Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reviews for the Week of September 11, 2017

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


PAPERBACKS FROM HELL by Grady Hendrix (to be released 9/19/17 by Quirk Books / 256 pp / trade paperback, eBook)

For those who remember the early days of THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW, you may recall a section we occasionally ran on highlighting "classic" horror paperbacks from the 70s and 80s. Lurid pulp goodness from authors such as Hugh B. Cave, Jeffrey Konvitz, and Graham Masterton were examined and their wonderful covers were reprinted. Enter Grady Hendrix, who has pretty much created the ultimate look back at those moldy, under-read, and often envelope-pushing horror novels that lined drug store book racks and were found in the darkest corners of your local bookstore.

This one is as good as it sounds and more.

After an enlightening introduction and prologue, Hendrix wastes ZERO time getting right to the goods: chapters on the Satanic novel boom in the wake of ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE EXORCIST's success, killer kids, animal attack novels (it was so nice to see John Halkin's bat shit crazy killer jellyish novel SLIME mentioned), splatterpunks, serial killers, weird science...you name it and it's probably mentioned here, often with synopsis' that will have you jotting down a To Be Read list. I can see Amazon's second hand market exploding after this book hits the shelves next week.

While Hendrix spends a good amount of time on certain authors, I was overjoyed to see some of the cover artists from this bygone era finally get the recognition they deserve. Seeing artist credits inside small press books is common, but in the 70s and 80s (and I'll assume even earlier) cover artists received no other recognition other than their paycheck, and Hendrix explains to us why this was so. There are a lot of little tidbits like this that makes PAPERBACKS FROM HELL must reading for any lover of horror novels.

I think this was the first time I went online and pre-ordered a trade paperback of an eBook review copy as I read it. I saw a couple of the trade page previews, and the eBook version just can't compare (at least if you're a total book freak like me). The cover reproductions are as pleasing to the eye as the crazy descriptions of some stories, and I'm looking very forward to going through this again in a hard copy. Extremely re-readable, I'm sure I'll be wearing out my copy in no time.

An absolute must for any genre fan's bookshelf.

-Nick Cato


THE HANDYMAN by Bentley Little (to be released 10/31/17 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 334 pp / hardcover)

A new Bentley Little book! And there was much rejoicing! Because yes, maybe most of them follow a formula, but what a formula and what a brand! He's the greatest at taking some ordinary middle-class American and pitting them against what at first just starts off seeming like yet another of the annoying aggravations of modern life.

It's just, for so many of us, these aggravations are SO relateable. Even if you don't live in a gated community like in The Association, you've no doubt had your run-ins with landlords or roommates and petty control-freak rules. Even if you don't shop at retail megaboxes a la The Store, you know about them. You've probably faced insurance hassles and post office woes and vacations going wrong.

And even if you're not a homeowner, you've probably also dealt with or heard your share of improvement / remodel / repair horror stories. The shady contractors, the shoddy materials, the work that never seems to get done, costs coming in well above 'estimates', the delays, the mess, the stress, the nightmare.

Well, welcome to THE HANDYMAN. For real-estate agent Daniel Martin, an offhand half-joking/half-despairing remark from a client about a 'Frank house', so-called for the guy who worked on it, sets off a tumult of memories. Because he, too, once lived in a 'Frank house,' the pre-fab vacation home his parents bought when he was a kid. They hired Frank, the guy across the street, to put it together for them. Which is when it all started going wrong.

Daniel's further shaken to discover there've been a lot of 'Frank houses' ... a lot of people swindled and cheated, hurt, even killed ... bad construction jobs, stolen materials ... Frank gets around. A lot. Over years, even decades. There's also the matter of the extras Frank leaves at his job sites, like animal bones hidden in the walls. And his creepy wife. And the way Frank himself never seems to change.

One of the things Little excels at is slowly turning up the supernatural elements. I'm always reminded of what they say about a frog and a pot of water, how it'll hop out if you toss it straight into the boil, but if you gradually raise the temp, froggy will sit there and cook. By the time Daniel realizes he's dealing with far from anything normal, he's gone too far to get out.

Interwoven amid the Daniel narrative are vignettes of others of Frank's clients (or victims), and flashbacks to further unfold the dark truth. And yeah, fine, okay, if the ending is pretty much in line with the formula, the getting-there is wickedly disturbing, satisfying, and unsettling. It's another solid addition to anybody's Bentley Little library, not to mention a good cautionary tale before starting those fixer-upper projects.

-Christine Morgan

MAN WITH THE IRON HEART by Mat Nastos (2017 Cohesion Press / 232 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

As a big fan of Vikings and Norse myth, one of the most troubling aspects I routinely encounter is how certain evil rotten groups in history have adopted those elements as somehow supportive of supremacist ideologies.

So, a book wherein a huge rune-warrior wallops the crap out of a bunch of Nazis seeking to pervert the ancient powers came as something of a satisfying relief, actually. High-ranking cultists with ties not to the Aesir but to Jotunheim, realm of the giants ... berserkers ... gifts of Odin ... tanks and mad scientists ...

It begins with a small group of the resistance on a mission to assassinate a powerful Nazi official. Little do they know, that official has more than the usual protections. He's not an easy man to kill. In some ways, he's no longer even a man at all.

Faced with more than they'd bargained for and in over their heads, the resistance fighters -- led by a burly Scot -- are in trouble for sure. Until Grimm, the rune-warrior, shows up.

I did struggle some in the first chapter, which came off rather tell-y, like it was trying to cram in all the details about several characters at once. I found myself wondering if I needed to be taking notes, if there was going to be a quiz later. Once I got past that, though, the rest rolled right along like proper Viking thunder.

-Christine Morgan

CROW SHINE by Alan Baxter (2016 Ticonderoga Publications / 296 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

This author first came to my attention by way of Cohesion Press creature features, and I will probably give him grief about the sheep until the end of time, even if he tries to foist the blame off on his collaborator.

Speaking of collaborators, sometimes (squints at Preston and Child) there's that gestalt sum-of-the-parts thing going on, where the individual's solo works don't hold up as well as the team efforts. I am glad to report, that is not the case here. I am also glad to report, no sheep meet bad ends in this collection.

Of course, several other beings aren't so fortunate ... many of these stories touch on mortality. From beautiful acts of sacrifice to gruesome acts of murder.

"All the Wealth in the World" is a particularly haunting piece on the subjects of time, loss, remembrance, and regret. What would you do if you could buy a few extra hours, or days? At what cost?

"A Strong Urge to Fly," in which a young man tries to gain some independence from a domineering mother, only to find himself snared in an insidious web, gave me the creeps (though as a cat lady myself, also, I must protest!)

Herein, you'll find occult detectives, doomed sailors, sinister priests, blood legacies, moonshine and magic. There's obsession and revenge, fallen angels and angels of death-mercy, tricky devils and seductive sirens, botany run amok.

Baxter displays a deft touch at writing female characters, too, which should no longer have to be a thing in this day and age, yet all too often is. I found the women depicted here to be entirely genuine and believable. Even the evil ones. Or maybe especially the evil ones.

In fact, that same thing goes for all the characters, from kids to old folks. The genuineness and humanity makes them all very real.

Still not over the sheep thing though. Just saying.

-Christine Morgan

SHADOWS AND TALL TREES 7 edited by Michael Kelly (2017 Undertow Publications / 306 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook)

This was the first book-shaped package I received in the mail after the somewhat embarrassing steampunk smut incident, so, I was careful to open it before going in to work. And, safe! The cover has a kind of stark and dark vibe, beautiful and ominous, deceptively simple on the surface but rife with dangerous unseen currents.

Which, I'm glad to report, can also be said for the stories contained within. And bonus points for being one of the most perfect matches in tone to the name of the publisher I can recently recall.

The table of contents features a good mix of authors both familiar to me and not, and the quality across the board is outstanding.

Brian Evenson kicks things off with "Line of Sight," a tale of moviemaking gone subtly, creepily wrong. It definitely sets the stage for weirdness, which then kicks right into high gear with M. Rickert's mysteriously unsettling "Everything Beautiful is Terrifying."

Up next, we get the haunting sea-swept gothic feel of "Shell Baby," by VH Leslie, followed by a lonely journey taking a strange turn in Rosalie Parker's "The Attempt." In "The Closure," by Conrad Williams, a would-have-been surgeon revisits his past, and Manish Melwani's "The Water Kings" confronts difficult familial issues and legacies.

"In the Tall Grass" by Simon Strantzas is a kind of bizarro fairy tale of grieving widow/motherhood, while Steve Rasnic Tem's "The Erased" threatens the fragile natures of reality and memory. Robert Shearman's "The Swimming Pool Party" presents an uneasy look at some challenges of motherhood, while "We Can Walk It Off Come The Morning" by Malcolm Devlin resonates folklorish with secrets and hidden paths.

Widowhood and grief get another perspective in Robert Levy's particularly chilling "The Cenacle," and "Slimikins" by Charles Wilkinson is a gut-wrencher of uncomfortable guilty conscience. The end of the world may come with neither a bang nor a whimper in Allison Moore's all-too-possible "The Voice of the People."

One of my special faves here because it's just so hoarders-quirky dystopian is Rebecca Kuder's "Curb Day;" it gave me a neat Bentley Little kind of vibe, and I want to read more.

"Engines of the Ocean" by Christopher Slatsky features some exceptionally gorgeous turns of phrase in a poignant tale of loss, and then Laura Mauro's "Sun Dogs" manages the difficult trick of second-person POV in a difficult and different end-times setting. Next up is Michael Wehunt's "Root-Light," a dose of the uncanny with an old-fashioned feel leading to a disturbing conclusion.

Harmony Neal's "The Triplets" is another special fave; the vanity of those beauty-obsessed pageant-type moms is its own twisted form of Munchausen's by proxy, and there's a certain glee in seeing them get an unexpected comeuppance.

Finishing things off is "Dispossession" by Nicholas Royle, an uncomfortable, isolative, stalkery piece that might make you side-eye your neighbors and check all the dark corners. All in all, this book is quality stuff throughout, and I agree with the editor's hope that maybe, just maybe, someday there'll be a Volume 8.

-Christine Morgan

THE DARKLIGHTS by Michaelbrent Collings (2017 Amazon Digital / 333 pp / trade paperback, eBook)

I'm not sure why I mentally cast Jason Statham as the lead in this one. Maybe it was the Suit, a stylish blacker-than-black ultra high-tech work of sleekness (which can also be used to describe the entire book, really). Maybe it was the job of FixIt, a troubleshooter extraordinaire, the ultimate ultra-ops agent, a one-man final solution capable of anything from simple paperwork glitches to total planetary destruction.

The combined result makes for a whole lot of stoic badassery, so, really, who better than Jason Statham? Plus, eye candy, even if he doesn't manage to get his shirt off every other fight scene. When the mega-action is also mixed with poignant agonizing family drama, tragedy, and betrayal, you've got the makings of a wowser of a story.

Now, you might be thinking, okay, but, where's the horror? Oh, don't worry. There's horror. There's horror bigtime. On a world seemingly a perfect candidate for terraforming and colonization, a deadly unpredictable danger awaits. The scientists sent there are under the impression it's just an atmospheric anomaly, something that can be dealt with or worked around.

They're wrong, of course. It's a whole lot worse. Behind a corrosive nightmare where the very air will eat the flesh off your bones lurks a sinister, malevolent, purposeful force.

But the Company doesn't know this, so the Company sends in their top FixIt to find out what's holding up the show. Gerrold Mason is the best they've got, and they've also got him right where they want him. With his sick child's life hanging in the balance, he can't refuse the mission.

He's used to working alone, except for his ship's AI. But, haunted by his recent past, with his psyche shaken by personal troubles ... with the AI not behaving normally, and the destination an unknown hellscape ... THE DARKLIGHTS delivers a riveting action-packed and nerve-wracking experience start to finish.

-Christine Morgan

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reviews for the Week of August 28, 2017

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


THE HANDYMAN by Bentley Little (to be released 10/31/17 by Cemetery Dance Publications/ 334 pp/ hardcover)

The 27th novel from Bentley Little features everything fans have come to expect, although this may be one of his weirder tales.

Real estate agent Daniel Martin thinks back to a summer home his family had built when he was a kid. His father had hired Frank Watkins to do the job, and shortly after completion Daniel and his family's lives were never the same. Not only had Frank done a very poor job, but it led to the deaths of Daniel's parents and his brother.

Today, as an adult, Daniel is seeing signs of Frank's handiwork continuing around the western states of America. Despite vanishing years ago, could Frank still be alive, or worse, could there somehow be more than one of him?

Along with his girlfriend Teri, his childhood neighbor Evan, and a small "ghost hunter" type cable TV show crew by his side, Daniel locates Frank's whereabouts and all hell is (literally) about to break loose.

THE HANDYMAN is inspired by Asian ghost films, reality TV shows (don't worry ... this is nothing like Paul Tremblay's take in A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS), and features all the trademark, macabre situations Little's fans love. The book is told in three parts, the second of which showing the mental and physical damage Frank has done over the years, is quite chilling. The third part, in which our heroes confront Frank (and something far worse) in a place none of them could've ever imagined, should delight any fan of horror that's on the strange side.

I've been saying for years (in light of some of Little's short stories) that he'd surely be able to write an EPIC all-out bizarro novel...but until that day comes, THE HANDYMAN should easily suffice fans of weird horror fiction.

For the hardcore Little fan, this one falls somewhere between his "industrial" novels and his more experimental work, and with all fan boy-ness aside, it's a solid offering from one of the genre's favorites.

-Nick Cato

(NOTE: As per HFR tradition, Christine Morgan's review will appear in the next issue)

HOME IS WHERE THE HORROR IS by C.V. Hunt (2017 Grindhouse Press / 244 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audio book)

After reading the book’s description I was very much looking forward to it. Grindhouse Press always does a spectacular job of delivering quality tales full of gruesome gore, perverse terror, bizarre action and romance, and tragically unforeseen dilemmas. That, and being familiar with the author’s prior work, it’s safe to say I knew exactly what I was getting myself into, and my expectations for the book to deliver a unique tale were rather high. Hunt delivers the above mentioned qualities and expectations to the reader in the fullest. She tells a gruesomely perverse and unique tale chock-full of impending doom, sadness, sorrow and dread. Not to mention, the author’s ability to write in first person from another sexes POV is not only unbelievably accurate and heartfelt, but also physically and emotionally anatomically correct at all times, down to every last perverted suck, stroke, and premature patch of pubic hair.

Evan Lansing makes a living as a photographer. He photographs unusual birth defects, abnormalities and deformities. After a recent breakup, he moves in with his brother, wife, and their kid, until he feels out of place and unwanted. So, he pitches an idea to go stay at their mother’s cabin in the woods. His brother is too busy miserably trying to keep his snobby wife and daughter happy all the time, he hasn’t been able to finish up the remodeling so they can sell the property. Evan decides he could stay there, do the work for rent, and fix the place up to sell. While working on repairs there’s a lingering sadness on the property, and it only gets stronger when the neighbors are around. Upon first glance, there’s two people living next door. An old violent man and a young, bizarre and perverse teenager. But, later we discover a third and much darker entity. Things for Evan start to make a turn for the worse when the neighbors start visiting and coming around more frequently, even managing to ruin his new-found love with a woman he’d met while photographing her rare birth defects on her hands. Evan begins to question his own sanity and reality as his life begins to spiral out of control. He should’ve never came to his mother’s cabin in the woods. There’s much more than the death of his childhood lingering in the woods around him.

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers


THE WARBLERS by Amber Fallon (to be released 9/1/17 by Eraserhead Press / 86 pp / trade paperback)

Bizarro is many things, bizarro can be anything, it is infinite possibilities ... and in this, Amber Fallon's foray into the genre, she demonstrates it can even be subtle and slow-burn. She also demonstrates her range and talent with a piece very different from her previous book, yet equally engrossing.

The setting and era here are never precisely defined, which adds to the subtlety. It feels like rustic midwest America, maybe Dust Bowl / Great Depression; the neighbors have a truck, it's a trip to town to use a phone, a cold soda at the soda fountain is a rare treat.

But it could also be long-haul post-apocalyptic / dystopian, for all of that, with its stark references to the City and the status of being a Military Family. We don't really know, we don't get a big history info-dump. Nor should we. Told as it is, we get just enough to envision it perfectly without needing the bigger picture.

Dell, our POV character, lives with his Ma and Pa and little sister on their farm. He's a good kid, dutiful, hard-working, helps out. When a nest of warblers infest their back shed, he's ready to stand by his Pa to help deal with the menace.

What are Warblers? Again, we don't really know, and for the sake of the story, it doesn't really matter. We get tantalizing bits of description, matter-of-factly done. The warblers just are, and they're there, and they're dangerous. They've got to go.

Thing is, that's easier said than done. Even after a neighbor with a son in the Military -- Nathan, about Dell's age, but no friend, and a budding or blossoming psycho to boot -- offers to try and bring in more rifles, Dell's Pa has another solution in mind. One which everybody else seems to consider a cure worse than the disease.

Pa won't be deterred, though, and sends for something called a Squamate. When it and its handlers show up at the farm, Dell finds himself caught up in the middle of events even weirder than a shedful of Warblers, and has to face his own difficult decisions.

The voice and style here are particularly well-handled, conveying the feel of the setting without descending into overdone dialect caricature. If writing could be sepia-toned, like those Kansas scenes in Wizard of Oz, it'd be like this.

-Christine Morgan

IN THE RIVER by Jeremy Robert Johnson (2017 Lazy Fascist / 140 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

While this novella is certainly not one of my favorite works to date by the author for a couple of reasons (which may even be partially to blame on the version I personally read and the eBook's overall formatting), it surely is very well written, worth checking out, and does possess a couple of great and memorable moments, and it even has a great cause to support the book’s initial release which is relevant to the story’s overall theme, love and loss: “100% of the first month royalties from the sale of this book will be donated to Portland’s Homeless Family Solutions to aid them in the difficult work of helping families with children find safety and security during times of struggle.”

The tale takes us on a fishing adventure with a man and his son. The characters are creatively referred to as “the man”, “the boy”, and “the son”, which is well executed to deliver the guts of the overall story that takes place in a forest somewhere where multiple tribes do not necessarily get along with each other, pulling you into the character's emotions as they’re experiencing them firsthand. The father is teaching the boy the ways of survival in the river ... how to catch fish, feed and take care of your family, the stepping stones of a child becoming a man in adulthood. When the son falls victim to an error the father didn’t foresee coming which leads to his son’s death, the man falls victim to the demons in his head, a loss so profound that he questions his own sanity, hope, and will to live. This is where things get more exciting. Upon his interpersonal conflicts, the man goes to great lengths while searching for the boy, a sign of life, questioning and mourning the death of his son all at the same time. (This part of the book almost reads like the world Stephen King created inside the painting the woman found while rebuilding her life without her abusive husband in his book ROSE MADDER). The man fears telling his wife that their child is dead because of him. He questions running away, killing himself, rather than facing the truth. But, sometimes our decisions lead to second chances that make a difference between life and death.

There’s plenty of darkness and magic to be found within the pages of this book.

-Jon R. Meyers

THE BASEMENT SESSIONS by Kevin Bufton (2017 Ice Pick Books / 388 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Flash fiction, like poetry, is one of those forms of writing that impresses and mystifies me. A collection starting off with FIFTY pieces of it, in this book's opening 'Dark Lightning,' makes for a heck of an attention-getter.

They hit in a flurry of quick punches, some haymakers weighing in at a few hundred words, some nerve strikes of only a line or two, and the cumulative effect is to leave the reader reeling and staggering around the ring, seeing stars. These babies pack quite a wallop.

The book then moves on to a selection of longer works, grouped together as "Six of the Best: A Hellish Half-Dozen." They include a couple of diverse takes on the zombie apocalypse, a luchadore with a strange history, a dark fairy tale and a darker (plus brilliant and evil) interpretation of a familiar classic, and a story about tumbleweeds that freaked me all right the heck out because I grew up in the desert and those bastards were everywhere.

In the final section are some previously unpublished pieces, though given the strength of the writing, why they'd been unpublished are a mystery. Many of them are more of Bufton's highly effective flash fiction rabbit-punches, little evil fortune cookies.

'Crack!' is a fun comeuppance tale hearkening to the old EC comics and King's 'Chattery Teeth,' where you know what's going to happen and that only adds to the delight. 'Glory Hole' is similar in the know-what's-going-to-happen department, flinchy and squickworthy and difficult to look away.

There's also a novella, 'Cake,' an ominous foray into cosmic-horror where a small part of the world has been cut off from the rest by inexplicable forces for decades, leaving the survivors to make what society they can. It's a fascinating premise with nifty setting-building; I'd love to see more.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC no. 59 (Jul-Aug 2017)

This issue's fantastic cover (and some interior) artwork comes courtesy of Richard Wagner, then opening commentaries deal with David Lynch (by Lynda E. Rucker) and Ralph Robert Moore shares how an odd department story experience and a Thomas M. Disch story helped him come up with the opening lines to one of his stories. Rucker and Moore always have something interesting and entertaining to say and their columns have become my favorite part of Black Static.

This issue features seven short stories:

-'When We Are Open Wide' by Kristin DeMeester: Every once in a while a story appears in BS that's a bit more extreme than their usual fare. DeMeester's female coming of age tale really got under my skin with a finale that brought Takishi Miike's great IMPRINT to mind. Excellent and as creepy as it gets.

-Kirsten Koschock's 'The Body is Concentrated Ground,' tells of two sisters who, after living together all their lives, finally figure out how to truly become one. Paging Mr. Cronenberg for a film treatment..

-in 'The Dreaming' by Rosalie Parker, a man leaves his corporate job to fulfill his dream of helping others as a Shaman. But his true nature makes us question if he's even human...

-Damien Angelica Walters' 'Here, Only Sorrow' finds a mother dealing with the death of one of her young sons, while the surviving brother works out a way to keep him alive. A quiet goose-pimpler and a fine study on loss and grief.

-In 'Ghost Town' by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Rae is searching for a body to host her late wife Emily whose spirit visits each night. Emily is determined to make it through the river Styx that borders their town, and Rae finds an unexpected way to accommodate her wife's wishes. The scope of this short dark fantasy goes well beyond it's 4 pages.

-Sarah Read's 'Endoskeletal' features anthropologist Ashley tampering with remains found at an ancient cave burial site. When she is dismissed from further expedition she finds herself drawn back to the cave where she begins to...change. A classic-styled horror romp that stands out among this issue's more gloomy, depressing vibe.

-Lastly, 'To Dance is Feline' by YZ Chin looks at human nature through the eyes of a cat and the cat's mother. Chin's beautiful prose gives this a fairy tale feel and an otherworldly edge. I'm looking forward to more from her.

I sometimes skim Peter Tennant's author interviews, but this issue's chat with Gwendolyn Kiste was quite good (her upbringing will surely sound familiar to most horror fans). His review of her collection 'And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe' caused me to order it before I was halfway through it. Then there are in depth reviews of a four-book kaiju series from Apokrupha, two collections from Joyce Carol Oates, and six more novel reviews including the latest from Erica Ferenick and Catriona Ward. How on earth Tennant reads so much continually boggles my mind, but his reviews are among the best in the business.

Finally, Gary Couzen's latest crop of bluray/DVD reviews features a look at the Arrow releases of the Argento classic 'The Bird With the Crystal Plumage' and Frank Hennenlotter's 'Brain Damage.' 17 reviews in all, and while Couzen's synopsis' are informative without spoiling things for first timers, I'd like to see more info on the extras some of these deluxe blurays offer.

You STILL haven't subscribed? Fix that major mistake now: BLACK STATIC back issues / subscriptions

-Nick Cato


Monday, August 7, 2017

Reviews for the Week of August 7, 2017

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

THIS TOWN NEEDS A MONSTER by Andersen Prunty (2017 Grindhouse Press / 336 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

I’ve personally read a lot of the author’s prior work, and, I must say, this one may be one of my favorites to date. Andersen Prunty has an uncanny ability of being able to make the most simplistic everyday real-life scenarios transform into absurd, utterly gruesome, grotesque, terror, and perverted-filled chaos before your very eyes as you quickly turn the page to find out what happens next.

The book introduces us to our main character who miserably lives in a small town in Ohio. When he manages to leave the house to visit a friend who’s threatened to commit suicide, he runs into a little situation that ends up turning into a much bigger situation by the end of the book. What happens is literally the reason behind how he has always managed his daily social interactions; keep them limited, short, sweet, and straight to the point. Getting involved with others is sometimes a doomsday when having to care about more than just yourself, it’s a cold fact, but very true indeed. Had he just stayed at home and slept it off, nothing in this book would have ever happened, or at least he’d have not known or cared about it. So, after his car breaks down and he runs into an underage girl asking him to buy her booze in exchange for giving him a ride to avoid the long walk home, he slowly realizes everything in the town is connected and premeditated, including the strange inhabitants as everything spirals out of control and turns into mass sticky green chaos as he gets closer to seeking the truth behind the town monster.

Not everything is what it seems throughout the entirety of this book.

Highly recommended

-Jon R. Meyers

ANGLER IN DARKNESS by Ed Erdelac (2017 CreateSpace / 384 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I have always been impressed by Ed Erdelac's knack for historical fiction. He's one of the few who makes it seem immersive and effortless, taking the reader on a visit to the olden days without info dumps or dry lectures.

In this collection, arranged chronologically by setting, he proves that he can do it just as well in shorter pieces as in his longer works. Each, moving through the timeline from Pre-Columbian to modernity (and occasionally alt-modernity or a bit beyond) is its own exhibit in an interactive museum experiential tour.

Most of the stories have a uniquely American note, the American West, the frontier spirit, native peoples. A few cross the Pacific to the isles of Japan, bring Chinese mythology to life in California, or venture into the northern wilds of Canada or south to Paraguay. But they share that sense of westernness, not bogged down by the weight of centuries like you'd find in Europe or England.

Though, there are some exceptions ... one with the weight of millennia behind it, when giant monsters stomp the crap out of the Holy Land; a ballsy and startling but very entertaining move indeed ... one set in a posh adventurer's club, relating the horrors of a journey into darkest Africa ... fun stuff like that.

And, tucked in here and there like extra surprises, you'll find a retold fairy tale, a response to the sparkly vampire epidemic, a toilet story definitely not for bathroom reading

You'll find railroad workers and Texas Rangers, monsters and monster-hunters, ancient legends and cowboy lore, suicide forests and ghosts, clergymen misusing their powers, renegade Nazis. You'll find history not sanitized and prettied up for modern sensibilities; this is the raw stuff, the gritty stuff, with the ugliness and racism right there alongside the bravery and beauty.

Sometimes, the tales focus on the small-scale, families or individuals, lonely journeys, confrontations with cruel mortality and truth. In others, the fates of nations are at stake. There's variety here, a display of ranges -- temporal, stylistic, genre -- and it all serves to reinforce my initial opinion. Whatever the era, Ed Erdelac does historical fiction RIGHT.

-Christine Morgan

NEVER NOW ALWAYS by Desirina Boskovich (2017 Broken Eye Books / trade paperback & eBook)

Okay, this one belongs right there on the shelf of eerily frightening beautiful unreality with QUICKSAND HOUSE and THE ORPHANARIUM ... sharing certain similarities of children living in inexplicable maybe-otherworldly / maybe-futuristic / maybe-pandimensional settings ...

It's as if, at some point in their pasts, these authors all read a Madeleine L'Engle book none of the rest of it saw, and it awakened something in their psyches or did something to their brains. And now, in the form of their own books, that something is emerging.

Summary-wise, there are these groups of kids being raised in a sort of cyber-age nursery, their needs provided for, supervised by robotic Caretakers, occasionally instructed or questioned by an unseen Voice, subjected to strange procedures.

The children have fragmented memories, barely any sense of self, past or future, the passage of time. They just accept whatever's now, look no further forward than their next meal or sleep. Only rarely, in whispers, do they share their nearly-mythic ideas of what was before, what was home.

But then one little girl, Lolo, begins trying to remember, trying to resist, trying to hang onto things from one cycle of time to the next. She knows she has a sister, and when she discovers there are other similar groups of kids beyond her own, she sets out to find her.

I read it in a perpetual state somewhere between admiring awe (I kept pausing to go, "wow" in that low sort of breath like you do) and a major skin-crawling case of the creeps. The way it's written is a mix of unsettling and delicious, capturing a childlike perspective but done with masterful adult skill.

-Christine Morgan

EXTINCTION BRIDGE by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding (2017 Kindle Worlds / 56 pp / eBook)

The top-notch team behind rising star Cohesion Press strike again, this time displaying their own writing chops in a slam-bang military adventure of wall-to-wall action.

And, as a bonus, they do what most of the usual big-budget disaster movies always seem to overlook ... we've seen the Empire State Building get destroyed HOW many times? The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, other landmarks and monuments?

Well, it's long past time Australia got some of that love, and where better than the famous Sydney Opera House? A fitting backdrop for an all-out battle between big guns and rampaging monsters!

The premise is straightforward enough, like something right out of a special forces type video game. An outbreak, civilization in ruins, cities overrun by infected mutations, only a few strongholds left. Alpha Team was on a mission to extract a scientist and data from a top-secret facility in a compromised region, but base has lost contact with them ... so now Bravo Team gets to go in and see what's what.

As you might expect, what's what is decidedly not good news. Soon, the members of Bravo Team are in their own last-ditch fight for survival, and they're about to discover the situation -- as bad as they thought it was before -- is really a whole lot worse.

Loaded with high-tech hardware and gunplay galore, racking up rapid kill-tallies on all sides, it's a quick adrenaline-rush of a read.

-Christine Morgan

EYES OF DOOM by Raymond Little (2017 Blood Bound Books / 284 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Any book which hops back and forth in timeline about a group of friends who must return to confront the buried/forgotten events of something terrible that happened when they were kids is going to draw inevitable comparisons to King's IT, but this one is very different, and very much its own cool and creepy thing.

For example, those time hops here are much more elaborate and complex, presenting the story in hidden jigsaw pieces ranging from when the characters were eleven all the way into their sixties, showing portions of their lives spanning several decades ... but, not in chronological order, so you have to fit it all together as you reveal each new element.

The group of friends are Matt, Jack, Vinnie, and Georgina. And then the new kid, Frankie, who moves into the old mansion that used to be a hospital back in wartime. Frankie seems a little weird, but then, each of them have their own quirks, secrets, or troubled home lives.

Skipping ahead and around, we learn more about them all -- family dramas, college romances, careers, broken hearts, broken marriages, indiscretions, fights. We also get tantalizing references to an accident all those years ago, a fire, a menacing doctor-figure, and Frankie's death.

Except, Vinnie keeps insisting Frankie is still around. Minor but unsettling things keep happening, following them through their lives. The story, for the reader, keeps unfolding like a clever origami picture-puzzle map, revealing new, connecting previous in unexpected ways.

I don't want to spoil any of the intricacies of the plot, but as a writer I was consistently impressed by just how well it was done, how skillfully handled, offering just enough to intrigue without falling into that annoying smug I-know-something-you-don't some books have. As a reader, I enjoyed the characters, found them well-realized and believable, even the minor ones showing lots of personality and depth.

Really good, really really good, with the seamless twisting turns of the ouroboros featured as its illustration. Fantastic work!

-Christine Morgan



ZOMBIE No. 5 (2017 Eibon Press / 38 pp/ written by Stephen Romano)

After devouring (full pun intended) the first 4 issues of Eibon Press' comic book adaptation of Lucio Fulci's grindhouse classic ZOMBIE, they begin a brand new sequel next month with the 5th issue (that will be available in different limited editions. See end of this review for details).

On the island: It turns out Doctor Menard has not died. Well, sort of. This issue starts with his creepy and dramatic resurrection. Although now one of the undead, and part of witch doctor Biacondo's growing legions, Menard has kept his mind and is more hell bent then ever to see the fruition of his experiments (which began long before the events of the classic film).

Switch to NYC: Peter and Ann have returned from the island and are (amazingly) able to almost enjoy their first official, long overdue date. Manhattan has become infested with zombies, but Peter and Ann quickly learn who is helping to control and end the problem: none other than Colonel Louis Fulci himself! Fulci fans won't get enough seeing their favorite Italian director (along with an entire army) contain and destroy countless zombies, who they've managed to corral on 42nd Street during its heyday! The artwork (courtesy of Pat Carbajal) had me drooling: zombies getting blown up and shot in front of classic theater marquees? This sucker's a grindhouse fan's dream come true.

But ZOMBIE no. 5 offers more than fanboy fantasy: there's a side plot concerning Peter's VERY pissed off brother returning from the dead. And with this brief segment (along with the revelation about Dr. Menard), it seems these zombies, while slow moving, may in fact be much more intelligent than we've believed all along...

Of course there are some great extras (differeing with version you get), but one that's included in each issue is a 5-page "Top Secret" file that chronicles the toxic background to the story. Loved it.

So much damn fun! Just wish we didn't have to wait until January, 2018 for the 6th issue. Pre-orders go live this Friday, 8/11 so don't delay before they're all gone:ZOMBIE no. 5 pre-order and back issues

-Nick Cato


Monday, July 24, 2017

Reviews for the Week of July 24, 2017

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

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL by Rio Youers (2017 St. Martin's Press / 344 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Youers (author of my favorite novel from 2012, WESTLAKE SOUL) makes his Big League debut with this irresistible supernatural thriller.

Harvey Anderson is a neo-hippie street performer whose life is turned upside down when he's abducted by a gang of mysterious goons. They beat him to within an inch of his life, continually asking him where a girl named Sally Starling is. Harvey has absolutely no idea what they're talking about, but they insist he knows her. He is then introduced to the ring leader, a man he nick names "The Spider" who has the ability to get inside his brain and take control. It seems this Sally has taken much of his power away, and he's hellbent on finding her.

With the threat of everyone he knows being destroyed, Harvey sets out to find his alleged girlfriend, with the goons always a step ahead of him or right on his tail. He discovers Sally has erased herself from his memories in an attempt to protect him, but he'll stop at nothing until he can remember the truth.

THE FORGOTTEN GIRL features a serial killer side plot, fantastic villains, a relentless pace, and a host of colorful people who elevate the story far beyond the norm. The last three chapters (no peeking!) had me cheering Harvey on out loud, and despite the novel's serious tone, Youers uses some clever, humorous similies among his spectacular prose.

I winged through this in two manic sittings and so will you.

-Nick Cato

BEHOLD THE VOID by Philip Fracassi (2017 Journalstone / 289 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

The nine pieces in this collection are a good balance of original and previously-appeared-in, and among them provide an equally well-balanced introduction to the depth and range of Fracassi's work. Plus, he landed an intro from Laird-freakin-Barron; that alone should prove he's got the chops.

The opener, 'Soft Construction of a Sunset,' has a title that might call to mind an oil painting, but then it turns out to be a mind-blower, part Twilight Zone, part 1408, nightmarish house-of-mirrors type stuff where even when you think you know where it's headed, you can't stop yourself from following along to the horrific conclusion.

In 'Altar,' what starts out as just another ordinary trip to the public pool, rife with the ordinary -- if awful -- elements of bullies and inattentive parents and sleazy sex offenders takes a cataclysmic turn ... then goes from disastrous-bad to otherworldly-worse.

'The Horse Thief' proves disturbing on several levels, starting off with the threat to an innocent animal (even a horse named Widowmaker doesn't deserve the kind of fate horse-thief Gabino's boss usually has in mind) and then bringing in weirder paranormal elements and escalating violence.

Next up is 'Coffin,' which starts out with Sylvia at the funeral of the grandmother she isn't exactly sad to see dead, and then shows us through flashbacks her very good reasons why ... but some secrets, and some evils, can't be so easily buried.

'The Baby Farmer' examines the more rare phenomenon of the female serial killer. Now, these usually fall into the Black Widow or Angel of Death categories; this one puts a definite twist on things, and leaves a sinful priest rather concerned about why one of his parishioners should take such an interest in the case.

'Surfer Girl' has a wowser of an opening line and a steel mill death scene I won't be getting over anytime soon, and then goes on to unfold a skin-crawling picture of budding sociopathy, the kind where you can't really imagine the neighbors talking about how nice and normal he always seemed. 'Mother,' however, presents a sociopath of another sort, the controlling cold-bastard sort who gets more than he bargained for in ways he couldn't have imagined.

I liked the hint-and-tease aspects of 'Fail-Safe,' never really explaining exactly what monstrousness is going on, its lady-or-tiger / Schrodinger's cat elements, the dichotomies of love and fear, a terrible coming-of-age choice no one should ever have to make.

The book closes out with 'Mandala,' a novella that's part nerve-wracking suspense thriller and part malevolent paranormal threat. Mike and Joe are summer friends, whose annual vacation plans don't leave either of them with many other options, so they make do with each other. They play games, cops and robbers, go exploring, the usual kid stuff.

Until, one day, circumstances collide to make things go very wrong. With Mike's life in danger, he can only hope his father will somehow find and help him ... but his widowed father is in the grips of alcoholic despair, and some force wants to make sure he can't each Mike in time.

It's a nail-biter, a breath-holder in more ways than one, an intense and agonizing experience full of all sorts of guilt and all sorts of terror. Fantastic! Needs to be a short film.

-Christine Morgan

THE CITY by S.C. Mendes (2017 Trench Coat Press / 378 pp / eBook)

Sometimes I like to take a risk, make a gamble, brave an adventure into the dark and ominous unknown. In fiction only, of course; in real life I am both coward and wimp. But, diving into a book while knowing nothing of it except the title and author's name and a glance at the front cover? That, I'm willing to try.

With this one, I didn't have much to go on. An author unfamiliar to me, a title that could mean any of a million things, a cover instantly intriguing (occultish with ouroboros, dancing nudes, self-beheading, peculiar symbols). I didn't know what to expect or what I was getting myself into, but, I was game.

In this case, it turned out to be a good move, not to mention eerily apt. Because this book is about risks and gambles and adventures into the dark and ominous unknown, with a protagonist who doesn't know what to expect or what he's getting himself into.

Not that he, Max Elliot, is exactly game for it. He doesn't have much choice. The classic archetype of a man who's lost or is losing everything, whose family has been ripped from him, whose job is in danger, a detective sliding deeper into an inexorable spiral of addiction, and whose past sins are all coming home to roost, he is flawed to the point of brokenness, yet still sympathetic.

And, with this new grisly case, he might have his last shot. Maybe not at redemption, but at least at answers, at finding out the truth of what happened to his wife and daughter.

It's the kind of tale that could be set in almost any place and time; the place and time here happen to be San Francisco, a few years after the Great Quake. Max is no stranger to Chinatown's opium dens and seedier establishments, but the arrival of a new drug on the scene, linked to inexplicable murders, leads him to a city beneath the city by the bay, a city he never suspected or would have believed.

That's when the book goes from grim pre-noir thriller to something altogether more horrific and bizarre, as Max journeys into a literal underworld inhabited by inhuman creatures, where torture and death provide entertainment.

A solid, engrossing read with vivid descriptions (some of those torture scenes, especially so!) and fascinating hints of mystery and history ... I'm very glad I gave it a shot!

-Christine Morgan

THE HEMATOPHAGES by Stephen Kozeniewski (2017 Sinister Grin Press / 326 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know how there are some books you shouldn't read if you're an expectant parent? Or how you shouldn't read The Stand when you have the flu? Well, given my current personal medical situation combined with my general squick-list, it turns out this was one that ... yeeeesh.

And I don't mean just the space lampreys. I knew about the space lampreys going into this. They're right there on the cover, in all their freaky ring-mouthed toothy ickiness. I thought I could handle it, though. I was right ... for a while ... until not long past the halfway point, when suddenly AUGH!!!

AUGH!!! the rest of the way to the end. Yet, I couldn't put it down. I couldn't walk away. I had to read. I had to know. I read the whole thing start to finish in about four hours. Because Kozeniewski, drat him, is really really good.

It's sci-fi horror, set in a far future where the menfolks are not merely obsolete but basically extinct. Also obsolete/extinct are racism (because humanity's achieved that homogeneous blend) and nationalism (because it's all colonies and corporations these days).

Of course, some things don't change ... like job interviews, fashion snobbery, classism, professional rivalries, and trying to make a buck. Or a chit, as the case may be. For Paige Ambroziak, a struggling Ph.D student, the chance to land a spot on a salvage ship going after a nearly legendary derelict is one she doesn't want to pass up.

Even if the expedition is to a fleshworld ... a planetary mass composed of a bloodlike sludge. If there's life to be found, it'd most likely be hematophages, blood-drinkers. Remember that space lamprey from the cover? Yeah. Think Alien or Aliens, but, with those. Eew.

But the prospect of giant leeches isn't about to stop the crew of the Borgwardt. Nor is a run-in with a horrific band of pirates, known as skin-wrappers. Nor are the prospects of saboteurs among their own ranks. Not when time is of the essence, and their profit margins and bonuses are on the line.

Of course, things go terribly wrong, and when they do, they go wrong terribly fast. In spectacularly gory, extreme, up-close-and-personal fashion. Which then keeps intensifying; each time you think it can't get worse, surprise, it does!

So, yeah, if you want some rapid-fire, eye-popping, action-packed, tough-chicks-vs.-space-lampreys gooshy horror thrills, with corsairs and some steamy girl-on-girl, in a nonstop read (beat my four-hour time, go on, do it!), then this is the book for you!

-Christine Morgan

BRATS IN HELL by Frank Elder (2017 Amazon Digital / 275 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Elder (co-author of the hilarious SHOCKER series) brings his brand of trashy heavy metal horror comedy to the underworld in what's being billed "The Wurst Book Ever Written!" It's also dedicated to Debbie Gibson, "an American treasure," so, yeah, Elder isn't exactly playing with a full deck. But that's half the charm of this one.

After Otto Van Der Noodle wins a bratwurst making competition in Wisconsin (hey...isn't that cheese town?), he's assassinated and finds himself way South of Heaven. He quickly discovers he's now smack in the middle of a war for control of hell between the Devil and his brother Dagobert (you simply HAVE to love these names). Dagobert takes Otto on a guided tour of the tormented, and decides he can use Otto's bratwursts to dethrone his brother. But as the story goes on amid the flames of hell, trashy jokes and countless references to craft sausages, we learn Satan has a trick up his sleeve in the form of a unique demon. And just wait 'til you meet him!

Yep, this is all a bit silly, but if you've read Elder you know he makes it work. By the time I finished chapter 7 I was finding things a bit repetitive, but then Elder kicks things into high gear at a huge Arena, and a scene between bratwurst vendors and demons had me laughing my ass off (or LMAO as the kids say these days). The humor keeps on going, and you'll probably be saying BRATWURST for days after reading this irreverent and fun story.

I don't know how many writers can make such a crazy idea work for the length of a novel, but Elder does, and that's saying something. BRATS IN HELL is like an Adult Swim cartoon and would probably work fine if it was turned into one.

I recommend having a few wursts on hand while reading for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato

SPIDER BUNNY by Carlton Mellick III (2017 Eraserhead Press / 140 pp / trade paperback)

If you grew up watching cartoons and eating cereal in the 80s and 90s like I did, you will most likely love and/or at the very least be able to relate to most of the subjects in this book of colorful fun. I, personally, have always enjoyed eating cereal. I don’t care if it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I don’t care if I’m in the middle of passing a kidney stone. If I’m craving a bowl of Captain Crunch, Cheerios, or Crispix, I’m going to pour a bowl, maybe even two or three, and slurp up the golden milk at the end. So, times that by about a million back in the day when we used to have cereals like Yummy Mummy, Boo-Berry, MR. T, Freakies, Quisp, Rainbow Brite, King Vitamin, C3PO’s, and the infamous KABOOM that used to turn your feces into a bright, multi-colored rainbow party in the bottom of the toilet bowl. The list goes on forever. Cereal was just that much better back in the day and if you grew up during the 80s and 90s, you know that’s a fact. And so was the advertising, a major concept to this book is based off those old bizarre cereal commercials from yesteryear. Imagine getting sucked into the television, turned into a cartoon, and thrown right dab into the set as one of the living characters in that commercials’ world. That’s what this book is all about and it delivers by the spoonful, and there’s even a Horror story to be told there.

When Petey and his friends are sucked into a disturbing Fruit Fun cereal commercial from his childhood that only he can remember, the group of friends are confronted with more fear and terror than any of them could possibly remember. Berry Bunny is very much alive and not so nice when confronted face to face inside the television, on the set of the old commercial, and it’s a very peculiar and surreal world there. Things aren’t so happy and colorful in the land of mutants, monsters, and deformed children, especially if you go off the grid into the darkness. Your best bet is to stick to your guns, stay together, stay safe, and hide until the portal opens back up.

SPIDER BUNNY is a lot of fun for the entire Horror family and vintage cereal and cartoon enthusiasts alike.

-Jon R. Meyers


ZOMBIE (issues 1-4) and THE GATES OF HELL (issues 1-2) (2016,17 Eibon Press, approx. 30 pp each)

I've been a fan of horror comics since the early 70s when I was just starting elementary school. DC titles such as THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY, WEIRD WAR TALES and Marvel titles like TOMB OF DRACULA were my everything. In the late 70s I discovered Warren Publishing's wonderful black and white magazines EERIE, CREEPY, and VAMPIRELLA, as well as the more underground magazine-sized comics such as WEIRD and WITCHES' TALES. The 80s saw a host of others (including TWISTED TALES and GORE SHREIK), and of course today there is no shortage of horror in illustrated form, especially zombie-themed titles.

But along comes Eibon Press, who not only decide to adapt Lucio Fulci's classic film ZOMBIE to comics, but do so in a way that will blow any collector's mind. For starters, the cover images pictured above are slipcovers (there's different artwork on the actual comic book covers inside), and each issue comes packed with fun extras such as stickers, trading cards, bookmarks, full color previews, and in the case of the 4th issue of ZOMBIE, a 7" vinyl record of the soundtrack. Each issue has been an event full of bells and whistles ... but how, you may ask, is the writing?

Next to the lurid and graphic artwork (that makes the films themselves look like Sesame Street), it's Stephan Romano's script that makes these stories shine: in the case of ZOMBIE, much backstory (that's barely hinted at in the film) is given as to the origin of the undead, and in THE GATES OF HELL, a promised 3-issue adaptation, it's already making more sense than the movie (and I hear he's even going to give us an ending that's coherent!). The third issue can't get here fast enough.

These limited edition comics are the real deal, folks: sure, they're a lot of fun to collect and drool over the extras (which also includes informative liner notes and other surprises), but the stories themselves are what work for me, and for the sake of THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW, that's the real gem here. As someone who always found Fulci's ZOMBIE a tad (don't shoot me because you know it's true) dull, this comic version is anything but, and the coming 5th issue (which is a continuation of the film) looks to be the best one yet. Eibon Press is also branching out into a "VHS Comics" imprint and will be adapting MANIAC (1980) and the scifi schlocker LASERBLAST (1978) to comic form, as well as an original series titled BOTTOMFEEDER. Hey, I may be within months of my 50th birthday but these comics make me feel like a teenager!

These are some of the finest horror comics to ever make print. Get 'em while you can before you have to spend a ridiculous amount on eBay: EIBON PRESS

-Nick Cato