Sunday, March 11, 2018

Reviews for the Week of March 12, 2018

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


WALKING ALONE by Bentley Little (to be released April, 2018 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 304 pp / hardcover)

Little’s second full-sized short story collection (after 2002’s THE COLLECTION) features a career-spanning lot of 27 tales, several appearing here for the first time.

The stories are presented chronologically in the years they were released or written, starting back in 1984 with ‘Milk Ranch Point,’ a creepy Western that’s like a cross between THE GUNS OF WILL SONNETT and IT’S ALIVE, then 1985’s ‘Snow’ pits a married couple against living snowmen on an isolated stretch of road. The occult-ish finale may feel a bit dated but it works. Then again the story is 33 years old, so...

The next three entries are also from ‘85, starting with ‘Children’s Hospital,’ where a young man with leukemia befriends a new kid in the ward. They’re picked on by a bully who is convinced they both have AIDS. But the new kid has an unusual way of bringing the bully to an understanding in this powerful social commentary. ‘Palm Reader’ displays the macabre, creative, and darkly humorous side of Little we fans have come to love. A great reveal gives this one a solid chill with the chuckles. Then in ‘Slam Dance’ we meet Anna, a straight-A student at a Catholic school who gets her hands on a “slam book” and learns what her fellow students really think of her. But when she starts writing her own insults in the book, her classmates begin to get in trouble and even...change.

‘Last Rodeo on the Circuit’ (1986): Rob and Teena wind up at a huge (though isolated) rodeo and discover much more than abused animals are part of the show. Classic Little craziness abounds.

In 1987’s ‘The Car Wash,’ young Timmy’s grandfather believes an abandoned car wash is haunted. After a young girl is found there dead, Timmy’s life quickly descends into sheer terror as only Little can deliver.

‘The Feeb’ (1988) is a weird kid who lives alone and, as the local teens discover, is responsible for the town’s sudden crop and livestock decline. A weird EC comics-type monster tale with even weirder sex!

Shooting into 1991 we have ‘The Mall,’ which is an abandoned structure standing in the center of a gang/gun infested city. A young boy thinks he sees his dead father lurking inside the place in this heartbreaking ghost tale. 1994’s ‘Hunting’ finds a father and son bonding over a camping trip, but their relationship changes when they return home and the son learns of his mother’s infidelity.

‘The Piano Player Has No Fingers’ (1996): Ed is double crossed out of a major development deal and now sits in jail. His old friend goes to bat for him and discovers a demon and magic working behind the scenes in this modern occult-noir tale. Good stuff and a bit different from what we expect of Little.

In ‘The Man Who Watched Cartoons’ (1999), Marilyn is concerned her young daughter Jenny has been corrupted by their senior, wheelchair bound neighbor Mr. Gault. But after going through her daughter’s belongings, Marilyn makes a shocking discovery in what (I believe) is one of Little’s most disturbing stories.

Jumping to 2016, we get the flash piece ‘Apt Punishment,’ a two-sentence tale that will make you squirm and doubt the author’s sanity (that’s a compliment, BTW). The next 12 stories are also from 2016, beginning with ‘Black Friday,’ which is a real treat if you’re a fan of Little’s 1997 novel THE STORE. This one takes place in that world on the worst/busiest shopping day of the year! Excellent. ‘Mona Retrospective, Los Angeles’ features several controversial artists of the past returning to prove they still have what it takes to shock a crowd, and man, do they ever. In ‘Jorgensen’s Fence,’ Rich begins to admire his neighbor’s beautiful new fence, but when he learns how it was made his life goes in a dark, downward spiral. One of my favorites here and a fine example of Little’s ability to combine macabre horror with absurd humor and deliver a truly terrifying tale.

‘The Silence of the Trees’ is another treat for Little fans as one of his old characters returns to solve a supernatural murder mystery...and perhaps this is a prelude to a future novel? ‘Sticky Note’ is a yellow Post It spotted in the gutter by a man who thinks the message written on it (“Kill her”) is directed at him in this paranoid thriller. In ‘The Smell of Overripe Loquats,’ young Johnny is supposed to be at Sunday mass but the neighborhood kids introduce him to a god of their own making in an abandoned house. A great coming of age/religious horror tale and a highlight of the collection.

‘The Maid’ is a sexy Hispanic worker named Rosa at a posh hotel who gives vacationing couple Chapman and Shauna a difficult time. But when Chapman tries to get her fired it turns out no Rosa works there in this slab of freaky horror. ‘Schoolgirls’ is perhaps what the film CLUELESS would be had it been shot in hell. We’re thrown into a savage world that while extreme, seems all too real.

In ‘Under Midwest Skies’ we meet Louis, a New Yorker stuck on a business trip to an isolated section of the country. He hears a tornado warning on the radio and takes refuge in a small town. But what he encounters is pure insanity Little fans will love.

‘Pictures of Huxley’ examines Jillian’s life in the wake of her young son’s death. Pictures of him around her home are starting to change, and some are even starting to ... an emotional, haunting, heartbreaking story and one of the best here. ‘My College Admission Essay’ is written by an applicant who was asked what obstacles he had to overcome in his life. Short and incredibly disturbing (be warned if you’re among the growing legion of those who fear clowns).

In ‘Pool, Air Conditioning, Free HBO,’ Todd and Heather have decided to combine their honeymoon with a cross country trip. They check in to a run down motel in New Mexico and become the target of a sinister dwarf manager and strange neighbors. Little combines horror and dark humor so well here you’ll be spooked as laughs sneak out the side of your mouth. I re-read this after finishing the collection as it’s the epitome of what I love about the author’s style.

The last two tales are from 2017: ‘The Train’ finds a school picnic in full swing, but at the end of the day two dads decided to stay with their young sons to take a train ride around the park. Leave it to Bentley Little to turn a children’s ride into a seriously frightening experience.

The closer is a flash piece titled ‘A Random Thought From God’s Day.’ Like most of what proceeds it, this is darkly funny, terrifying, and what people not into sports (like myself) often think. I couldn’t be more into the author after this one if I tried.

Bentley Little is often praised for his short stories, and while THE COLLECTION (2002) is still my favorite of his works, WALKING ALONE is an impressive display of his talent, his newer stories here testifying he has truly become a master of the macabre, the weird, the just plain “out there.” A couple of tales show Little perhaps a bit more “normal,” but those who may have an issue with this will be glad to know his deranged side is still very well represented.

Long time fans will find much to love here (and not only for the nods to past stories and novels), while newcomers looking for no-holds-barred horror will undoubtedly leave satisfied.

-Nick Cato

HIDDEN CITY by Alan Baxter (2018 Gryphonwood Press / 266 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’ve encountered my share of urban fantasy over the years, both as a reader and a gamer … but in all that time, I’ve never seen it done like this! Urban fantasy without elves and orcs, without werewolves and vampires, without wizarding schools or secretive mystic cabals … but modern magic wielded by ordinary people.

It’s a different kind of magic, too. Actually, it’s several different kinds of magic. This isn’t your bell-book-candle formulaic kind of deal with wands or rituals. It’s handled almost more like psychic abilities, or superpowers, where each individual is going to have his or her own particular type of gift. I love that approach, and here it works extremely well here.

So, you’ll have your talents who can heal, or make illusions, or enhance technology, most of them fairly minor. Some work together, some mostly operate solo but maintain their connections among the weird community. For the most part, they keep things fairly low-key. This isn’t big epic Dr. Strange-scale cosmic arcana … at least, usually it isn’t.

Steven Hines, our main character, self-describes as a ‘citymage.’ He is linked, on an intense and intimate level, to the city of Cleveport, attuned to its activities and moods as if the city itself is a living being with which he shares a telepathic/empathic bond. They can communicate, help each other. But it comes at a cost. His travel options are severely limited, for one. For another, Cleveport is very much the jealous type when it comes to his other relationships.

He is allowed to have friends, though, including his childhood BFF Abby Jones, now a police detective. Although she doesn’t understand (or much want to) the whole magic thing, she recognizes it can be useful in solving certain cases. Like the one she’s got now, with several inexplicable deaths with connections to the talented community.

You might think this was gearing up to your classic buddy movie, Alien Nation with a magic twist, that new Will Smith one, whatever. And you wouldn’t be far wrong, but you also wouldn’t be fully right. As our main two undertake their investigation, events across the city are already building toward a crisis, and other characters are being pulled in.

A beat cop finds himself dealing with spates of seemingly random violent attacks and bizarre transformations … a young mage is scared and on the run after her boyfriend’s overdose … a mob boss is unhappy with gone-awry shipments of a magic-specific drug … pretty soon all of Cleveport is basically going nuts, and it’s up to a small group of mismatched heroes to try and save the day.

Action-packed from start to finish, layered with levels of subtle but deep backstory, lively, fast-paced, gripping, and fun, Hidden City is a definite winner. I’m thinking Netflix series. Somebody should get on that.

-Christine Morgan

BROTHEL by Stephanie M. Wytovich (2016 Raw Dog Screaming Press / 172 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

I always begin my poetry reviews by stating, "I'm not a big poetry reader, but..." and this time is no exception. But it seems there has been plenty of poetry in the horror world lately, much from some of my favorite writers. This is also my first review of an audiobook, a copy of which I won on a raffle through the author's Twitter page. So over the course of a few weeks, I listened to this collection of dark poetry during my drive to-and-from work. Let me begin by pointing out the voice of reader Veronica Giguere made me feel as if I was in a coffee houses' open mic night circa 1967, with fingers snapping and the smell of espresso surrounding me. And while at first I was overtaken by the sensation her voice creates, by the end it was the witty, wise, and at times just plain wonderful words of Wytovich that won me over.

There are many pieces here (156 to be exact) told from the point of view of a Madame that blend together into what is pretty much a novella written in verse. With titles such as 'Dirty Sheets,' 'Clitorial,' 'Gasp for Air,' 'White Dahlia Abortion,' and 'Violent Fantasies,' Wytovich delivers an engrossing study of sex and death within the Working Girls profession and the Brothel of the title. In poems such as 'Ripped Stockings,' the author's ability to bring life to her characters is on full display: "Holes make a star appearance on vulgarized flesh, as my attempt to be lady-like fails. There's a rip near my crotch and it does nothing ... but make me laugh." Pure gold, folks. GOLD. This goes into a piece titled 'Rough Play,' which further lets us into the narrator's psyche, as do all that proceed and follow. Best of all, the women in Wytovich's world may be prostitutes but they're no one's permanent slaves, and at times, we fear and respect them.

I would've liked BROTHEL had I read it in printed form, but as an audio experience I loved it. I've been to many open mic poetry nights at local coffee houses in my hometown of NYC, and the work on display here would not only fit in perfectly but earn standing ovations. Highly recommended in any format, but I believe the audio will blow you away.

-Nick Cato

CLOVENHOOF by Heide Goode and Iain Grant (2012 Pigeon Park Press / 397 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Huh, well, what do you know … feeling sympathy for the devil IS possible! I’ve been a big fan of Edward Lee’s Mephistopolis for years, but even his take on the big bad guy is kind of lackluster. Here, though, as much of a jerk as he is, there’s just something goofily likable about Jeremy Clovenhoof.

Imagine the afterlife being run like a mega-corporation, with business meetings and mission statements, obsessed with productivity, processing souls, managing resources, all that fussy bureaucratic stuff. Imagine saints and archangels in a celestial boardroom, arguing about sins and entry requirements.

Imagine Satan being told he needs to improve Hell’s performance, and when his efforts don’t meet the board’s standards, him being ousted in a sneaky corporate coup. Worst of all, he’s banished to mortal Earth, where he’s expected to live as an ordinary human. He’s got a flat in the English suburbs, a glamour to disguise the horns and hooves, a new name, and what Heaven considers a generous severance package.

He is, however, not thrilled about any of this. His initial efforts to blend in lead to disaster after disaster. He burns through his money with nary a care as he discovers television and the internet. His neighbors don’t know what to make of him. Nobody greets him with the respect and fear he deserves. His old adversary Michael keeps popping in to check on him at inopportune times.

Various schemes – starting a heavy metal band, getting a job at a funeral home, seeking romance – continue to go diabolically wrong, but Jeremy refuses to give up. When he eventually suspects there’s more to his exile than he first thought, nothing will do but to find a way back to confront the powers on high.

The tone – even when describing various atrocities, mutilation, and cannibalism – is wicked and fun, casual, charming, snarky, reminiscent of The Screwtape Letters. I was delighted to discover it’s the first of a series, if shocked I had only now learned of it. Definitely want to pick up the rest!

-Christine Morgan

SICK HOUSE by Jeff Strand (2018 Amazon Digital Services / 214 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

First off, I’d like to take a moment and shamefully admit that I’m underdressed and somehow showing up very, very late to the Strand dinner party. In fact, I’m so late that when I’m walking in the rest of the crowd is slamming down their silverware on the table linen, choking on their first bite of worm rot sushi, turning their faceless heads, and snarling in my general direction as I hang my head and search for an empty seat amongst the swarm, hoping that nobody will smell the abundance of alcohol still lingering on my breath. I’m not quite sure how or exactly why but other than a coauthored release from years and years ago, I have yet to sit down and dig into the dirt of any of the author’s substantial number of prior works available on the market today. With that being said, this will DEFINITELY not be the last and I have some severe catching up to do.

So, what do we actually have here? A typical haunted house story? Yes and no. This is where things get exciting. We do have the usual tropes found within the typical haunted house all know it, a couple moves into a haunted house and is spooked out by the strange occurrences happening there, somebody eventually gets hurt, etc. But, what makes Strand’s work unique is that while sticking to the structure of the usual haunted house plot he takes it so much further. The book is often comical at times, which is a pleasant change of pace that adds to the value of entertainment. The characters are all well thought out and constructed to where you can actually visualize the events taking place. Also, we are introduced to a recurring sub-plot with a big back story, sometimes alternating chapters back and forth between the main plot, telling multiple stories at the same time in an almost before and after type of setting of the same location.

Long story, short: The main character takes a new job in a new town and he and his family move there, rent a haunted house where they soon discover terrible murders have taken place (we learn about the gruesome past first hand as the book progresses). Soon the family is faced with fruit that rots in a day, self-mutilation, torture, gore, gore, and more gore. The spirits are ruthless, violent and seek the utmost revenge to the house’s new inhabitants. How do you kill something that is already dead? Well, I guess you’ll have to read it and check it out for yourself.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

SHE SAID DESTROY by Nadia Bulkin (2017 Word Horde / 198 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection has been getting a lot of attention in terms of reviews, award noms, and the like. It’s also got an intro by Paul Tremblay, no small potatoes of an accomplishment either. And it is easy to see why; these are all masterful stories.

They are not light, quick, casual reads, either. These are the kind that demand your entire concentration. Or, rather, that grab your entire concentration and hold it Stockholm-hostage, a willing partner in your own abduction.

Have your mental passport ready, too … many of these are set in far more exotic locales than typical. The opening tale, “Intertropical Convergence Zone,” is one such, and one that gave me chills down to the marrow. Whether interpreted literally or metaphorically, it’s eerie and powerful.

“Truth is Order and Order is Truth” blew me away with its unexpected beauty, while “No Gods, No Masters” delivers with demonic bloodlines. “Red Goat, Black Goat” presents one of the most unusual and scary gothics I’ve seen in a while.

Another particular standout is the amazingly imagined “Pugelbone.” I love this kind of extrapolory world-building to begin with, and the addition of the title critters themselves takes it to whole new levels of WTF.

Within these pages, you’ll find cold hard death, wry dark humor, pain and suffering, hauntings, strange religions, twists on cosmic horrors, familial legacies, and much more. Do yourself a treat, get this book, mark out a nice block of uninterrupted time, and sink on in.

Just remember, this is the heavy stuff, the dark stuff; this is not gonzo splatter or quiet literary but its own deep brand of dread-at-the-core.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, February 19, 2018

Reviews for the Week of February 19, 2018

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

DOWN THERE & OTHERS by Keith Minnion (2017 White Noise Press / 206 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m always thrilled to check out new material from Keith Minnion, and in his latest short story collection there are several previously unpublished pieces. The 17 tales are:

-THE BLUE CAT: An old woman adds a glass cat to her collection of porcelain figurines. But the seemingly inanimate feline brings an unwanted darkness to her world.

-ON THE HOOKS: Mal lives in a small community of survivors (of what we’re not told). He hunts by night to bring food and goods back to his people, and after clashing with a young boy during an outing we learn just how desperate times have become.

-SO MANY HATS: A sinister slice of flash fiction.

-UNDER THE WING: A brief but heartbreaking sci-fi tale.

-OLD BONES: Novel excerpt featuring a fossil dig and time travel. I’m hooked!

-A TRAIL OF FOOTPRINTS: A struggling alcoholic helps his neighbors locate their son in a snowstorm. But the footprints he follows has him questioning his own reality. A haunting mystery with a head scratching (but satisfying) conclusion.

-PATERFAMILIAS: Quick sci-fi piece that seems like part of a bigger story. A man tries to juggle his wife and a beautiful android-like servant.

-RUNNERS RUNNING: A college student gets fed up with her self-centered boyfriend and decides to move on.

-CLOSE THE DOOR: I’m a big fan of Minnion’s 2011 THE BONE WORMS, and here’s a final chapter to it that takes place 20 years after the events of the novel. One of my favorites of the collection.

-WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE WHEN I DO THIS?: Odd tale of a man’s first time with a woman, and what he does today.

-THE HOLES: A wonderful coming of age story. Minnion keeps the mystery going until the end making this one of the creepier entries.

-LITTLE SISTER: Augustine’s younger sibling needs to get her leg fixed, but no one seems to want to help them in this nifty chiller.

-GHOSTS: a young space traveler gets supernatural help to complete an impossible mission. Some slick world building enhances this solid sci-fi romp.

-MOONS FOR MY PILLOW, STARS FOR MY BED: a young girl has a magical encounter with an old man at a laundromat in this light hearted fantasy.

-THE WAMPYR: flash piece about a ghoulish figure’s insatiable appetite.

-DOWN THERE finds a man working with the Navy on a mission that requires the ultimate sacrifice to keep the apocalypse at bay. A creepy-as-hell thriller that I’ve read before...and it holds up quite well.

-DOG STAR caps off the collection and is another novel excerpt, this time a supernatural mystery centered around an artist named Cy whose friend pulls him into an odd situation. Like the aforementioned OLD BONES, Minnion again has me hooked!

DOWN THERE shows off the author’s skills across several genres, and features over a dozen drawings by him. A couple of stories seem to play out like non-genre dramas, but even those will hold your interest. Keith has been at this a long time, and it’s long overdue you treat yourself to his world if you’ve yet to enter it.

-Nick Cato

YEAR'S BEST HARDCORE HORROR VOL 1 AND 2 edited by Randy Chandler, Cheryl Mullenax (2016, 2017 Comet Press / 295 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Saw a meme going around recently, some sort of ‘how much of a literary snob are you’ thing, and I could only laugh. I mean, okay, it didn’t help I was deep into a back-to-back read of these two volumes of the extreme of the extreme.

Oh, the classic, the quiet, the elegant, the subtle and poetic and discreet … oh, the crass crude pulp wallowing in violence, sex, and gore … surely nobody would enjoy BOTH! Surely. Yeah right. But, wait! I’ll let you in on a secret here – if you get lucky, with the right blend of writers, stories, and talents, you can have it all in the same delightful package.

That’s what you get here. Not in every tale, to be sure; some of them are the full glorious bellyflop into viscera and atrocity, guaranteed to make even the hardiest reader cringe. Others, though, others transcend, taking things to a higher level. Elevating it, as they say on the cooking shows.

No wonder, though, when you look at the lineups of authors. Wrath James White is here, the undisputed master of primal sexpain and kink. So’s the leading lady of the extreme, Monica J. O’Rourke. Anything by either of them will haunt you forever. Powerhouses like Tim Waggonner, Kristopher Triana, and Adam Cesare, too.

And the titles! No other genre can pull off titles like “Bath Salt Fetus,” or “King Sh*ts” with such aplomb. No other genre can get away with sheer ickiness like Tim Miller’s “Backne” or Pete Kahle’s agonizing “Where the Sun Don’t Shine.”

Of them all, my personal favorite is “55 Ways I’d Prefer Not To Die” by Michael A. Arnzen; it brings – of all things – whimsy to a series of flinchworthy and all-too-relateable scenarios. It pairs well with stark contrast to Stephanie M. Wytovich’s gorgeously done crimson-drenched vignettes in “On This Side of Bloodletting;” those two alone are shiver-fuel for a year.

If you approach these books like some compilation of torture porn, surgical videos, and gross jokes … well, you’ll probably still have a fantastic time. You’ll just be missing out on some nuance. Take your time. Appreciate. Enjoy.

Just hurry and catch up, because I hear Volume 3 is on the way soon!

-Christine Morgan

FOREST UNDERGROUND by Lydian Faust (2017 Sinister Horror Company / 122 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, where to start? I’d say one-part psychological horror meets fairy tale meets dark fantasy meets two parts modern horror with a couple of bloody twists of earth root, for a perfectly blended horror novella from this powerful debut from the mind of Lydian Faust.

I’ll even admit, at first, I wasn’t really getting into the story with the whole fairy tale bit, especially because it was such a memorable one as a child, but I kept with the big bad wolf because the writing was that solid, and I’ve always enjoyed reading segments that take place between a psychiatrist and their patient—let’s face it: the more messed up, the better. The author manages to pull off what I didn’t like about the story at first exceptionally well, keeping the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next, and then a couple twists threw me right back into the mix and even caught me off guard a few times. I then found myself enjoying the beginning of the book that much more even though I’d personally thought I’d already wrote it off and moved on.

A sinister psychiatrist feeds off the disillusion of one of her rare subjects, a female who thinks she’s living the actual reality of little red riding hood, and then attempts to pin her own personal murders on her patient’s deceased relative by attempting to embed her crimes into her patient’s traumatic memory by making her believe a loved one committed them and was aware of the location of the bones. Brilliant. In the end, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Faust has the power to mess with your mind. Can’t wait to read some more. Don’t forget to cross your T’s, dot your eyes, and bury your goddamn bones.

Definitely Recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

LIGHTBRINGERS by David Price (2017 Crossroad Press / 397 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

Okay, normally, anything prophecy/Destined-One is an automatic no-go for me; gives me an eye twitch. Seen so much of it, too much of it, not often well handled. I even scolded Douglas Preston at a signing once for them dragging prophecy into the Pendergast books. Suffice to say, I’m not a fan.

But I went ahead and gave this hefty tome a try because the rest of the premise sounded intriguing – a semi-post-apocalyptic future where cosmic horror runs smack up against the legends and folklore of our world (I do love me some myth-meets-Mythos). Magic is real, a lot of technology has been lost or forgotten, and the result is a sweeping decade-spanning epic, beginning with a young woman meeting a forest god and becoming pregnant with twins believed to be the Lightbringers, gifted with hope and healing, to help drive back the forces of darkness. Which, of course, the forces of darkness are not happy about, sending terrors to threaten the twins even before they’re born.

The book’s done in a very storyteller style with emphasis on the ‘tell,’ and again, normally, this’d be another automatic no-go for me. I prefer intimate character POV and the whole show-don’t-tell thing. Yet, here, with this strong narration and narrative voice, it still somehow works. This is something it’s easy to imagine actually being told.

The dialogue combines the more formal/archaic fantasy sounding stuff with modern terms, usage, slang, and references. It’s a little jarring at times but overall works well. We get to follow one of the Lightbringers and his companions on his journey; it’s part fairy tale quest and part survival adventure, with tests and hazards and personal obstacles to overcome.

Reading along, there will come a point when you realize there’s way too much left to be contained within one volume, setting up for a sequel or trilogy or series. Which, of course, because that’s the way these big sweeping epics should be!

-Christine Morgan

CORPSE COLD: NEW AMERICAN FOLKLORE edited by John Brehl & Joseph Sullivan (2017 Cemetery Gates Media / 214 pp / trde paperback & eBook)

Imagine a twenty story, short story collection where every entry is dark, clever, and very different from each other, but all contain some similar aesthetic that relates in great and memorable ways and then bundle it up with creepy illustrations by Chad Wehrle, while boasting some of the most intricate book formatting I’ve seen in quite some time. That’s what CORPSE COLD from Cemetery Gates Media manages to do. The only negative thing I have to say about this book is the fact I decided to read it on my kindle and didn’t wait to purchase the actual physical copy. I could see going back to reference certain stories found within, and with a such a great cover, an excellent book to leave sitting out on the coffee table to spark up a spooky conversation with friends and family, or whoever else may be visiting your lonesome flat.

The recurring theme found in all the stories here is dark and spooky, from one story to the next, each one terrifying, clever and unique in their own dark and demented ways, written in a way that is easy to share and read, making each tale that much more powerful. My personal favorites were, 'Switches,' 'Black Dog,' 'Czarny Lud,' 'Moss Lake Island' (one of my recently new favorite creepy witch stories of all-time), 'It that Decays,' and 'A Casket for My Mother.' All dark, eerie, and beautifully written horror stories to come back to from time to time or perhaps share with one another around a campfire, but don’t forget to look behind you every now and again because there may be something lurking in the trees right behind you.

Did you hear that?

-Jon R. Meyers


Monday, February 5, 2018

Reviews for the Week of February 5, 2018

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

LOVEBITES AND RAZORLINES by J. Daniel Stone (2017 Villipede Publications / 270 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Dang but that is a sweet title, ominous and evocative and gorgeous and sinister. Okay, so, turns out it’s from a song, but so what? It fits. It suits. The stories contained within this collection are also ominous, evocative, gorgeous, and sinister.

And sharp. And dark. And painful. With blood. It’ll hurt, it’ll cut, you’ll do that inward-hissing breath thing, but in the so-good kind of way that’s hard to resist.

Most are city-stories, the side of a city that admittedly scares the willies out of me. The night’s edge underside, the streets and clubs, the tunnels, the shadows. Tough young people, some with wise old souls, face dangers and strange marvels. Contrasts are played up – New York and San Francisco, the vastly different feels of each.

Art, love, drugs, loss, desire, music, magic, obsession, grief … they’re all here, presented with skill and beauty ranging from subtle to smack-your-face stunning.

Bucking the usual format, too, there’s an author’s note at the beginning of each story, to help set the stage and cast the tone. It’s a neat touch, done well, enticing without giving too much away, and pointing out some of the connections between tales for added depth.

-Christine Morgan

THE GATE THEORY by Kaaron Warren (2017 IFWG Publishing / 124 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Warren, author of the celebrated novels SLIGHTS and MYSTIFICATION, shines in this powerful short story collection, presented here in its second edition.

In opener PURITY, a girl living in squalor has her life changed by a charismatic man who is able to make people laugh to forget their troubles...or do they?

THAT GIRL: an artist becomes fascinated with an unusual old woman named Malvika who resides in a mental ward. She hears ghost stories from local cab drivers that seem to point to Malvika. A truly haunting tale that while brief, digs deep.

DEAD SEA FRUIT: a dental surgeon, who cares for anorexic girls near death, learns of an urban legend, and her new lover may just be the fabled man her patients dream of meeting. Tense with a grim finale.

THE HISTORY THIEF: Alvin finds himself looking at his dead body. In time he ventures out of his home, and discovers when people come into contact with his spirit he can see their history, and even become visible and solid for a short time. He uses this gift to help police solve murders, but what he learns of a childhood crush leads him to his destiny. A wonderfully fresh ghost story.

THE GAZE DOGS OF NINE WATERFALL: Gina has quite the different job: she gets hired to obtain rare dog breeds for wealthy clients. She manages to get a couple of rare “vampire dogs” for a doctor who intends to use them for leech-like bleeding therapy. I loved this story (although I’m not sure you’d call this horror). Interesting, unusual fare.

And in the title story, THE GATE THEORY, A woman, along with her sister’s spirit, deals with homelessness in an isolated area in yet another fresh take on ghosts and the afterlife.

Warren has a voice all her own, her female leads often strong, smart, and with a wickedly dark sense of humor. The aura running among these stories bond to create a collection in its own league.

-Nick Cato

KIND NEPENTHE by Matthew V. Brockmeyer (2017 Black Rose Writing / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Northern California … REAL Northern California, not that central Bay-Area stuff … the misty coastal forest, the emerald triangle … I went to college at Humboldt State and have family in the area … let me tell you, that place is its own special brand of weird even before anybody starts mixing in the supernatural.

As hippy-dippy kooky-charming as the towns around there can be, with quaint homegrowers and commune holdovers from the 60’s, the real big business takes place further out in the woods. That’s where the story takes place, where a single mom is about to find out the hard way that her plans for green living aren’t going to be as easy as she hoped.

Rebecca, with her daughter Megan, has followed her boyfriend there with the dream of building up a nest egg to start her own little farm. All they have to do is see through the season at a grow op out in the backwoods. Working for a shifty dude, with neighbors into even more illicit things. Already uneasy, right?

But wait, there’s more … the property’s got a history, and reputed hauntings, and before long little Megan’s behavior takes some unsettling turns … and Rebecca’s boyfriend is turning distant … and things are going badly with those neighbors … it develops almost a “The Shining” kind of feel, without the hotel and snow but with the isolation and unraveling madness.

Add unexpected twists, and some really good grisly gore, and characters who behave believably even as you want to smack them, and you’ve got a read that’s anything but peace and love among the redwoods.

-Christine Morgan

F4 by Larissa Glasser (2018 Eraserhead Press / 150 pp / trade paperback)

Glasser's debut novella deals with a transgender bartender named Carol working on a luxury cruise ship that happens to be surgically (and apparently mechanically) attached to the back of a sleeping kaiju, who happens to be one of the largest monsters the world has ever seen. As if this wasn't strange enough, Carol becomes the target of a deranged ship captain, a gang of Internet trolls, and is followed by a black hole-like rift known as The Sway.

Part of Eraserhead Press' "New Bizarro Author Series," Glasser lets everything rip as we learn about the 3 kaiju's who came before F4, thrill to plenty of off-the-wall action scenes, and as weird as things get, everything is kept concise and in order, right down to the satisfying finale. There's plenty of dark (and sarcastic) humor and the pace is just right.

This fun, crazy debut is what most midnight cult films strive to be.

-Nick Cato

PAPER-MACHE JESUS by Kevin L. Donihe (2013 Eraserhead Press / 154 pp / trade paperback)

Not for nothing is Kevin L. Donihe one of the OG bizarros; he's a living example of how some weirdness simply cannot be contained. Like, imagine Jeff Goldblum doing his Jurassic Park speech ... bizarro finds a way. If it can't find a way, it'll make one. It'll bust out. You just can't hold that kind of crazy in.

And if the genre doesn't exist, well, you MAKE it exist. You carve out that niche, run with it, roll with it, make it your own. If you're as skilled as you are skewed, as creative as you are crazy, you'll find an appreciative audience of like-minded weirdos.

The eighteen stories in this collection, written over a span of decades, are, well, pretty seriously bent. Strange gods, computers attempting to save humanity, fast food nightmares and disturbed children, inanimate objects coming to life, meetings among villains, and more.

My particular favorites: "The Boy Memorial," in which grieving parents don't realize the effect of their desire to hold onto their son ... surreal meditations in "Master Remastered" ... and a self-appointed angel of mercy offering "Compassion."

-Christine Morgan


Monday, January 22, 2018

Reviews for the Week of January 22, 2017

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

ZIPPERED FLESH 3: YET MORE TALES OF BODY ENHANCEMENTS GONE BAD! edited by Weldon Burge (2017 Smart Rhino Publications / 390 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The popular series continues with another helping of body modification, medical procedures, and all types of situations in which people find their bodies (and minds) changing in unexpected ways. This installment's 19 tales include:

-HORNS, TEETH, AND KNOBS by Billy Sue Mosiman: Martin inherits a lot of money from his late parents and uses most of it on extreme body modification. His only friend is a woman online named Tina. A downbeat opener dealing with physical and mental manipulation.

-UPGRADED by Shaun Meeks: A high school student isn't able to get the latest cell phone, one that's grafted into your forearm. Her friend takes her to get a cheaper black market model, and the hidden security features turn out to be deadlier than anyone would believe. Creepy.

-GOING GREEN by Christine Morgan: A girl takes her love of the environment to the ultimate limit in this imaginative sci-fi tale. David Cronenberg would have a field day adapting this to film...

-WORM by Jeff Menapace: Upset with her weight, a woman travels to Mexico where someone suggests she swallow a tapeworm. She does and loses enough weight to attract all the guys she wants. But when her overweight friend meets with her one night things get way out of control. A fun (and disgusting!) creature feature.

-REDUCED TO TEARS by Adrian Ludens: In the future, people known as "Reducers" mark each birthday by removing a part of their body as part of a spiritual quest. Despite some humor, Ludens' religious take on body modification is genuinely disturbing.

-A NEW MAN by William F. Nolan: After a man dies in a horrible car accident, his mind is brought back in another body. But when his wife goes nuts and kills their two children, he learns she has undergone an even stranger technological process than himself.

-TRANSPOSITION by Jason V. Brock: Two shady brothers in the medical field run afoul of a brutal organ harvester. A bit predictable but good.

-THE ROSE by Jack Ketchum: After living for four years as a kidnapped sex slave, a girl gets revenge on her male captor in a vintage EC comics-type way. Some brutal Ketchum here...

-CONSUME by Daniel I. Russell: Technology and religion meet in this frightening look at mankind's laziness. One of the best of the bunch, it brings the cult film TETSUO to mind.

-ALL WILL TURN TO GRAY by Jezzy Wolfe: A man agrees to have experimental eye surgery. He begins to see colors for the first time, and quickly lusts for more. As he's going through this process, he discovers his girl is being unfaithful, and all hell breaks loose when he takes yet another risky surgery in an attempt to see things no one else has. Engaging with a terrifying finale.

-INVISIBLE by E. A. Black: Sick and tired of having to care for her obese sister and unconcerned mother, anorexic Blair creates her own destiny. A depressing yet gripping tale.

-AND THE SKY WAS FULL OF ANGELS by L.L. Soares: A man comes home from the war after being in a coma for months and reconnects with his old girlfriend. But both have undergone physical transformations...his at the expense of the military. A heartbreaker that reminded me of a story in the old WEIRD WAR TALES comics.

-SHOPPING SPREE by Meghan Acuri: A fashion photographer / computer graphics artist obtains a camera with magical powers. The models he works with become enhanced without surgery, but by his new camera and photoshop program...until things get out of hand. One of the best of the bunch.

-CLOSER by Charles Colyott: an implantable memory app helps a man come to terms with his long lost lover in this trippy, romantic sci-fi tale. Excellent.

-DOG DAYS by Graham Masterton: An oncologist falls in love with a beautiful girl from Australia. But his handsome friend Jack, a cosmetic surgeon, steals her away from him. What follows is a bizarre, absurd tale of love gone completely amuck. A standout of the anthology from one of the genre's finest writers.

-SWITCH by Jasper Bark: If you came to this book looking to be grossed out, look no further. A detective runs afoul of a wrongly accused college student. Surgery and Santeria meet in a tale not to be read while eating. It's oddly funny, too.

-HYPOCHONDRIA by Martin Ziegler: A nurse falls for a patient who uses an experimental implanted device to monitor health issues. Her doctor is more concerned with his career than in helping his patients. When said patient becomes ill due to said device, the nurse discovers her doctor is as heartless as she thought.

-GEHENNA DIVISION, CASE #609 by Sandra R. Campbell: A brother believes his sister was wrongly sent to hell. He's offered a way to get her out in this horror fantasy that, while familiar, features a couple of nifty surprises.

-GOLDEN AGE by James Dorr: In the future there are many health options available to extend one’s life. One woman looks back on her 200+ years (and five husbands) and wonders if all the work she had done was truly worth it. A melancholy anthology capper.

A solid third offering, ZIPPERED FLESH 3 has more hits than misses and provides a fine variety to suite all horror and dark sci-fi fans’ tastes.

-Nick Cato

HOLD FOR RELEASE UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD by C.V. Hunt (2018 ATLATL Press / 112 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Being one of the first titles I’ve read that was released this year I was happy to see the author’s sarcasm and cynicism at an all-time high in this fast-paced piece of comical Doomsday Fiction.

We don’t know it until the last page, but it’s the end of the world in Daxton, a place where society has obviously given up on life and the white trash stigma has taken over all forms of normalcy and decency left lingering amongst the human race. Kids are willingly getting abducting and hopping into ice cream trucks, people are looting and fighting in the streets and local supermarkets. The main character’s roommate is a vape master and a bro, who is constantly looking for his next money-making business strategy—he actually purchases a freezing kit to turn their garage into a morgue because the bodies are piling up by the second and is hired by the city—he rents out the shed to a grim black figure who shelters his face with a black umbrella at all times—all while our main character experiences one terrible event after another, not mention their psychotic neighbor.

One of my favorite parts of the book aside from the last few lines is the main character’s line of work at her day job. She works for this firm that rich people hire to have somebody to lash out on and humiliate. And their clients pay good money to degrade, verbally abuse, and humiliate the employees there at the corporation.

This is the last thing you’ll ever see.

-Jon R. Meyers

TV DINNER FROM HELL by Amber Fallon (2017 Fresh Pulp Press / 140 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Being of a certain age, as I am, this cover takes me back to some earliest memories ... kids today will never understand, or regard us with that mix of shock, scorn, and pity. Salisbury steak with that tangy hint of aluminum, anyone? With or without creepy-crawlies?

Actually, strike that last bit. You don't get a choice of with or without creepy-crawlies when you read these stories. Creepy-crawlies are not optional. Maybe in small and subtle doses, maybe right up there rubbed in your face; there's no escaping them.

Some of the best pieces in the book are the short, sweet little shivers. The cute woodland critter POV in "Pretty Pretty Shiny" is endearing and well-done, while the ever-challenging second-person is used to good effect in the lovely "The Glen" ... though both these charming pastoral tales do take decidedly non-Disneyesque turns.

Astute Fallon readers may spot something familiar in "Dawn of the Death-Beetles," and the book's heartfelt dedication is echoed with the inclusion of tribute tale "Clickers in Space." And can you really go wrong with zazzy titles like "The Shark That Ate Everything" and "The Dick-Measuring Contest at the End of the Universe"?

I found "The Donor" of particular personal resonance, the hospital setting one with which the author and I must both be all too familiar (and dang tired of) by now. However, as grueling as our experiences may have been, at least the state of healthcare hasn't reached THIS point ... yet ...

"Demolition Derby" is sheer fun chaos and carnage, while "Something Bit Me" is less than a page but sure to squick anybody out. Finishing things off, fittingly for this time of year, is "Ornamentation," in which a lonely man faces the holidays in a rather disturbing fashion.

All that and more are here to be read, a good introduction to an author on her way to becoming a strong, lasting voice in the genre, and each story comes with a cool bonus illustration to boot!

-Christine Morgan

COME TO DUST by Bracken MacLeod (2017 JournalStone Publishing / 276 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I missed the small press run of this novel, so was thrilled to get my hands on the second edition. I guess technically you can call this a zombie novel, but it's unlike just about any I've read before.

Mitch has been looking after his five year-old niece Sophie ever since his troubled sister said she was going out for a while. It turns out she hasn't returned, and despite being on parole, Mitch has managed to do a great job raising Sophie with his poor paying job. One night he decides to leave his niece with a different babysitter so he can go on a much needed date, but it's a decision that ends with Sophie dead and two detectives on Mitch's back.

Things take a weird turn when young children around the world begin to return from the dead, Sophie among them. But these aren't blood sucking or cannibalistic ghouls, rather children who can still communicate, and at times, feed off of the living in a way that helps improve their undead state, and in the case of Mitch's girlfriend, even help the living.

After getting her life back on track by joining a religious group headed by a charismatic leader, Mitch's sister comes back, reunited with her ex, and demands to get Sophie back from him, unaware she is now one of the undead.

Kidnappings, brainwashed cultists, and a world not ready for kids returning from the dead now stand in Mitch's way as he attempts to save his niece from an isolated compound full of crazed zealots. MacLeod does a fantastic job making us feel for Mitch and Sophie's relationship, and at times you'll want to jump into the story and give him a hand. Some of the descriptions of Sophie (and other children) are more chilling than your standard zombie fare, and the whole story is arguably the most heart-wrenching child-centered horror novel since Gary Braunbeck's classic, IN SILENT GRAVES.

A smart, emotional, spooky offering.

-Nick Cato

MOTHER'S REVENGE edited by Cin Ferguson and Broos Campbell (2017 Scary Dairy Press / 474 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The publisher/mastermind behind this project, Dr. Q, is an incredibly sweet and caring person who's also just a couple short steps from becoming the kind of supervillain bent on saving the world despite stupid stubborn humanity's best efforts. Someone's got to save us from ourselves. Or save the planet from us, and if it comes at a cost ... well, can't make omelets, etc.

But in the case of this wickedly clever anthology, no supervillain master plan is needed, because Earth itself has had enough. Mother Nature is done putting up with us and shows it by striking back in thirty-two unique doomsdays.

The editors had their hands full but rose marvelously to the occasion, sorting the stories into fittingly elemental categories -- Water, Air, Fire, Earth ... and then Hope, giving a surprising but apt Pandora-esque twist to things.

From cosmic eco-horror to the classic pulpy nature run amok ... when animals attack, when pollution hits the tipping point ... from individual terrors to nightmares on a global scale ... myths and legends and old gods ... weather and technology, flora and fauna and plague epidemics ... lessons from the distant past and struggles of a not-too-distant future ...

Among my personal favorites: "It Wants to be a Swamp" by C.S. Malerich, Jeff Dosser's "The Path", "A New Kind of Eden" by J.T. Seate, Goran Sedler's "Sleet Teeth", "Snickerdoodle Bunkum" by J.C. Raye, "A Cautionary Tale" by Tom Larsen, Chad Stroup's "Acquired Taste".

If these are the ways the world ends, you must admit, we kind of have it coming.

-Christine Morgan

DRAG QUEEN DINO FIGHTERS by M.P. Johnson (2014 Eraserhead Press / 150 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This book is not a sequel to the Wonderland Award winning DUNGEOUNS AND DRAG QUEENS, nor is it precisely a follow-up, but it is definitely written in a similar dragtastic way. If anything, it's even weirder, even further out-there, a story that just struts onstage and kicks out the stiletto stops from the word go.

Up against a whole new rising crop of the cattiest of queens, Ivanna Deflower is beginning to think she's past her prime, past her chance at superstardom. She's reduced to running weekend bingo games at a bar instead of performing, and knows she can't blame all of it on her sagging elbow skin.

But everything takes a decidedly unusual turn when a baby triceratops bursts out of Ivanna's chest. A cute little orange baby triceratops with a natural knack for dance. Suddenly, Ivanna has a new act. From bingo queen to headliner at bigger and bigger name clubs, she is on her way.

If it seems too good to be true, well, that's how these things sometimes go ... family and friends resenting newfound success, jealous competitors and rivals ... and then of course an invasion of angry space dinosaurs.

No, really. Plus a whole lot of other weirdness -- skeletons, robo-elephants, disembodied eyeballs, so much more. It's hilariously messed-up, a crazy ride through drag culture by way of those Dinosaurs Attack cards, packed with outrageous action of every description. There's sex, there's gore, there's fashion and fierceness all over.

I confess, I snort-laughed out loud an embarrassing number of times while reading this. Which I did at a single sitting, because it's impossible to put down ... each chapter ends with a gotta-see-what-happens-next and before you know it, you've read the whole thing.

-Christine Morgan

PARASITE MILK by Carlton Mellick III (2017 Eraserhead Press / 130 pp / trade paperback)

Although this is not my favorite CM3 title to date for a couple of different reasons there is still a lot going on here that I enjoyed, and, overall, the book has a lot to offer and is definitely worth checking out. Quite possibly being one of the author’s more perverted concepts, which I’ve been personally been wanting to see for quite some time, it was a pleasant change of pace. This time, whilst getting more in touch with his Science Fiction roots, we’re teleported to another planet, Kynaria, a place where frog-eyed pigs, telepathic sex and taxi slugs, and beautifully radiant human-like vermin creatures referred to as Jelly Bugs are lingering amongst a Mushroom Kingdom.

The main character is the camera man for a new Bizarre Foods television show, so the group is traveling the galaxy searching for some of those memorable wine and dine and sixty-nine sort of places to eat. Although we don’t stumble across any boutique steakhouses, we do get introduced to a couple of very different types of restaurants and traditions amongst Kynarian culture. We’re taken to a restaurant that stabs you when you arrive and then clones your own meat right there on the spot, a traditional spot Kynarians like to go on first dates to taste each other, and it’s expensive.

When the main character and Mick Meyers visit a local brothel, one of them can’t stand the concept of sleeping with a sex slug (which is a giant telepathic sex worm) in a puddle of mud. One of them ventures back outside to where they saw a beautiful alien creature that resembles a more human-like figure. She is beautiful, pink, and glows in the dark the more she is turned on, but there’s a catch. There’s always a catch, isn’t there? A horrific catch, perhaps? I’d be willing to wager it’s a lot more than he’d bargained for when lingering out into the wild Mushroom Kingdom outside the establishment on another planet. A place where everything is different, and nothing is as it seems.

You never know what you’re going to get.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE DEMON SEEDS by Derek Muk (2017 Black Bed Sheet Books / 47 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Being unfamiliar with this author, I didn’t know going into this one if it was part of a series or longer/larger work or interconnected series … now, having read it, I still don’t, but I can safely say it sure feels like it is … and if it isn’t, then it certainly should be. It’s definitely got that complex ongoing worldbuildy feel, of which this scratches the surface and leaves lots of tantalizing room for more.

Taylor is a professor, an academic, and a monster hunter traveling around with Jan, a spunky co-ed sidekick, to deal with paranormal menaces. Their current target is a bubog – a fertility-cultish kind of sex-vampire – but things start hitting a little too close to home when one of Jan’s closest friends gets involved.

Suddenly, it’s personal. And more than personal, when the bubog sets its sights on adding Jan to its conquests. Can she resist the demon’s powerful allure, or will she join the cult? Can Taylor stop the evil in time? What about all these nasty little bubog babies?

A quick read, fun and engaging, with interesting characters and that setup for many more adventures. Worth a look.

-Christine Morgan


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