Sunday, February 12, 2017

Reviews for the Week of February 13, 2017

NOTE: Please see bottom of main page for updated submission info. Ty.




PREVIEW:

ARARAT by Christopher Golden (to be published 4/18/17 by St. Martin's Press / 320 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

After an earthquake opens up a cave at the top of Mt. Ararat in Turkey, engaged couple Adam and Miryam are notifed of the find by an old friend. Our "power" couple are explorers and rush to the site to be the first to see what may very well be the remains of Noah's ark. Adam is a popular author and Miryam a filmmaker, so if this turns out to be the biblical arc they'll both become legends in their fields.

Of course there are others with the same idea, and our couple take a more dangerous way to the top of Ararat. Once inside, it does indeed seem to be an arc that held several species, but among their findings is a coffin that contains the skeleton of a human-like figure that happens to have horns on its forehead.

Before long, people are becoming possessed one at a time (allegedly by the spirit of the demon corpse) and members of the cave investigators begin to vanish. Golden uses a break-neck pace to keep the action coming and the suspense nearly non-stop. But what makes this novel work are Adam and Miryam, a Jewish/Muslim couple who aren't devout to their faiths, but instead are seekers who find their secularism being challenged. This dynamic gives ARARAT a fresh and timely edge, as do the host of side characters, including a field guide named Hakan who is continually at odds with Miryam, and a Catholic Priest named Father Cornelius who manages to bring scholarly insights to the demonic corpse that has most of the exploration crew freaking out.

While ARARAT reminded me somewhat of Lee Thomas' excellent 2006 debut novel STAINED, it stands on its own as a page turning action adventure/horror hybrid. Golden's past three novels, DEAD RINGERS, TIN MEN, and SNOWBLIND, were all excellent, and now with ARARAT he's 4 for 4 in a big way.

A best bet for fans of religious-themed horror.

-Nick Cato



THE FARM by Christopher Motz (2016 Amazon Digital Services / 63 pp / eBook)

Here's a great tale of modern horror that takes us back to an old farm house located in rural New York.

The story is told with a lot of emotion from the POV of the eldest brother, Emery. Emery looks back and retrospect’s the darkness, sadness, and terror that took a hold of him and his overtly dysfunctional family. He and his ten-year-old brother, Frankie, were often left alone in the house. Their mother constantly ill and non-existent hiding away upstairs in the sewing room. And, their Father out in the barn drinking away his PTSD from the war, or often found wandering and digging random holes in their yard, as if it were a metaphor for his own decaying mind. One night the boys’ parents go out for a night on the town and they hear strange noises coming from outside. Upon inspection, they see the creatures for the first time. Later we find out they look like large rats with human faces. Their eyes glow yellow from the woods behind their house, and there appears to be dozens of them out there. That is until we discover there is another creature lurking in the woods, and, he’s already been inside the house. One much bigger, fiercer, and horrific. The boys refer to it as a demon but have a hard time explaining it.

The author does an exceptional job drawing us into the storyline, with a cast of believably heartfelt characters and emotion, and then drags them to Hell and back. Motz can spin a terror-filled tale alongside the best of them.


-Jon R. Meyers



IN THE HOUSE OF MIRRORS by Tim Meyer (2013 Amazon Digital / 290 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

If the coming-of-age novel had an older brother, it would be something like this ... where the disillusioned millennial or Gen-Xer, after getting brutally knocked around by real life -- the career and/or relationship that didn't work out, dreams dashed, in debt and without prospects -- goes limping home to try and pick up the pieces and start over. I have a feeling we're going to be seeing a lot more of those.

The unlucky run-roughshod-over guy in this case is Ritchie Naughton, who thinks things are going pretty okay, why shouldn't they be? He's got a good job as a journalist, he's in fair health, his recovering addict girlfriend is managing to keep clean ... then he walks in on her getting mighty dirty in a different way, and it all goes to hell.

Not quite literally, not yet. But, hello hitherto unsuspected heart condition. Hello, bad breakup, resignation, and moving into his big sister's basement back in small-town Jersey. Hello, depression and futility and all that goes with it.

To try and shake himself out of his funk, Ritchie takes on a photography gig for a local paper. They even have a camera he can use, and if it's a brand he's never heard of, he doesn't much care. To further pick up some extra cash, he also agrees to help his uncle get proof of his aunt's affair. The combination of those factors is when things start getting weird ... instead of some love-nest or no-tell motel, he ends up at a big weird house in the woods ... and his camera starts taking pictures of things that aren't there.

Then it just keeps getting weirder. I was reminded in good ways of various King stories set in and around Castle Rock, several of the seemingly-side characters get developed in fun and interesting ways, their reactions even as matters more and more inexplicable unfold are refreshingly genuine; all in all, an engaging, enjoyable read.


-Christine Morgan





BEHIND HER EYES by Sarah Pinborough (2017 Flatiron Books / 306 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

Louise is a divorced single mom. She finally gets to go out one night and meets the man of her dreams in a bar. Yet after they share a kiss he is in a rush to leave.

A couple days later at work, Louise meets her new boss and his beautiful wife, and it turns out he is the same guy she had met at the bar. Louise runs to the bathroom to hide until they're gone, but the next day she confronts him and things get to as normal as they can be. But not for long, as David starts to come after her and they're quickly engaged in an affair.

After dropping her son off at school one morning, Louise literally bumps into David's wife Adele, but is so taken aback by her beauty that she doesn't tell her about the affair, and against her better judgment actually becomes friends with this woman who is new to the town. The two become fascinated with each other, not sexually, but as what seems to be honest-to-goodness friends.

What follows is a wickedly addictive thriller as Louise begins to look into Adele's strange lifestyle, and things with David begin to nosedive. Pinborough's prose here is irresitible, the pace absoultely perfect, and at just over 300 pages, the story is a tight as can be. If not for my disrupting day job I would've finished this in a single sitting (it took me two!).

But the highlight here is the ending. OH MY GOD the ending. I know endings aren't the most important thing to a lot of readers, but they are to me, and this is one of the finest to come down the pike in years. It's to-die-for good. This is like GONE GIRL on speed, with a slight supernatural leaning to push it more into the horror realm, keeping it a creepy arm's distance from your standard "thriller."

Needless to say this is highly, highly recommended, and if you're a fan of killer finales, get this before some Internet troll ruins it for you.


-Nick Cato



LAST OF THE ALBATWITCHES by Brian Keene (2014 Deadite Press / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This book contains two novellas previously only available in limited edition collectible hardcover, so, being able to snag them both at the same time is a definite plus to the pocketbook. And, being able to read them together is even better, because they're Levi Stoltzfus stories.

Of the many threads stitching the greater literary Keene-verse together, this character is one of the most fascinating. Formerly Amish and still often mistaken for such -- hey, when you have the beard and the buggy, it's not that irrational an assumption! -- while also a practitioner of powwow as well as an eclectic assortment of various occult arts, Levi's appeared in several other works. We've gotten hints and glimpses of his life, but he remains an enigmatic, mysterious figure.

In THE WITCHING TREE, the troubles begin (this time) when a boy and his dog go missing. So does the boy's father, who goes out to look. The search party who finds them out by a lone old tree in a field ... well, what they find isn't pretty, and what happens to them is not pretty either.

The unnatural nature of the case causes a detective who'd heard a bit about Levi to seek him out, and enlist his help in dealing with whatever sinister force is in play. Levi's investigations turn up the tree's history, but also reveal some unsettling changes in the spiritual scheme of things, and lead him into a dangerous bargain.

THE LAST OF THE ALBATWITCHES joins Levi a month later, as he's still struggling with the repercussions from that previous mission. Something's definitely wrong in the paranormal world. It's affecting him, his associates, his abilities. Yet, when he's called upon to investigate another weird occurrence -- a possible sighting of a creature known in local folklore as an Albatwitch -- he can't refuse.

Meanwhile, a crew from the TV show "Cryptid Hunter" is also on the scene, and so are operatives from the megapowerful Globe Corporation. It quickly becomes obvious there's a lot more going on here than any simple rural legend.

References and connections to Keene's other works are deftly woven throughout, making a fun little egg-hunt for those who enjoy that sort of thing, while also providing plenty of tantalizing teasers to encourage new readers.


-Christine Morgan

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COMING SOON:



Sunday, January 29, 2017

Reviews for the Week of January 30, 2017

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





VYRMIN by Gene Lazuta (2016 Bloodshot Books / 315 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I am enough of a fairytale/folklorist that any book with an old-fashioned German woodcut style cover is a surefire way to get my attention. Particularly when it depicts that most archetypal of fear-driven images: the feral man-beast stealing away an innocent child to savage and consume. That's the nerve center root of our storytelling, right there.

And the idea that these tales weren't just invented to keep the kiddos from wandering off into the woods ... the idea that there really were such monsters ... who can resist? After all, we know there ARE, even in our modern world. They may not sprout fur by moonlight, but oh, yes, the monsters ARE. It's not much of a step further to bring the old legends to life.

If that was all this book was about, I still would have been perfectly satisfied. But this book takes it even further, takes it way beyond our notions of the Brothers Grimm or The Howling or all those urban fantasy RPGs and paranormal romances of secret races living among us. This book takes it back to the beginning and then some.

It's sneaky, too. It touches on various tropes and themes ... the small-town hicks plagued by something uncanny, the hush-hush agency investigating supernatural occurrences, the weird cult, the bloodline legacy ... but shakes them up, turns them inside out, blends and remixes and remasters. It's Twin Peaks meets Wicker Man in the archetypal Black Forest backwoods rustic America, managing to combine Biblical overtones with science fiction, anthropology and history.

I'd say all that should make it hard to categorize, but what you really get here is a dark, multifaceted jewel of horror. Grisly gore, primal fears, the murky chills of the unknown, transformation, mutilation, fates worse than death, loss of self ... the hits just keep coming, and as soon as you think you've figured it out and are feeling a little secure and safe, you'll be hamstrung from another direction.

-Christine Morgan

(**Editor's note: VYRMIN was originally published by Penguin in 1992)




BEYOND THE GREAT, BLOODY, BRUISED, AND SILENT VEIL OF THIS WORLD by Jordan Krall (to be released 2/17 by Bizarro Pulp Press / 134 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Krall's latest novella is a trippy, dark science fiction story dealing with a group of mentally unstable men on their way to an already colonized Mars. As with many of the author's stories, we're never sure if we're actually on a shuttle or on Mars, or in a psychiatric ward. The mystery and constant guessing keeps things moving, eerie, and unsettling.

As we journey along with our main untrustworthy protagonist, the story expands into the life of a Messianic figure, terrorism, and a look at industry that's as obscure as the main scifi story. And in the end, things are (sort of) tied up with a chilling note.

BEYOND is told in short sections, making it very easy to digest in one sitting, and Bizarro Pulp Press's page layouts enhance an already fantastic tale that's way out of the oridinary.


-Nick Cato



CARTOONS IN THE SUICIDE FOREST by Leza Cantoral (2016 Bizarro Pulp Press  / 110 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Leza Cantoral’s debut collection is a fantasmagorical sex blob of pink literary color jelly for your fragile horror mind, body, and soul. The writing is highly versatile, fresh, hip, and creative in all the right ways. Think old school Bizarro Fiction when it first came out. Think Horror double-dipped in the heart of the Beat Fiction era. Think about watching your favorite Saturday Morning cartoons while eating a bowl of sugar coated cereal in your favorite pair of underwear, while still candy-flipping from last night’s psychedelic rave party. We're introduced to a number of memorably bizarre and horrific circumstances, sexy adult themed fairytales, and eerily black-ink bleeding cartoons.

Some of my favorites in this collection were 'Cartoons in the Suicide Forest,' a unique and clever tale that takes social networking deep into the depths of the Suicide Forest and introduces us to creepy abandoned cartoon girls searching for their mother. In 'Green Lotus,' failing relationships are bad but not worse than feeling like you are stuck with someone forever, especially when you’re candy dipped into a green slime bath and turned into a goddamn plant for the rest of your life. 'Cosmic Bruja,' a dreamlike acid trip that takes us to the center of religion and Mexico. And 'Fist Pump,' an erotic noir-esque tale in which a damsel in distress just wants to be a part of the gang in more ways than one.

A brilliant and extremely versatile collection I’d recommend to fans of Bizarro, Horror, Science, and Beat Fiction alike.


-Jon R. Meyers



RIDERS, PLEBS 2 (Books 1 and 2) by Jim Goforth (2016 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 310 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When I reviewed the original debut PLEBS, I knew even then it was too much bursting-at-the-seams story to be confined to one book. And, see? Look. Just look. The sequel alone takes up two full action-packed volumes!

Which, fortunately, I was able to read back to back, sparing us all my inevitable furious shrieking over sudden cliff-hangers. Note: if you, like me, are prone to furious shrieking over sudden cliff-hangers, then yeah, make sure you have both installments standing by.

RIDERS picks up a few months after the crazy, violent carnage in PLEBS. The surviving characters have formed a sort of roving vigilante band -- among their retinue, four motorcycles named for the fabled Horsemen of the Apocalypse, hence the title. They travel around, dealing out vicious punishment on rapists, abusers, and other such scum of the earth.

Sounds like fun, right? No mundane cares about jobs or money, plenty of wicked weaponry and sweet rides, and the company of three beautiful women who are also the deadliest of avenging angels, serving up white-hot fury and cold-blooded justice to those who deserve it.

Thing is, though, enterprises such as this have a way of getting out of hand. Of crossing paths with the wrong sorts of enemies or biting off more trouble than can easily be chewed. What starts as another seemingly routine mission -- striking back at some scuzzballs who ruined a girl's life -- blows up when the scuzzballs have a crime boss friend who decides to take it as a personal insult and affront to his business.

From there, it's escalation and exponential vendetta, the hunters becoming the hunted, with some complications of mistaken identities, and hapless tagalongs swept in over their heads. But, while all that's going on, there's also the small matter of, oh yeah remember them? The Plebs, the savage freaky mutants from the first book, who are also still around.

If I'm going to quibble, and I guess I might as well, the main problem I had here was an excess of telling and exposition, some over-explaining of motivations, some redundancy, and heavy-handedness with stressing how hot these ladies are. We get it, already; don't need to be told sometimes several times in a paragraph.

With a large cast of characters, an almost equally large ultimate body count, lots of high-octane battle scenes, some wild sex, and the suggestion of a really loud blasting soundtrack throughout, it's like reading an intense action-movie marathon. And, hey, I still want to know more about the Plebs themselves; plenty of room for another sequel!


-Christine Morgan



THE MORTUARY MONSTER by Andrew J. Stone (2016 StrangeHouse Books / 152 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK? The hauntingly cute, endearingly creepy one about the little boy who grew up in a graveyard, raised by the dead? Kind of sweet and tragic, Tim-Burton-esque before Burton got too kooky?

THE MORTUARY MONSTER is NOT LIKE THAT. Well, maybe a smidge, in the broadest strokes and vaguest similarities; I mean, it's about growing up in a cemetery, it's about coming to terms with matters of life and death, family and belonging, and so on.

But this is WAY more dark, WAY more messed up. Very decidedly NOT for kids. There's bad language. There's horrible parenting. There's sex with corpses. There's beatings and torment and violence and vulgarity. Murder and suicide. Abandonment, betrayal, loss. Dark stuff. Messed up stuff.

Yet it READS like Gaiman, it reads Burton-esque, it reads Addams Family, Roald Dahl. It reads morbidly funny and charmingly grim. The sheer dissonance of it just totally works. All it's missing, really, is stylized illustrations throughout.

Summary-wise, there's this guy named Gonzalo, whose family have been caretakers of an unusual cemetery. All Gonzalo's wanted since he was a kid was to be able to leave, to become a part of regular society, but he's never been able to manage it. Not even with the helpful advice of his dead friends.

He vows not to make the same mistakes his own parents did, but that sort of thing's always easier said than done, and there are always plenty of ways to make different mistakes. Especially when your own child is born half-corpse anyway ... but you're still trying to be what you think a good father should be.

I went into the book knowing nothing but the title, so, the result was an unexpected but welcome delight, a whimsical poison-chocolate surprise, immediately captivating and a really ghoulish, sick treat throughout.


-Christine Morgan


MAGAZINES:



BLACK STATIC No. 56, Jan-Feb 2017 (published by ttapress.com)

Another solid issue opens with Lynda E. Rucker heading the commentary (Stephen Volk's final column appeared in issue 55) with an encouraging view on why she believes art can save us in the current dark political climate, and new commentator Ralph Robert Moore looks at "The Perishability of Metaphors" (as well as memory and...mothers). It's a bit sad, but interesting nonetheless.

Kicking off this issue's seven stories is 'The Green Eye' by Scott Nicolay, which is the account of a young boy who had a supernatural experience after stripping cars at a junkyard. This short tale is then explained in an author's note that's two pages longer than the story itself. An odd selection for an opener although it's all quite interesting.

'Smoke, Ash, and Whatever Comes After' by Eric Schaller: Peter and his young daughter Tracy are cleaning house. They decide to dismantle a bureau and even get rid of a doll Tracy had made (as per her request). They place the items in the fireplace to eliminate memories. Schaller delivers a haunting, emotional look at loss and grief that will surely stay with you.

In 'Border Country' by Danny Rhodes, a divorced dad takes his son on a camping trip. The son becomes the target of a legendary witch. Familiar, but Rhodes' focus on the dad's apprehension gives it a fresh feel.

'What We Are Moulded After' by Eugenia M. Triantafyllou: After Eleni's husband Andreas dies, she "creates" another husband by placing Andreas' bloodied jacket on another man. Told from Eleni's new mute husband's viewpoint, Triantafyllou's horror fantasy is an absorbing, original tale with an ending that had me wanting more.

An old man and his wife live in an isolated area surrounded by abandoned homes in Charles Wilkinson's 'The Solitary Truth.' His wife Agnes can't accept their cat has died, and he keeps hope their daughter will finally come to visit. Another story centered around the ways we deal with loss and grief. Good, but depressing.

'The Maneaters' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Although Scarlet learned about her late grandfather through her grandmother, she learns the truth when she finds a 35 year-old note in her grandmother's bedroom. A chiller of self discovery highlighted by some excellent prose. Stufflebeam also appeared last issue and has won me over.

Finally, in 'Stanislav in Foxtown' by Ian Steadman, Stan works at a greasy chicken restaurant and is constantly bullied by his muscle-bound boss. With the help of some feral foxes, Stan manages to advance his position. Steadman demonstrates how suggestion can be as, if not more affective than "showing" graphic violence. Great stuff here.

Seven top notch tales that prove why this magazine is the best in the business. Writers would do well to pay close attention.

Gary Couzen delivers another batch of DVD/blu ray reviews (I'm looking very forward to the Arrow DRILLER KILLER blu), and Peter Tennant provides a fantastic interview with Stephen Volk (after reviewing his latest collection), and also dissects a few anthologies and novellas (seriously folks---Peter's reviews are worth the cover price alone).


Grab your copy (or better yet, a subscription) here: BLACK STATIC subs/issues

-Nick Cato

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COMING SOON:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reviews for the Week of January 16, 2017

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





TRIPLICITY: THE TERROR PROJECT BOOK 1 by Stacey Longo, Tony Tremblay, and Rob Smales (2016 Books and Boos Press / 274 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This collection of novellas features three very different stories and each one is worth your time.

In BRANDO AND BAD CHOICES by Stacy Longo, a selfish, sexually promiscuous woman finds herself in hell, but it's nothing like she'd imagined. The real torture is the boredom, and she meets an old high school friend who thinks they're being given a chance at redemption. But Stella's true fate arrives after meeting up with one of her nephews, when she is given a final chance to do right by him. As serious as the subject matter is, Longo sprinkles this with some well timed humor, but nothing that cheapens the chills.

STEEL by Tony Tremblay is an action-packed apocalyptic tale where all the adults have succumbed to a mysterious phenomena but a small group of teenagers survive in a shelter. They're threatened each night by lethal acid rain and during the day by a couple of bizarre creatures. Led by a strong girl named Steel, they eventually learn what has caused the end to come, and in a brutal showdown, her friend Fleet must make some difficult decisions. A violent, strange, and satisfying take on the end times theme.

Rob Smales' THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT is told through a lengthy email message, which actually describes events that went down over several years. A couple raising their newborn twin sons face some strange and spooky situations in the days leading to Christmas. Randy and his wife Beth become convinced someone (or something) is sneaking into their home at night and watching not only them but their twins as they sleep. Yeah, this one really gets the goosebumps going and had the feel of a classic-styled horror tale.

Three solid, satisfying novellas with a bonus end section where each author explains what inspired their story. Definitely check it out.

-Nick Cato



ALMOST INSENTIENT, ALMOST DIVINE by D.P. Watt (2016 Undertow Publications / 244 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

My first impression upon opening the envelope was “damn, this is a beautiful book!” For presentation alone, artistry and production value and design, it had major points in its favor before I even began to read.

Then I began to read, and found the contents to be equally, if not more, artistic and stunning. Now, I do review a lot of (and I say this with affection) schlock, grossness, nastiness, and trash … but I can also very much appreciate the literary delicacies, the fine and intricate examples of the craft. That’s what you get in ‘almost insentient, almost divine.’

The writing simultaneously has an old-fashioned feel and a modern freshness. It’s clean and clear and gorgeous, the kind of thing that in another author’s hands might come off as cloying or pretentious but here is satin-smooth. I read with equal parts fascination and admiration, with touches of “ooh I wish I’d done that” envy.

The stories themselves span several eras, with subtle undertones and interconnections particularly in the form of a disturbing puppet-figure. Some are hauntingly poetic, some the kind of nightmares in which you can’t say for sure just what was the scary part but the overall effect is deeply chilling.

I am not a fan of the term ‘literary horror,’ and calling it ‘highbrow horror’ seems even worse. But this is the kind of horror I could see someone really elegant and classy – my idol Dame Maggie, for instance – enjoying with her tea.

So, yes, top kudos to d.p. watt and everyone at Undertow for putting together a truly exquisite, breathtaking piece of work.


-Christine Morgan



ODD MAN OUT by James Newman (2016 Bloodshot Books / 150 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

After his church votes to ban the Boy Scouts when it's learned they no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation, Dennis thinks back to an incident he was involved with in 1989, which is where the bulk of this story takes place.

At the Black Mountain Camp for Boys, Dennis was reunited with his childhood friend Wesley who now happens to be gay. Once his secret is out, even the most laid back of the boys at the camp begin to show their dark side, and Dennis is forced into a situation nightmares are made of.

While quite violent at times, ODD MAN OUT's power lies in its ability to reveal the brutal nature of mankind, of intolerance, and of a mob mentality. As in some of his past stories, the author gives a fresh look at the nature of religion and forces the reader to confront their own ideas and prejudices.

Newman's latest novella is perhaps his most intense yet, and easily his most important. Don't miss it.


-Nick Cato



SCAVENGERS by Rich Hawkins (2016 Amazon Digital / 85 pp / eBook)

A weekend getaway with some people your wife knows from work … her bosses, in fact, with their toddler in tow … isn’t exactly Ray’s idea of a good time. He doesn’t know them. As a part-time store stocker and struggling novelist, he doesn’t have much in common with their more professional lifestyle.

As a couple who’ve been facing fertility struggles, being around someone else’s kids isn’t the most comfortable scenario, either. Not that little Molly is all THAT bad, but then, it turns out little Molly isn’t the one they’ll have to worry about.

The first sign of trouble is an abandoned car slewed across the road, and what bursts from the woods when Ray and Tim go to investigate. Ray’s no sooner found a lost toy in a puddle when the attack comes.

Needless to say, the vacation doesn’t exactly happen as planned. It’s death and carnage, a village with a secret, an adrenaline rush with a few sharp surprises, twists and turns and shocks along the way.

-Christine Morgan



DARK REACHES by Shaun Meeks (2016 CreateSpace / 372 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

One of the stories in this collection I’d seen before in an anthology and managed to successfully block from my traumatized memory until I spotted my own words from the review in the front ‘Praise For’ section.

Then it all came crashing back in full flinchworthy squicking eeeeeeek. You’ll forgive me, I hope, if I wussily gloss over mentioning “Taut” this time around. Eeeeek. The hooks.

Moving on! Please. Moving on. So! Other stories! Of which, there are many … and as promised in the title, they reach to some pretty dark places. There’s a lot of death here, and a lot of undeath, and a few different flavors of the end of the world.

I found “Dreams of a Dead Man” extra-enjoyable because way long ago, my first pro sale was a zombie story called “Dawn of the Living-Impaired” about zombie rights and social activism; this could have been the same world, from another, grimmer, more tragic point of view.

But if you prefer your zombies nastier, you can find the full horror of war in “The Soldier,” and the depths of human perversion and depravity in “Body Bag.”

“Give Me Convenience” is a fun, gory little romp, a bloodbath disaster in microcosm … while “The Cleansing” presents the repercussions of a full-scale breakdown of civilization. 

“Mommy’s Little Demon” turns out to be far from the wry twist on Rosemary’s Baby I expected, and “Family Lessons” is its own kind of agonizing.

And those are only a few of the offerings. You’ll also get a story from the author’s “Dillon, the Monster Dick” detective series, and possibly even a bonus icky surprise lurking like the post-credits scene at the movies.

-Christine Morgan

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Ten Books of 2016 (Volume 2)

Our second TOP TEN list comes from staff writer Nick Cato, who adds, "I only read 37 books this year, which is less than half of my usual annual amount. But out of that batch these were my faves..."





10) CREEPING WAVES by Matthew M. Bartlett: Continuing the same vibe he created in GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION (2014) and THE WITCH-CULT IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS (2015), Bartlett brings us back to the mysterious town of Leeds, revealing more of it's dark history and mysterious residents. With glimpses into Leeds' personal ads, haunting phone calls, and the sense that nothing is at it seems, CREEPING WAVES is another excellent entry in Bartlett's growing occult series. Well written, scary, and completely absorbing, you'll surely be weary of turning your radio dial down to the lower numbers.



9) THE SEEDS OF NIGHTMARES by Tony Tremblay: Having read a couple of Tremblay's stories in anthologies, I was looking forward to his first collection, and the wait was well worth it. These 13 tales bring the chills in unique ways, and there are several surprises. This here's the real deal: serious horror and noir (with a touch of humor) that will surely win the author some new readers. Kudos to the brief introductions for each story.



8) SUBMERGED by Thomas F. Monteleone: A fast-paced action adventure/thriller with just enough Lovecraftian goodness to give it a horrific edge. While I hate to use a played out term such as "compulsive page-turner," there's really no other way to describe this as the close of each chapter forces you to read on. An all-around great read from one of the best in the business.



7) GORGONAEON by Jordan Krall: Like his FALSE MAGIC KINGDOM series, GORGONAEON is a dazzling, surreal, nightmarish head trip. Characters and events come in and out like a hazy daydream, and as things are eventually uncovered the author delivers some serious chills. Weird fiction just doesn't get any better than this.



6) RETURN OF THE OLD ONES: APOCALYPTIC LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR edited by Brian M. Sammons: I'm as tired of the "Lovecraftian" subgenre as I am of zombies, but editor Sammons has assembled a fantastic collection here, sectioned into three eras (before, during, and after the Old Ones return). One of the finest anthologies of the year regardless of your feeling toward the HPL Mythos trend. A great blend of veteran and newer authors.




5) BLISTER by Jeff Strand: Easily my favorite Strand novel since his 2006 thriller PRESSURE, this quirky creeper dealing with a man on a forced vacation who meets a hideously disfigured girl is as charming as it is bizarre. Wow. First time I ever referred to a horror novel as charming, but, hey...



4) THE SADIST'S BIBLE by Nicole Cushing: After blowing my mind last year with her incredible novel MR. SUICIDE, Cushing's follow up novella is every bit as disturbing, thought provoking, and eerie as you'd expect. Excellent.



3) STRANDED by Bracken Macleod: Arguably the scariest read of the year, MacLeod's arctic chiller brings both THE THING and SURVIVE! to mind yet has plenty of weird tricks up its sleeve. A genuine page turner highlighted by some spectacular prose.



2) A LONG DECEMBER by Richard Chizmar: Question: How many collections of this size (35 tales) can feature so many consistently solid stories? Answer: very few. A fantastic career-spanning door-stopper of a book you'll surely be revisiting.



1) THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS by Jason Arnopp: A perfect blend of horror and humor, paranormal and possession, with guest appearances from real life film directors and footnotes from the protagonist's brother, at times this feels like serious non fiction. Arnopp's novel was the most difficult for me to put down this year. So. Damn. Good.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

Our first TOP TEN list this year comes from staff writer Jon R. Meyers. Here are his favorites from 2016:




10) WITCHING HOUR THEATRE by Jonathan Janz. I finished this one up just in time to make my top ten list of the year! This is a great book for not only fans of Horror Fiction, but of Horror Cinema as well. You get the best of both worlds in this little bloody gem of a horror book.



9) HOLLOW HOUSE by Greg Chapman. A dark and compelling modern day take on the classic haunted house tale. This book takes character driven storytelling to an all new level and then sells its soul to Satan for gas money.



8) CRAWLERS by Ray Garton. A digital re-release of a limited edition print long gone on the market until this year. Garton is an excellent and powerful storyteller, this time a tale about killer flowers planted by the government that roam around like giant spiders and wreak havoc on the small town of Mt. Crag.   



7) THE NIGHT CYCLIST by Stephen Graham Jones. A strange and obscure cycling duo of death that manages to pack a mean literary punch alongside a sack of chef knives. 



6) THE FISHERMAN by John Langan. This is a super dark, slow burning Literary Horror novel that bleeds magical darkness from all turns of the page. What’s to be expected inside? Black Magic, giant snakes, monsters, a mysterious lady corpse, an eerie man with giant hooks, and legend upon legend as the true story unfolds like an old fishing tale passed on from one fisherman to the next.



5) NOCTUIDAE by Scott Nicolay. In your face giant, flying beast with bubbles and beautiful multidimensional time travel that has the power to alter time and space, leaving the characters left to ponder life’s shallow existence in more ways than one. A truly powerful novella.



4) LAKE LURKERS by M.P. Johnson. The extremely talented and versatile author takes us on a hard hitting, fast bullet flying, heavy metal guitar slinging, action-packed adventure of our lives, while Tess plans for the biggest, baddest, and not to mention most expensive rager of all-time, as she puts an end to the blazing madness lurking from the lake across the street. This book was a lot of fun, you guys.



3) COMPANIONS IN RUIN by Mark Allan Gunnells. This is a must-read Horror Collection for any fan of Horror and Dark Fiction alike. Gunnells can craft a horrific tale alongside the best of them.



2) ECSTATIC INFERNO by Autumn Christian. Although this was released late last year from Fungasm Press, I didn’t get around to reading it until the beginning of the first of this year. Autumn Christian is a dark and highly creative magic machine that I would personally love to get to know better sometime. She manages to not only stay true to herself but to her fiction and art as well, leaving the reader stumped as to what exactly is going through her dark and twisted mind as she is writing such beautiful and equally tragic subject matter. The author shows us this sort of dependability time and time again with her innovative stories. Genuine creativity and originality can be found on every page in this dark and stellar collection.



1) ALTAR by Phillip Fracassi. Altar is an absolutely great and fantastic character driven tale of impending doom published by Dunhams Manor Press. Although the overall book is rather short, it is crafted and written so well it manages to deliver an unexpected depth. The characters are realistic to the point you can feel their own thoughts and emotions as they push the subtle story further into the deep end. We're instantly drawn into the lives of a family’s summer getaway to a community swimming pool located in the middle of a suburban hell, an aside from throwing on a blood red sheer terror soaked bikini that’s so dark it’s black. You may want to think twice before taking a dip and getting wet while having a little too much fun in the sun, because there is something much deeper, much darker lingering beneath the surface of it all.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Reviews for the Week of December 5, 2016

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




PREVIEW:


MONSTRUMFUHRER by Ed Erdelac (to be released 1/24/17 by Comet Press / 388 pp / eBook)

World War II Franken-Nazis? JA BITTE and YES PLEASE. I was all grabby hands all over this one, and I went in thinking I'd get something like the Dead Snow movies, all crazy fight scenes with tanks and machine guns and roaring unkillable monsters.

Now, there is some of that, no worries ... but the actuality proves MUCH deeper, MUCH more profound, a wrenching and tragic look at the horrors of war, tortured dynamics of father-and-son relationships, race and ideology, pride, belief, ambition, survival, philosophy, brotherhood, the very nature of humanity and life, and the darkest insights into our collective psyches.

Ed Erdelac once again proves a master of historical fiction, as well as seamlessly blending literature into reality. Suppose the events in Frankenstein had actually happened? The experiment, the Creature, the final doomed Arctic confrontation? And suppose that Victor Frankenstein's journal eventually made its way into the wrong hands? Into the worst possible hands? Into Josef Mengele's hands?

The story itself is told from the point of view of Jotham, a young Jewish boy hiding out with his twin brother in the attic of a sympathetic neighbor ... where he discovers the very letters written by the ship captain of the polar expedition who met Frankenstein in the far north. The boys, caught and taken to Auschwitz, are placed in a special barracks where studies are being done upon twins. Studies led by Mengele.

Jotham's intelligence and facility with languages brings him to the doctor's personal attention, and he's chosen to become the doctor's errand boy. That the two of them, with their unique knowledge of and interest in the Frankenstein lore, should cross paths ... well, it's a coincidence so staggering it's only excusable because the characters themselves end up remarking upon and marveling at it.

Their goals, however, are very different. Mengele wants to create the unstoppable super-army, Jotham wants revenge and to end the Nazi threat. But, for each, the path to success seems to be finding out whether or not the original Creature -- a century and a half later -- might still be alive. If so, can the Creature be found? Persuaded to take sides?

The answer to at least one of those questions is 'yes,' but at what cost? How far, literally as well as figuratively, will Jotham go?

MONSTRUMFUHRER is not the feel-good read of the year by any means. It forces confrontation with many of the most uncomfortable topics there are, blurs the lines of good and evil, presses a chilling touch to several nerves, thrums with dark symbolism, and is just altogether a jaw-droppingly outstanding piece of work.

-Christine Morgan



REUNION by Dan Foley (2016 Grinning Skull Press / 264 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Ryan Lowell receives an invitation to attend his 50th high school reunion to be held in October of 2014. He hasn't been back to his small home town in years, and the invitation sparks memories of why.

REUNION flashes back to 1956 when Ryan and his best friend Bran confronted a deadly creature that lived in their local swimming area, and also to 1939, when police officer Dave Longo dealt with the same creature's parent. He had help defeating it then, but in 1956 he ends up going after it on his own.

Foley mainly shifts between the two decades, and while the 2014 segments are brief, everything builds up nicely to Ryan's inevitable battle with yet another creature, which we learn is an American Indian legend known as an "Oniare," a snake like, 10-foot long reptilian beast with rows of jagged teeth and skinny arms that end in razor sharp claws. It seems this intelligent creature is driven to find hosts for its offspring, and nothing works better than human bodies...

This is a well written, fast paced read (I blasted through it in one sitting), and a fine bet for fans of the underwater monster subgenre. Those looking for surprises may be a bit disappointed, as REUNION is a straight-ahead, no-frills monster mash. But Foley's characters are engaging enough to make the familiar story interesting, and the creature itself is a creepy, slick blend of ANACONDA and ALIEN. One funeral scene in 1956 is genuinely heartbreaking, and helps us to cheer on Ryan's final confrontation in the modern day.

For monster fanatics, and also a great beach read next summer. Just make sure you don't sit too close to the shore line...

-Nick Cato




HOLLOW HOUSE by Greg Chapman (2016 Omnium Gatherum / 226 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This is the first book I’ve read by the author and it won’t be the last. HOLLOW HOUSE packs a rather dark punch with a very different take on the classic haunted house tale. It is innovative, hip, fresh, new and modern in all the right ways. Chapman truly is an excellent storyteller and writer. He tackles a rather hard obstacle here by utilizing a mass character-driven concept that takes his story to an all new level. I believe there is somewhere around fifteen well-constructed characters complete with their own stories, centering their focus around one large story. The author does an exceptional job with these characters, too. They are well thought out and believable. They are loveable, hateable, fun, heroic, dark, suicidal, and demented. We get an honest and true feel for each and every one of them.

The tale immediately takes us to the strange house at the corner of Willow Street. There’s a putrid scent coming from the old gothic style home and it has the entire street fearing for their lives and worked up in quite a tizzy. The Kemper House, built by Eric Kemper in 1886 is truly one of a kind (or is it?) with as much character and surprise as one might imagine from an abandoned house rumored to be haunted. And where is that smell coming from and why? Does anybody even live there anymore? That’s what Ben Traynor, a neighboring reporter from the local gazette wants to know, going at dangerous measures to figure out the mystery, not to mention type up another award winning front page article. But, the cops? They can’t quite seem to figure it all out either. All we know is there’s a body inside. There’s no signs of forced entry, and, the victim (deceased and unidentifiable) appears to have sliced his own body up beyond recognition. The only statement on record is that the crime is just as heinous as it is horrific, and they’re looking into signs of the occult and foul play.

The story keeps you on the edge of your seat as the plot thickens and more bodies disappear. There are ghosts, demons, a strange cult, and even the beast himself in this one. Pay attention. The killer may be a lot closer than you think.

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

-Jon R. Meyers



BONESPIN SLIPSPACE by Leo X. Robertson (2016 Psychedelic Horror Press / 70pp / trade paperback)

So, a book arrives unexpectedly in my mailbox. I knew nothing of it or its author; I had no idea what it was about or what I was in for. Psychedelic cover, from Psychedelic Horror Press. All things considered, that sure did set the stage.

The title -- BONESPIN SLIPSPACE -- may upon first glance seem incomprehensible, even nonsensical. Yet, sneakily, insidiously, the title is a perfect description. The interior illustrations, stark black/white/grey and bold shapes, initially give the impression of almost coloring-book simplicity, but upon closer inspection prove both creepy and surreal.

What's it about? Y'know, that's hard to say, and even if I somehow could say, I don't think I would. I get the idea it's different for everyone, the way a funhouse hall of mirrors is different for everyone, reflecting back what you take in with you.

The nearest I can attempt to explain it is ... imagine if the Marquis de Sade threw a party at Hotel California, in Hell.

When Ollie invites his friends Rudy and Tammy to this exclusive event at mysterious Blackburn Manor, he does so with the best of intentions, even though he should know as well as anybody how things go ... the sex, the torture, the depravity. But even Ollie has no idea what ultimate fate is in store for them ...whether it's a fate worse than death or not is impossible to determine, but it is certainly a fate weirder than death.

Forget mind-bending ... this is a mind-twisting read, this is a mind-corkscrew, this is mind-macrame, unraveling and re-knotting with greater complexity at every turn of the page.

-Christine Morgan



CRAWLERS by Ray Garton (2016 RGB Publishing / 100pp / eBook)

This book was originally published in 2006 by Cemetery Dance Publications as a signed Limited Edition Hardcover and since then has been out of print. So, I was super excited to hear that it was just recently re-released as an eBook so I could finally check it out for myself. It was definitely worth the wait. This book is awesome!

Think of some of those old black and white B-Rated Horror flicks. Or, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Mosquito (one of my favorites), maybe even Mars Attacks! for example. But, instead of killer tomatoes, annoying squawking aliens, and giant blood sucking proboscis’, picture a test run on potential world domination, global takeover by evil black suits, a government conspiracy disguised as a meteor shower, said suits spraying mystery fog onto your front lawn, to wake up and find a bunch of strange flowers everywhere. It’s the talk of the town. They are literally everywhere. Flowers that kill, that is! They eventually pop off their stems and turn into vicious brain suckers, attaching onto the forehead of its victims before tapping into their brain piece and controlling them to congregate and do terrible things together.

The small town of Mt. Crag has never seen such a sight for sore eyes. Thank goodness the country folks there keep enough guns and ammunition on hand to put up a good fight. But, is it enough for the killer flowers crawling around their town? Is the world doomed once and for all? I guess you’ll have to read it for yourself and find out. Garton keeps his prose short, sweet, and straight to the point in this one, making it a true page turner and a doomsday masterpiece that has enough power to withstand the hands of time.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers


PREVIEW:


BODY ART by Kristopher Triana (to be released 12/15/16 by Blood Bound Books / 207 pp / eBook)

And here I thought, silly me, I'd be getting a story about tattoos, maybe piercings ... wow, was I ever wrong! At least I caught on quick; hard not to when the first sentence of the prologue is a guy stitching corpse-parts together in a quest for perfect beauty.

This is way more. This goes far further. Then further still. Then, right when you're sure it's reached the absolute limit, the door gets kicked off the hinges because baby you ain't seen nothin' yet. Soon, a little Frankensteinian patchwork necrophilia seems mild by comparison.

We are talking serious hardcore extreme messed-up-to-the-max stuff here. The mortician piecing together his ideal woman will eventually discover his art has gone beyond taking on a life of its own. A filmmaker recruits a famed but aging porn queen for his underground fetish film, with no idea what they're really getting themselves into. Even the neighbors who sneak over for a peek get drawn into the maelstrom of unholy perversity.

Not much is off-limits. About every sex act you can imagine (and several nobody ever should!) make their appearance within these pages, as well as acts of torture, mutilation, cannibalism, dismemberment, defilement, humiliation, bloodlust, and sheer monstrous inhumanity.

So, being warped as I am, I enjoyed it greatly even if I was doing my patented flinch-and-squick routine most of the time. Definitely going to look for more from this author, who's definitely poised for a place alongside the likes of Wrath James White and Monica J. O'Rourke.

-Christine Morgan



MANIA by Lucas Magnum (2016 Doom Kitten Press / 103 pp / eBook)

The notion of a cursed book is nothing new ... and we've had our lore of unlucky theatrical productions (Scottish Play, anyone?) ... evil video tapes ... curses on the production set or later smiting the cast and crew of films ... but a cursed script, the very script/screenplay itself, makes for an interesting twist-take on the subject.

The only other thing close I can think of offhand is of course "The King in Yellow," in its mysterious and maddening vague oblique strangeness, while the story-behind-the-story of Mania is more direct. A Hollywood legend of an anonymous screenplay, itself telling the tragic tale of a nameless murdered actress, but it's never been successfully filmed. Previous attempts all ended badly, with breakdowns and deaths.

Now, though, cult/indie director William Ward has gotten his hands on the script. He thinks it might help him escape the long shadow of his movie-mogul father's legacy, make his own mark. He feels a connection to the main character and wants to see the movie finally made.

He also doesn't believe in curses. They never do, do they? Not until it's too late. The first few incidents get passed off as coincidence, nobody wants to talk about the weird experiences they've had. Once Ward DOES believe, his only hope is to find a way to break the curse before it claims him and his leading lady as its next victims.

A solid, fun, and engaging read ... which, ironically enough, would make a neat movie ...

-Christine Morgan



CONTROL by Ed Kurtz (2013 Nightscape Press / 308 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Lulled by THE FORTY-TWO's gritty starkness and the lush noir decadence of ANGLE OF THE ABYSS (see earlier reviews), I moved on to the next in my stack of Ed Kurtz books without initially realizing this one didn't have anything to do with movie-making, movie-houses, or the ephemeral dreams of the silver screen.

BUGS IT'S BUGS OH MY GOD *squicky bugdance* eew eew creepycrawly all the bugs! Except, wait, it's more than bugs. It's bugs and fungus, it's infestation, it's those weird rain forest zombified ants and stuff you read about, from the fuming fecund jungles where people shouldn't go.

But people do go, and people bring things back. Things for which other people, who should know better, might pay lots and lots of money. Everybody needs a hobby, after all. Leon's hobby is collecting bugs. Scorpions, millipedes, spiders. Sorry to be specist; I know there are differences between insects and arachnids and all that, but bugs is bugs is bugs.

Leon's latest acquisition, unbeknownst to him, includes a special bonus: a freaky green spore-thing that does what freaky green spore-things do. It grows, it spreads, it contaminates, it eventually kills all the little multi-legged creepycrawlies with which it makes contact.

The effect it has on Leon himself, however, proves unusual. He discovers he can bend the will of others, force them to obey his every command. To a guy who's a loner and a loser and an outcast, this sudden power is a twisted dream come true. The job he hates, everyone who's bullied him, the girls he's never dared talk to ... well, all that's about to change.

Probably it's weird of me, but I was relieved when the story moved away from the bug stuff to the human atrocity stuff, though I was still in for a few squicky bug-related shocks along the way, eew eew eew. The human atrocities are no slouches in the flinch department either, let me assure you, and several characters memorably demonstrate that we're often enough the real monsters even without any fungal spore-thing assists.

-Christine Morgan

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THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW wishes you a happy holiday season and a GREAT new year. See you in early 2017!