collection were ‘Jar of Mist’, where a distant father seeks out answers to his daughter’s sudden death. At first, he believes it has something to do with her strange boyfriend that up and left her behind for a place called Sesqua Valley, but upon further inspection discovers the truth in a jar of mist at the mysterious antique shop located below her apartment. ‘The Prosthesis’, I found this story very entertaining and accurate as I personally know somebody in this line of work, and it made for a great and pleasurable reading experience as we see a more humorous side of the author here. ‘Ghosts in Amber’, is going towards the top as one of my favorite short stories of all-time list! The main character takes us on a trip down memory lane in his boring marriage when he stumbles upon some old memories, something odd leaking from the rooftop, and much more in the old factory across the street. ‘The Spectators’, otherworldly obsidian black creatures pay earth a little visit to check-in and tell you they are still out there watching. While most fear their initial arrival, as they just show up in the corner of a room in your house out of nowhere— the main character in this story embraces its presence, pours himself a glass of bourbon, and has nightly talks to the entity about some of the finer things in life until he goes back to wherever it is that he came from.

Highly recommended for fans of Weird, Horror, and Dark Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE DARK HALF OF THE YEAR edited by Ian Millstead and Pete Sutton (2016 Far Horizons e-Magazine / 194 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is not your usual book of holiday stories. The holiday theme woven throughout is both ominous and understated, touching on many obscure observances and lesser-known or semi-forgotten points of the calendar.

And yes, the focus is on darker aspects and elements, things we tend to lose sight of. These modern days, every holiday is more often than not only about shopping. It's all sales and cards and candy, instead of the old ways, the rituals, the keeping of evil at bay.

In these eighteen tales, though, you get the darkness and old rituals, the times of year when barriers thin between the worlds of the living and the dead. They're about repentance and remorse, fresh starts and second chances, secrets, traditions, love and obsession, vengeance, and more.

From whisper-quick flash fiction to longer works, and even a piece presented in graphic-novel form ... spanning eras from ancient to grim future ... in a variety of styles and genres ... a little something for everyone, to make your year that much more unsettling.

-Christine Morgan

VAMPIRE LODGE by L.E. Edwards (2012 Little Devil Books / 170 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Just goes to show you, no matter how well you think you know someone and how familiar you think you are with their work, they can always still surprise you. To wit: I learned about MONSTER LAKE years ago, got it, read it, reviewed it. But, it was only very recently (and on Twitter, no less!) that I found out about VAMPIRE LODGE.

Now, these are books for younger readers, recommended ages 10 and up. These are on par with GOOSEBUMPS and the like. But the thing is, the really stop-short-WTF thing about them is, L.E. Edwards is a pen name of the one and only Edward Lee.

It seems just so deliciously wrong. Ed Lee, Edward LEE of all people, writing for kids! Twice! So, naturally, I wasn’t about to let my omission stand. A quick order was placed, a book soon arrived, and here we go!

The story is that of Kevin, a thirteen-year-old into vampire movies and hassling his older sister. You know, a normal kid. Who is, along with his sister and their dad and his best friend and his best friend’s dad, are off for a week of fishing, hiking, kite-flying, and general relaxation at Aunt Carolyn’s remote rustic lodge.

The lodge is so remote and rustic, in fact, that it isn’t doing the best business these days. And it occurs to Kevin, upon arrival, that Aunt Carolyn is … well … weird … the way she’s so pale, wears tight black Morticia dresses, never seems to eat or be around during the day … and there’s all the wooden stakes around, not to mention the dark spooky paintings … and there’s these new guys she’s hired to work around the place, the guys who seem to spend a lot of time digging grave-sized holes in the woods …

Needless to say, Kevin has to go poking into the mystery. Needless to say, he gets more than he bargained for! Will anybody believe him, before it’s too late?

One of the many great things about this author is, he doesn’t write down to his readers. Even in his adult stuff, he’ll challenge you, make you work for it a bit, make you pay attention and learn. Vampire Lodge is no different in that regard, and this book will make a good addition to the gateway library of any budding young horror fan.

-Christine Morgan


Monday, April 3, 2017

Reviews for the Week of April 3, 2017

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


GWENDY'S BUTTON BOX by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (to be released May 30, 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 168 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Some questions simply just don't need to be asked, and questions having to do with whether or not I'd be interested in an early peek at the new Castle Rock story are right up there on the top of the list. Automatic answer is a big ol' YES PLEASE, probably with some gimme-gimme and grabby hands thrown in.

I didn't know what it was about, didn't care what it was about. A Castle Rock story by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar was all I needed to know. I didn't go looking for any online info or even read the back cover.

All else I had to go on was the title ... which made me think of grandmas and cookie tins repurposed as storage for sewing supplies ... so, as a result, I found myself in for all kinds of surprises. Not unwelcome ones, by any means, but a momentary step-back to recalibrate my expectations.

This isn't grandma. This isn't sewing supplies. Gwendy is twelve at the start of the story, and one day she meets a stranger at the park. A man in black, and if his use of the word 'palaver' isn't enough to set off warning bells, the name by which he introduces himself leaves little doubt.

He has something for Gwendy, a special gadget, a mystery box. It can do amazing things, but its gifts come at a price. Remember that one Twilight Zone episode, you know the one? Kind of like that, only, also, not really.

Gwendy then faces the ultimate, tremendous, tantalizing struggle between could and should ... who has the right to decide the fate of others ... with great power etc. etc. ... while she's just an ordinary girl with all the ordinary Pandora-effect curiosity, and right at the critical swing point between childhood superstition and adult skepticism.

Naturally, even though I full well know better, I said to myself, let's read a couple pages, a little bit before sleep. Uh-huh. Of course I wound up reading clear to the end, as if my schedule weren't wonky enough already.

No regrets, though. Well worth it, even with the whining and swearing at the alarm clock. This is a perfect bite-sized little read, as satisfying as an exquisite morsel of chocolate (read, and you'll see, you'll know what I mean!)

-Christine Morgan

In 1974, 12 year old Gwendy Peterson is trying hard to lose weight. She climbs the tall "Suicide Stairs" every day in her small town of Castle Rock, and she's even starting to see some progress. One day she meets a strange man named Mr. Farris who gives her a special box, one that changes her life over the course of her junior high, high school, and even college years.

During this time, Gwendy becomes the smartest and most beautiful girl in school. Her old friends become jealous and boys dream of dating her. She knows it's due to the strange powers the box have given, but when she decides to finally do things with it Mr. Farris  cautioned about, even world events seem to now be under Gwendy--and the button box's--control.

It was great to read a long lost tale set in Castle Rock, and this novella-sized story can be enjoyed in a single sitting. A coming of age tale with supernatural leanings and a constant, gloomy undercurrent, GWENDY'S BUTTON BOX is a smart, satisfying story that causes the reader to contemplate their own life path and think twice about what "buttons" one may push.

-Nick Cato

A LIFE TO WASTE by Andrew Lennon (2013 Grand Mal Press / 147 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

The first chapter of this book gave me such a vivid and visceral reaction, such a fuming frothing fists-clenched fit of rage, I almost couldn't stand it.

Why? Because Dave. That damn guy, that guy everyone knows at least one of. The user, the loser, the abuser, the sulky overgrown manchild who does nothing and expects someone else to take care of him.

I hate that guy. In the vehement want-to-slap-the-crap-out-of-them way I normally hate very few people. Kneejerk, hit a nerve, too close to home. I didn't know if I'd be able to keep reading.

But, after a few moments to collect myself, I pressed on. After all, the cover blurb promised gore and horror, so, I was optimistic really awful things were gonna happen to Dave. (the blurb also promised redemption, for which in his case I wasn't a fan, but could at least hope it'd come at a high price).

Anyway, so, here's Dave, petulant and demanding, living with his long-suffering mother. Through glimpses into his past, we learn of the person he once was, the potential he once had. We see where things went wrong, how he became the angry slacker with no life, who stays up watching movies all night and listening to the lady next door scream at her boyfriends.

Until the night the lady next door turns out to be not only screaming, but missing, and Dave wonders if he could have saved her. Until he realizes there's a maniac -- human or otherwise -- on the loose. Until its next target is his mom.

The prospect manages to spur Dave into action, getting him off the couch and onto the trail of a monster ... where the gore and horror really kicks into high gear. I do still think Dave ultimately got off a little too easy there at the end, but then, as I said ... I hate that guy.

-Christine Morgan

THE CLUB by Kyle M. Scott (2017 Amazon Digital / 222 pp / eBook)

This is the first book I’ve read by the author and it definitely won’t be the last. It’s a brutally dark and gruesome romp through the darkest recesses of a murderous sociopath’s mind, blood-soaked with some more gore for fun along the way. After reading this book, I think it’s safe to say that Scott can craft a gruesome tale alongside the best of them. Think Edward Lee. Think Jack Ketchum. Think the film 'Another Day in Paradise' meets 'The Devil’s Rejects,' or 'The Hills Have Eyes,' maybe even 'Hostel,' but with torture segments far more dark and sexually depraved. Warning: this book is not for the faint of heart. If you are fluent with the terms Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror and the content doesn’t bother you or that’s your thing, you’ll be okay. But, if you aren’t and are easily offended you’ll most likely want to stay away from this one and go on to tell the author he needs every bit of counseling and therapy he can afford.

The book tells the twisted story through the eyes of five separate characters. Four of them amidst a murderous rampage, an over-the-road-trip killing spree across the darker parts of the U.S, and one of their helpless hostages; a gorgeous girl that the leader of the group of misfits, Jason, wants to save all for himself, going into depth the special plans he has for her after he kills and has his way with her sister. And, although we never really get a clear description of any of the characters’ appearance, we do get a strong sense of their emotion, impending doom as the plot thickens, and their overall character, enabling us to connect with them very much the same through their different POV’s on what is going on at the time and how they’re feeling about their overall missions and objectives. The crew hits the deep woods after the cops thicken in town, as there are too many risks. After a falling out with one of their members, Conner (he’s wanting to leave before getting caught by the cops), the hostage escapes, as the others hold him over the fire and put an end to his cowardly weakness. Now Jason has the girls all to himself.

This is where things really start to get bloody and interesting. After everything the girl and the crew has been through leading up to this point, it only takes a turn for the worse. Her character develops into much more of a fighter, and the content of the book picks up heightened levels of dark and sexual depravity, as the crew stumbles upon a mansion in the middle of the woods and gets a literal taste of their own medicine as they fight for survival of the fittest. The driveway is full of fancy, black luxury vehicles, and there appears to be quite the gathering going on inside. It has to be safe, right? After all it’s a club constructed of some of the richest and wealthiest men and woman in the country.

Recommended for fans of Splatterpunk, Extreme Horror, and Dark Fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

FATHOMLESS by Greig Beck (2016 Cohesion Press / 412 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

There's so much under us and we have no idea ... under the earth, under the sea ... we send our submersibles into the deepest waters, we venture into the darkest of caves ... but we've barely explored the eensiest fraction of either.

So, naturally, when there's an opportunity to do both, on a scale of unprecedented immensity -- not just a subterranean river or lake but an entire vast underground sea! -- how could evolutionary biologist Cate Granger pass it up? Especially if there's a chance she might also solve an old family mystery. All she has to do is come up with the funding.

Okay, maybe it's beyond the university's budget, but she isn't going to let that stop her. Not when she can enlist the aid of Valery Mironov, a Russian billionaire with all sorts of connections and an interest in ancient marine life. He can provide all the hardware, though he does want to come along.

That's when the problems really begin. Problems besides the usual ones of interpersonal conflicts among the team, and the general risks of the mission. Problems like enemies, and sabotage. And, of course, that vast underground sea is far from empty. Cut off from the rest of the world for countless millennia, its denizens include hungry life forms thought long extinct.

The result is a harrowing nightmare of survival adventure showcasing multiple phobias, where situations rapidly go from bad to worse. Aside from a few nagging but minor inconsistencies here and there, I found Fathomless to be another worthy addition to my personal playlist of chompy toothy aquatic monster mega-hits, packed with action and exceptionally fantastic full-immersion environmental and critter descriptions.

-Christine Morgan

ROTTEN LITTLE ANIMALS by Kevin Shamel (2009 Eraserhead Press / 109 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

All those charming secret-life-of-pets stories where animals are as intelligent as people and of course they can really talk ... helpful animals, loyal, devoted, friendly ... and even the grouchy curmudgeonly ones turn out to be good-hearted in the end ...

Yeah, this book is not that. Oh, some of these animals may live with us and work with us and even love us in their way, but they'll interfere and sabotage and do whatever's necessary to keep their secret. Including killing any humans who stumble across the truth.

Which is what a motley crew of rats and chickens and various disreputable strays should have done when a snooping nosy kid discovers them filming a low-budget zombie-cat movie. Instead, they have the bright idea to abduct him and make a movie about that. THEN kill him. And eat him.

The result is far from any Disney-esque magical fairytale of wonder and adventure and catchy little songs. There's drinking and drug use, porn, cross-species sex, violence, betrayal, and just all kinds of grim nasty stuff.

Hilariously offensive, totally wrong, severely messed up, terrifically tacky, and an absolute blast from start to finish. It'd make a great animated feature, a la Sausage Party, with notable Hollywood celebs as voice actors. And a really big-letters parental advisory plastered all over the place.

-Christine Morgan