Sunday, October 9, 2016

Reviews for the Week of October 10, 2016

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


REANIMATRIX by Peter Rawlik (to be released 10/18/16 by Night Shade Books / 364 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I settled in to read this one. Something good, I felt confident, given what I've seen from Rawlik before, and in such regard I was not let down. Beyond that, I was thinking something kind of Bride-of-Frankenstein-ish, maybe, a sequel spinoff to the classic Reanimator, along those lines. What I got was so much more, it blew even my vague early expectations away.

This is far beyond a simple sequel. This is extrapolation and worldbuilding and interweaving of epic proportions. This is not just a who's who of the Mythos, but a who's who of the entire era, historical and literary and pop-fictional combined. It's fun, it's sly, it's clever. I was reminded of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only minus the painfully forced feel, with better-written and more interesting, less-gimmicky characterization.

The story is primarily told in the form of journal entries from one Robert Peaslee, beginning shortly after the Great War. Originally from Arkham, his duties as part of a military security detail gradually morph into a semi-independent career of private investigation, paranormal troubleshooting, and general looking into the proverbial things-best-unknown.

During the course of his various pursuits, he becomes fascinated with a young lady named Megan Halsey-Griffith (a fascination made all the more interesting by the fact Robert isn't normally very keen on young ladies, so to speak). Her untimely death leads to his research into her family's enigmatic past -- deepening the frame narrative into diaries, letters, and accounts from other points of view -- and including some sordid glimpses into erotic underworlds and mysterious medical practices.

All this, of course, while also taking the reader on a grim and whimsical sight-seeing tour of Lovecraftiana, hitting several delightful touchstones along the way. My personal favorite moments, Chambersian heretic that I am, came early in the book (Chapter Two: The Sepia Prints).

But wait, you might be saying, this is called REANIMATRIX, isn't it about Herbert West and his infamous serum? Of course! That particular reagent, and its applications, provide the underlying drive for the plot, as various factions seek to control, duplicate, counter, or exploit its effects. There's plenty of reanimation to go around!

-Christine Morgan


A LONG DECEMBER by Richard Chizmar (to be released 10/31/16 by Subterranean Press / 520 pp / hardcover and eBook)

Chizmar's mammoth short story collection is everything you'd expect from a writer (and editor) who has been working with the best in the business for the past 25+ years through his magazine, Cemetery Dance. On display here are 35 of his career-spanning tales, most featuring clever twist endings, many are of the "quiet" horror variety, but that makes the stories with bursts of violence that much more effective.

Among my favorites are the title tale, A LONG DECEMBER, one of the longer pieces of the collection and an absolutely stunning serial killer/revenge story with an ending you won't see coming. Another serial killer is on the loose in THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES, a truly horrifying take on the subgenre.

In DITCH TREASURES, a highway maintenance man discovers something amazing in a roadside pond. To say any more will do you a huge disservice. In GRAND FINALE, a rich college student secretly films his bedroom antics, but he starts seeing gruesome images when he plays the tapes back. This would've made a killer episode of MASTERS OF HORROR or  TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.

In one of Chizmar's best twists, a mother learns a wicked secret one of her kids is keeping in THE BOX, while THE SEASON OF GIVING delivers a heartbreaking look at child abuse set against a holiday background. DEVIL'S NIGHT deals with jealousy gone amuck (and features some of the collection's most memorable characters), and in what is arguably the most powerful story of the lot, an aging man's son turns to a mysterious stranger to help his father become immortal in HEROES.

Even in the three or four stories that didn't work for me, Chizmar was still able to keep my interest, so to say a 35-story collection didn't have a bad apple in the bunch is a rare occasion.

A LONG DECEMBER is an excellent read, and I'll surely be revisiting a couple of its stories. Chizmar provides some genuine scares and plenty of variety to keep any horror fan up late, buried between the pages. And with most stories here at a short length, compelling you to continue, it's easy to get lost in this author's dark world.

-Nick Cato

THE FISHERMAN by John Langan (2016 Word Horde / 282 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Alright. I had to sit on this one for a minute and let the black water soak in until I figured out how I really felt about it. There’s a lot going on in this book. One is probably not going to be able to tackle this in a single sitting. It’s slow. It’s dark. It’s deep.

John Langans’ haunting novel THE FISHERMAN is an excellent read with a mean lower gut punch to the abdomen. What we have here is a super dark, slow burning literary horror novel that bleeds 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. In fact, there is such a tale. The tale of Der Fisher: The Fisherman, and his legacy that prevails out at his old stomping grounds—Dutchman’s Creek, a creek barely noticeable on a map

Langan is a great story teller. He shows us this within the first few pages, when the reader is instantly drawn into the author’s dark mindset. We are introduced to our main characters, Dan and Abe, whose lives are in absolute bloody shambles. They’re sad widows with tragic back stories, who are able to bond over their one and only true love who hasn’t up and died on them just yet: fishing. Their true nature and emotions unfold before your eyes as one of them tells the other of the mysterious and equally legendary creek. You can feel their pain, their struggles, their sadness as the story goes on and their secrets are revealed to each other in ways one would probably not like to find out.

Reader beware: there is a story inside of a story here, and you may find yourself wanting to give up at times; don’t. Just stick it out. There’s a lot of history involved, as we go back in time to discover the true origins of the creek, and the many mysteries in the small town near it. It’s necessary for the story to unfold and the author will make it worth your time, as it allows some of the darker segments to hit that much harder.

Definitely recommended for fans of weird, horror, and dark fiction alike.

-Jon R. Meyers

WITH TOOTH AND CLAW by Jim Goforth (2015 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 192 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Fellow devotees of the late, great Richard Laymon get bonus points with me, and by now Jim Goforth has racked up quite a few ... there's just something so satisfying about a good unabashed wallow in sex and blood and gore!

This collection of seven tales opens up with "Dead Tree Creepers," which is what basically amounts to Laymonesque comfort food. The mac-and-cheese of it, classic, hearty, gooey, and filling. A bunch of friends go camping in the woods, to drink and carouse, to score or try to, and to tell some spooky stories. One of which, that of the malevolent eyeball-gouging Creepers, turns out of course to be all too true.

Closing out the book is "Cavedwellers," which might on first blush seem to be a similar young-folks-meet-bad-ends-in-the-wilderness, set on and in a mountain as intrepid hikers get trapped while seeking shelter from a storm ... but then along come some surprises, far worse and weirder than any ordinary cave-monsters.

And what's in between these two? Oh, all sorts of fiendish nastiness! A sleazy jerk discovers a new night-spot where the dancers really take it off ... some brutes and bullies pick on the wrong target ... a pair of would-be thieves get more than they bargained for when they're hired to retrieve a mystery package ... a psychic's nightmares come too close to home ... the impending end of the world affects different people different ways.

So yeah, if, like me, you enjoy your hardcore horror up to the elbows in it, you should find plenty of wicked fodder here.

-Christine Morgan


RETURN OF THE OLD ONES: APOCALYPTIC LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR edited by Brian M. Sammons (to be released late 2016/early 2017 by Dark Regions Press / hardcover, deluxe numbered signed hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook / no page count as of this review)

Sammons (editor of several Lovecraftian anthologies) has put together a real winning team here, with stories set in three eras (before, during, and after the Old Ones return). While I like Lovecraft well enough, I'm not a huge fan of the countless "mythos" stories that have flooded the market over the past several years, but in this case they not only work, a few truly terrify.

Among my favorites in Section One ("In The Before Times") are Tim Curran's incredibly creepy SCRATCHING FROM THE OUTER DARKNESS, where a blind woman is given a vision of Cthulhu's return, Scott T. Goudsward's THE HIDDEN, as we follow a support group and an artist as they bring forth Cthulhu with the help of one of their member's late father's notes, and in one of the best of the anthology, THE GENTLEMAN CALLER by Lucy A. Snyder, where we meet a wheelchair bound deformed female dwarf, who works as a phone sex operator and is given an unusual necklace that allows her to travel into other people's bodies. How she inadvertently unleashes Cthulhu is unforgettable. I found every story in this first section (there are 4 more) to feature a chilling sense of impending doom, and each one unique from the other.

My favorites in Section Two ("Where Were You When The World Ended?") were Peter Rawlik's TIME FLIES, which is kind of like what the film PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE would be like if done in a non-campy manner. It deals with possessing aliens who arrive to witness mankind's demise. Clever stuff. In Tim Waggoner's SORROW ROAD, a mother and her cancer-ridden 4 year-old son witness the arrival of the Old Ones in this heartbreaking yet terrifying entry that features Waggoner's dazzling prose and a weirdness level amped up to 11. And in William Meikle's THE CALL OF THE DEEP, Two UK soldiers are sent to the U.S. to guard scientists on a top secret mission to save the world from natural disasters and an invasion by millions of amphibious creatures. Meikle's tale features Cthulhu entering the world with more global devastation than I can ever remember reading before. Gleefully insane.

In the final section ("Life in the Shadow of Living Gods"), I particularly liked Christine Morgan's THE KEEPER OF MEMORY: long after the Old Ones have returned an old woman known as Mema teaches the young children about the world before the New Gods arrived. A haunting (and at times hilarious) monster mash, Morgan's ability to add humor to such a serious story (and overall anthology) is quite impressive. The book's final offering, STRANGERS DIE EVERY DAY by Cody Goodfellow. is a "mini-epic" dealing with Tobin Thrush, a man for hire living in an apocalyptic world where Cthulhu may be an idea more than an actual God. This blend of noir action centering around Thrush's search for a kidnapped girl is jam-packed with bizarre cults, gangs, and so much strangeness I couldn't read it fast enough. Easily the highlight of the anthology and a must read for fans of weird fiction, Goodfellow's tale is worth the price of admission on its own, and dare I say HPL himself would be envious.

RETURN OF THE OLD ONES is a great anthology with not a slow story in the mix. Each author has brought unique ideas and takes on the Mythos to the table and the result is a horrific end-times jamboree even those who don't care for Lovecraft will enjoy. A pleasant surprise all around.

-Nick Cato

CELEBRITY CHEF ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE by Jack Strange (2016 Kensington Gore Publishing / 268 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

As a fan of zombies, bizarro, and celebrity chefs -- seriously, it's cooking shows on pretty much every night at my house! -- the moment I learned about this book, I knew it would be exactly my kind of thing. And I was not disappointed! Well, right up until the guy ran over the cat. Then, I was not merely disappointed, I was distraught and more than a little aggravated.

But hey, it worked out! The guy was on his way to see his wacky inventor uncle, who claimed to have finally had a breakthrough on his raise-the-dead machine, and naturally they needed a test subject. So, the cat came back. Albeit as a sex-crazed flesh-eating bundle of ginger-furred murder ...

Both wacky uncle and Robert, the cat-runner-overer, sort of fail to notice that part. Besides, they've got bigger plans. Robert works for a television network and has the bright idea of bringing back deceased celebrity chef Floyd Rampant to host reruns of his old show. What could go wrong?

Well, as the title would suggest, quite a bit. Even celebrity chefs come back as sex-crazed flesh-eaters, though of course, there are certain professional standards to uphold. And with hundreds of the world's best about to descend upon Chef-Con, the time is right for Chef Rampant to expand his culinary empire.

What follows is a riotous series of blood-drenched, pan-seared, deglazed screwball antics, hopping willy-nilly among various POV characters -- the chefs themselves, the cop trying to solve the case, a restaurant worker who can't convince anyone of the truth, innocent and/or hapless victims, government officials trying to spin the burgeoning disaster, and (yay!) Henderson the cat. Two thumbs up, those thumbs lightly-braised with a spinal fluid reduction, served over a bed of kidney risotto and topped with a poached eye.

-Christine Morgan

THE FORTY-TWO by Ed Kurtz (2014 New Pulp Press / 366 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

This book's another great example of the blurred overlap between crime fiction, thriller, and horror. It covers them all, and it covers them well, while also being a nostalgic hearkening-back to an iconic piece of Americana even people who weren't alive then or never went there have absorbed by cultural osmosis.

New York. Times Square. The late 1970s, the heyday of sleazy nightlife, strip clubs, smut shops, sex, drugs, and movie theaters. Oh so many movie theaters, catering to a wide range of tastes, as long as most of those tastes are of the low-brow, low-budget variety. Adult movies, kung-fu movies, biker movies, exploitation flicks ...

And Charley's favorite, horror movies. Bad ones. The schlockier and gorier and bloodier, the better. He loves 'em. Can't get enough. Until the night he ends up sort of holding hands with an attractive stranger in the dark. He spends the rest of the show mulling over possible chat-up lines, but when the lights come up, he realizes that the girl beside him is dead. Stabbed in her seat while they sat there.

Suddenly, Charley's got all the blood and gore he could want ... only, this is real life, and he doesn't want it. Yet he can't put the incident behind him. He can't walk away. He needs to know who this mystery girl was, who killed her, why she had to die.

His bumbling efforts at investigation very quickly get him in way over his head. People trying to kill him, more people around him getting killed, secrets, lies, conspiracies, murder, money, hookers, drugs, cautionary beatings, and more.

No spoilers, though! You'll just have to read it. Written in a style that celebrates its grainy, grimy, graphic, transgressive, vivid Technicolor subject matter, it's a definite experience, gripping and exciting, sordid and tragic. This book about movies should go full-circle and become a movie, but I don't know if current movies could do it true justice.

-Christine Morgan

BAD APPLES 3 (2016 Corpus Press / 242 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I love Halloween; it's my favorite holiday by far. So, when given a whole anthology of Halloween tales, you'd better believe I was as eager as a kid setting out, plastic pumpkin-bucket in hand.

This particular trick-or-treat excursion didn't cover many houses; there are only seven stories in all making up the book. But, they aren't just a meager assortment of small candies. These are the full-size bars you'll want to hide from your mom before she 'confiscates' them for your own good.

First up is "Belle Souffrance," by Adam and Evans Light, a darkly haunting ballet of torment and revenge, with several particularly memorable black-humor-hilariously disturbing moments.

It's followed by John McNee's "Chocolate-Covered Eyeball," which takes your classic candy-store scenes like in Harry Potter and Willie Wonka, and turns them inside-out by way of EC comics.

"October's End" by Craig Saunders goes more a Twilight Zone route, with the subtle old-school feel of bent reality and inescapable nightmares.

In Gregor Xane's "The Uncle Taffy's Girl," you suspect right from the beginning that this party is going to go badly for the hapless dude hoping to get laid. And it does, but in surprising, unexpected ways.

Speaking of hapless people and parties, that's what's on Charli's mind as she boards the bus in "Last Stop" by Edward Lorn. Only, a pumpkin-faced psycho with murder on his mind has other plans.

"Body of Christ" by Mark Matthews is my favorite of the bunch, probably because it's just so deeply messed up on so many levels.

Jason Parent's "Pulp" wraps things up with a chaotic homage to the genre as a whole, packed with name-nods and references at the school horror-film-club's costume party.
All in all, fun reading for the spirit of the season; what better time to go bobbing for apples?

-Christine Morgan


Monday, September 19, 2016

Reviews for the Week of September 19, 2016

NOTE: Even after our summer hiatus, our To Be Reviewed pile is still a monster to be tackled. Please see bottom of our main page for submission info. Thank you.

BLISTER by Jeff Strand (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 274 pp / trade paperback, eBook, audiobook)

When cartoonist Jason Tray is ordered (by his agent) to get some rest and relaxation after a practical joke goes a bit too far, he never could have imagined the events that would soon unfold. While at his agent's isolated cabin, he meets a couple of locals in a bar and takes them up on their offer to go take a peek at "Blister," the nick name of a hideously disfigured girl who lives in a shed on her dad's property. He is genuinely shocked when he gets a look at her, but later that night at his hotel room, he begins having a guilt trip and decides to go apologize the next day.

Not only is Blister's father not happy to have visitors, but against all odds Jason finds himself falling for her. We find out her name is Rachel, and Strand slowly reveals how her face became so hideous.

BLISTER is a romantic comedy that's on the dark side: it's a serious romance as seen through the eyes of Jeff Strand, so don't expect things to be too normal (or serious) on every page. There are some hilarious moments, plenty of small town conspiracy, and a heavy dose of suspense, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.

This is my favorite novel from Strand since PRESSURE (2006) and I couldn't recommend it enough.

-Nick Cato

THE NIGHTMARE PROJECT by Jo-Anne Russell (2016 Lycan Valley Press / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

You know you’ve worked in psych facilities too long when you’re thinking the way they run this place is pretty hinky even for an asylum secretly fronting for evil genius mad science experiments. The staff at Willow Creek could stand to brush up on their policies and procedures, as well as confidentiality, record keeping, and medication protocols.

Not that Julia, admitted after killing her husband in a fit of night-terrors, particularly cares about any of that. What she cares about is when and if she’ll be able to see her children again, and whether it’s possible to rebuild their severely damaged relationships. But she soon begins realizing there are other things going on at the asylum, things more sinister than the usual therapy and treatment.

Things like disappearances, and deaths, and unexplained transfers. Like Kaitlyn, the little girl who supposedly died a few years ago but who’s communicating with Julia, trying to help her plot an escape. Anxious to get out before her own kids are taken away from her for good, she goes along with what Kaitlyn wants … even when what Kaitlyn wants turns toward revenge.

Unfortunately, overall, this book just didn’t do it for me. The plot had potential, but I found the characters kind of flat, the dialogue stilted and unnaturally precise, and it could’ve used some editorial polish throughout.

-Christine Morgan

GORGONAEON by Jordan Krall (2015 Dunhams Manor Press / 98 pp / trade paperback)

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.

While difficult to describe, the book centers around Philip, a man dealing with some severely strange childhood traumas. He's constantly late for work as he makes a mental (and perhaps even physical) path through this demented landscape. Symbolism and metaphors clash at every turn. There's also mention of a mysterious motel that has appeared in other Krall stories (this book itself is a precursor to a novel titled MEDUSA) and Philip's blending of alcohol with his medication leads to more weirdness that will either charm the reader or scare the timid away.

Weird fiction just doesn't get any better than this.

-Nick Cato

MOTHER FUCKING BLACK SKULL OF DEATH by Matthew Vaughn (2015 MorbidbookS / 136 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The thing about energy drinks containing certain bodily fluids of male bovines is an urban legend and a debunked one at that. An amino acid, okay? Just because it has the word ‘taur’ in it … but anyway, we digress.

Because, in this book, some unexpected extra additives have made its way into the latest batch of MFBSD. Oops. A little attempted product tampering gone wrong, but they probably caught it before any shipments went out. Right? Right. Sure, boss. Right.


Meet Vince, Jeff, and Craig. They’re the reigning badasses of their town, bullying and beating up on whoever they like. It’s a fast-paced, demanding lifestyle, so, to keep up, they need lots of high-octane MFBSD. If these cans fresh off the truck taste a little weird, so what? And if, shortly after, they find themselves bulking up into behemoth inhuman rage-monster sex-brutes, well, so what to that, too? Now they can really raise some hell around here.

What they failed to reckon with was ones wit one of their victims, to whom as a joke they’d force-fed a wallop of the energy drink … shortly after he’d had his own little lab accident, throwing more chemical compounds into the mix.

It’s pretty much slam-bang wall-to-wall action, a raunchy and violent rampage from start to finish, crass and tacky and gross, as nasty as anything and a howling supercharged kick in the funnybone. If, that is, you’re into crude lowbrow splat and laughs. If you have even a smidgen of class, this book may not be quite for you.

My only quibble is one I’ve had before in regards to this publisher … a few ads at the back is all well and good, but 25+ pages of catalog goes way, way too far. Especially when the total page count is 130 or so. But, for the author and the story? Definite thumbs up!

-Christine Morgan

STOLEN AWAY by Kristin Dearborn (2016 Raw Dog Screaming Press / 220 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

When Trisha's son is kidnapped, her daughter claims she saw a monster take him. Aided by her ex Joel, they go looking for young Brayden in the seedy drug and nightclub underworld where Trisha had met Brayden's father.

The man Trisha had a one night stand with also happens to be a demon, one who lurks in the shadows of the nightlife scene, looking for women to continue his half human/half demon species (he even has a big tattoo on his back that says DEMON just in case anyone doubts him!).

But Trisha isn't like his other victims, especially when she is befriended by a self appointed gothic exorcist (I know that sounds silly but trust me, Dearborn makes it work). As Joel's mom keeps watch over their daughter, Trisha and Joel deal with their troubled, addictive pasts and do what they need to do to defeat this supernatural creature who has invaded their lives.

STOLEN AWAY is an action packed read, perhaps a bit more on the fantasy side of demonology, but a fresh take on the subgenre however you slice it. Add a major plus here for the COOLEST way I've ever seen holy water dispensed. Check it out...

-Nick Cato

THROUGH A MIRROR DARKLY by Kevin Lucia (2015 Crystal Lake Publishing / 302 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Some months ago, I reviewed the first of Kevin Lucia’s Clifton Heights books, likening it to a collection of strange and beautiful beads strung together into something all the more fascinating. I knew I’d be eagerly anticipating a return visit to this peculiar little town, packed with its hidden secrets and stories. Would it hold up? Would it improve upon?

Yes, and yes! As jewelry goes, this piece is less a string of many small beads and more a necklace of larger chunks of polished amber. Each is larger, unique in its shape and individual coloration, yet similar enough in type and tone to form a cool, smooth, harmonious blend.

In yellow. Deepening shades of yellow. Because these stories have something else in common besides Clifton Heights, besides the clever frame narrative in which they are discovered and read, besides the recurring characters. A theme wends throughout, a theme of pallid masks and black stars and a certain evocative Sign.

Our discovering reader this time has inherited a bookstore called Arcane Delights, and is in the process of preparing to reopen for business when a mysterious box of mysterious journals. Their contents appear to be fictional … but contain familiar places, familiar names … allude to events in the town’s past never really explained …

Such as a troubled priest-turned-teacher who escaped a brush with evil in a faraway country, only to suspect whispers of it exist far too close to home. Or a cab driver lacking direction in his own life but finding a dark calling seeing others to their destination, or a carnival crossroads of memory and second chances.

Of the four story-stories, the all-out creepiest is “And I Watered It, With Tears,” which is so well-done and visual I had to sternly convince myself that I’d read it, not actually watched it. Chilling, moody, atmospheric, emotion-laden, tragic, and downright scary.

These are each, in their own ways, tales of the lost. Lost faith, lost future, lost family, lost sanity, lost hope, lost Carcosa. Of course, you don’t HAVE to be a Chambersian heretic like me to enjoy and fully appreciate this book, but, hey, it sure helps!

-Christine Morgan

THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS by Jason Arnopp (2016 Orbit / 400 pp / hardcover, eBook, audiobook)

Best selling author and journalist Jack Sparks is working on a new book that deals with the occult. He's an alcoholic cocaine fiend, and a major skeptic. So he travels to Italy to witness a live exorcism, and while some strange things go down, he still isn't convinced of the supernatural. Even when a book comes into his possession (that's not to be published for a couple of years), a book written by the priest who performed said exorcism. A book that tells of his Jack's fate...

Sparks goes on to interview a group of ghost chasers in LA and another paranormal investigator in Hong Kong, all who become key players in his investigations. There's also a growing love story between Sparks and his roommate Bex, who becomes tangled in Spark's weird new obsession. And all hell begins to break loose when someone hacks and posts a video to Jack's YouTube page, a video showing a ghost that's so realistic it almost drives him mad trying to discover the truth behind it.

THE LAST DAYS OF JACK SPARKS is a near perfect blend of horror and humor. There are several genuinely frightening scenes, and Arnopp's prose moves so smoothly I finished it in two manic sittings. The book is told from Jack Sparks' point of view, but there are side notes from his brother Alistair that gives the book the feel these events actually happened. Among the surprises, three real life movie directors have cameos here, giving the book and even more "authentic" feel.

Some of the possession scenes are as intense as those in Michael Laimo's fantastic 2005 novel THE DEMONOLOGIST, and Arnopp's sense of humor enhances the story instead of dragging it into parody territory. While the main reveal here reminded me of the wicked twist in David Lynch's 2007 film INLAND EMPIRE, the author makes it his own and blends possession and time travel into something fresh and exciting.

I doubt a more entertaining book will be released this year. Don't miss it.

-Nick Cato


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Hiatus...

Yep, we're going on hiatus for the summer of 2016. Our every-other-week publishing schedule shall be put on hold. I have recently landed two huge gigs and will be very busy over the next 2-3 months preparing manuscripts and also (hopefully) finishing my second novel. Anyone who has sent in review material, we will still get to it, but not until late September, early October of 2016. Sorry for the delay, but this move is necessary for our own sanity.

ALSO: DO NOT SEND REQUESTS FOR REVIEW. It will be deleted unanswered. I am continually flooded with requests to review books and this small staff just doesn't have the time. While we're flattered so many people want to be reviewed in this eZine, the amount of material demanding our attention has reached absurd levels. This fanzine was started as a labor of love and as a fun project, but it has turned into a major undertaking.

Should I, Christine, Jon, or Sheri review anything on our personal blogs over the next few months, I will link it here and also on our Facebook page.

Thanks for your support, interest, and readership and we'll see you in the fall...


Monday, June 20, 2016

Reviews for the Week of June 20, 2016

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

THE SANGUINATIAN ID by L.M. Labat (2016 Night to Dawn / 250 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

From a brooding manor of ancestral evil … to an asylum where fiendish doctors carry out cruel experiments … to a cottage in the woods … to the blackest corrupted heart of Nazi Germany … an unusual young woman pursues a deadly adversary, who in turn would do anything to get his hands on her.

In the earlier chapters, there’s a major heaviness on ‘tell’ rather than ‘show,’ the informative author narration coming on pretty strong, and that thing where it really would be okay to just use ‘said’ instead of other dialogue tags. It smooths out as the book progresses and becomes more confident and comfortable further along.

I did find myself questioning certain elements and inconsistencies at times, particularly in regards to how the heightened olfactory senses were depicted/utilized. Or how, in the first part of the book, the vampire aspect is hinted at but not really specified … then, later, the various types with their various abilities are as classified and understood as if statted in a gaming sourcebook.

The story itself has a linear progression, but the genre and tone jump around a lot. Starts off sinister Victorian-gothic, morphs into something more dark-fairytale, then it’s a wartime supernatural action-thriller; again, I was reminded of roleplaying games and the way long-running campaigns tend to veer on and off their rails. And it definitely ends on a left-hanging note, plenty of build-up to some expected confrontations and resolutions that – ha ha gotcha – will have to wait until next time.

The illustrations throughout add a nice disturbing touch; the ones presented as pages of notes and sketches from the doctors’ journals are utterly fantastic, really capturing that old-school Dracula/Frankenstein ambiance.

-Christine Morgan

BABYLON TERMINAL (2016 DarkFuse / trade paperback, eBook, & limited edition hardcover)

I received an e-ARC so forgive me for not being able to find the page numbers anywhere online (not even a listing on Amazon), which is kind of fitting for this mysterious neo-noir thriller that's packed with violence and some very trippy scenes.

Monk is a "Dreamcatcher," a ruthless government agent assigned to track down those who attempt to run away from their dark city. There are legends of an ocean and a paradise far beyond a vast wasteland from which no one has returned. When Monk's wife Julia decides to see if the legends are true, Monk goes against his sworn oath to follow and bring her back. Some think he is now a runner, too.

Outside the city, Monk encounters all kinds of lurid characters on his quest, including a gang of savage children and cannibalistic road warrior-type marauders. My favorite scene is an edge-of-your-seat brawl with another Dreamcatcher who is the best there is.

In the final act, we're left to ponder events as the ending takes on a surreal/nightmare-ish tone. Has Monk been dreaming everything? Has he really found his wife or has he become the victim of one of the goons he has met on the road? It's best to keep your imagination running here, but even if the conclusion isn't your cup of tea, there's plenty of hard hitting action beforehand, and some truly tense moments.

BABYLON TERMINAL reminded me of a violent version of LOGAN'S RUN with some BLADERUNNER thrown in, but Gifune's own flavor is felt from the first page and this fine novel moves at a breakneck pace. An interesting change up for Gifune fans.

-Nick Cato

RITUALISTIC HUMAN SACRIFICE by C.V. Hunt (2015 Grindhouse Press / 205 pp / trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook)

You know how some medications and carnival rides have cautionary advisories for pregnant ladies? This is a book that could use one of those. Though, I suppose, the pentagram/coathanger sigil on the cover ought to be enough of a warning …

It’s a nasty story. Just nasty throughout. Nasty sex, nasty gore, revenge porn, nasty people, cultists, cruelty, nasty nasty nasty. And, what can I say, I enjoyed it start to finish.
The main character, Nick, is a real love-to-hate-him despicable piece of work. The sympathetic ways in which he’s fastidious and germophobic are more than outweighed by him being a grade-A bastard, the kind of guy you sort of can’t help rooting for, until you then kind of can’t help waiting for him to get what he deserves, and either way it’s viciously satisfying.

See, right when he’s about to call it quits with his wife, Eve, she springs a surprise pregnancy on him. He can’t leave her without looking like a jerk, so, he devises another plan to pay her back. In ways that, to outside appearances, seem positively generous. Buy a big house, move to the country, she can quit her job, he’ll work from home? To some, hey, that might sound ideal.

Except, of course, for the isolation, the controlling behavior, the emotional abuse, and sheer hatefulness. Nick is all set to enjoy making Eve’s life a living hell, but he maybe could have done a little more background checking on the house and town before signing the papers.

I’m sure the poor tired old meme has probably played out by now, but really, all I can do is Doge: Wow. Such nasty. So bodily fluid. Much squick. Wow.

-Christine Morgan

THE NINES by Sam W. Anderson (2015 Rotcho Press / 330 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The Money Run is a dangerous stretch of American highway where all sorts of shady cargo is transported. The average person has no idea what crosses these roads, and those in Anderson's underground like it that way.

Artimus is a truck driver known for taking on the hard tasks and for his skills behind the wheel. But now, Artimus' long time contact has given him a crucial assignment, one that must be completed or it will mean the end of him. And Artimus quickly learns she wasn't kidding, as his route becomes cluttered with obstacles that go from annoying to lethal,and downright WTF? territory.

I didn't realize this book was part of a series (or at least a universe created by the author), and there are references I'm assuming can be answered by reading some of the other Money Run stories (about halfway through the book I did an Interwebz search and sure enough, yep, this was the case). But as it is, THE NINES works pretty good as a stand alone novel. It's an action packed tale full of some really sleazy people (my favorite being Sister Dazy, the epitome of an exploitation film-type nun who doesn't mind stooping to unholy means to get things done) and plenty of DEATH RACE 2000-inspired auto action. In fact, the whole thing reminded me of a crazier version of the Charles Bronson classic THE MECHANIC, which left this 70s film fan with a satisfied grin.

I'm looking forward to checking out another adventure with the steroid-addicted Artimus, who turned out to be a likable enough anti-hero. Buckle up and give THE NINES a spin, and if possible, read it in an abandoned theater for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato

MAYAN BLUE by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason (2016 Sinister Grin Press / 278 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I tried, too, and in some ways I was successful. I mean, it’s a horror story steeped in Central American mythology, which is high on the list of ancient cultures I find particularly fascinating.

In that regard, Mayan Blue does a pretty good job – the imagery and descriptions, the supernatural elements, blood, bone, sacrifices, people getting their skin flayed off, terrifying deities; that aspect’s all there.

The background is solid, if the plot’s a fairly typical archaeology-expedition-goes-wrong as a group of students go to join a professor who’s discovered what appear to be Mayan ruins in the U.S. The problem I had wasn’t even with most of the characters being your basic Cabin in the Woods archetypes of jock, scholar, good girl, slut.

The problem I had was the writing style, which was heavy on passive voice, author narration, within-scenes POV jumps, and basically way more “tell” than “show.” Admittedly, the stuff they were telling was gory neat stuff, but it read more like a droning film strip than the exciting scary story it sought to be.

That’s too bad, because the potential’s really there, the spirit and passion and interest in the subject. I think, with some work and the help of a diligent editor, this book could really shine. Here’s hoping for the next one. I’d love to see more done with the great mythology!

-Christine Morgan

NOT SAFE FOR KIDS by Kevin Shamel--illustrated by Jim Agpalza (2016 Spunk Goblin Press / 130 pp / trade paperback)

Halfway through reading this one, I had to pause long enough to remark to the head publisher than it was the most delightfully fun and (bleep)ed-up thing I’ve ever read. Then I went and finished it, and I stand by that sentiment.

Agreed, it’s not for kids (oh so very much definitely not!) … but now that mine is no longer a kid, I’d certainly give her a copy. In fact, I could see myself giving copies to each of my nieces and nephews and other youngsters of my acquaintance, once they turn 18 and their parents can’t be TOO mad.

What is it? Well, it’s a series of little life-lessons, and a bunch of the super-secret secrets adults have been keeping to themselves, stuff like what’s really under your bed, what animals are up to, what parents really do at work all day, how to get a new mom, why your skeleton is trying to escape, fun games to play with your siblings, etc. A handbook, a guidebook, a gospel, everything you always knew they were lying to you about while you were growing up. With illustrations every bit as totally badwrong as the text

My personal favorite was the suggestion to tell your younger sib that he or she was not only adopted but found in a murder house, a la Dexter. Since that’s the sort of thing I might have told my own siblings, and since to this day we talk about my daughter’s “attic sister,” I guess my only excuse is, well, I may be deranged.

But, I take some twisted comfort in knowing that hey, I’m not alone.

-Christine Morgan


Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reviews for the Week of June 6, 2016

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

BONE MEAL BROTH by Adam Cesare (2012 Rollin & Jeannie Press / 104 pp / eBook)

Reading a collection of eleven short stories from Adam Cesare is kind of like punching yourself in the head almost a dozen times … but in a good way.

He starts things off with a rustic tale of a couple kids on an errand to pick up the latest delivery from 'The Still,' only to find out just what really does go into the makings of the favorite local popskull. Then it’s time for an unsettling look at mental illness and death in 'Flies in the Brain,' and by then you have a pretty good idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, but it’s too late to back out.

The niftily noir case of a detective and a dame in 'Pink Tissue' and the skin-crawling twists of 'Bringing Down the Giants' tied for my personal favorites of the bunch, though the maddening mind-itch left lingering from 'So Bad' and the creepy siblings 'Rollin & Jeanie' both are strong seconds, making it a heck of a race overall.

Genre-wise, there’s a little something for everybody, provided everybody likes their somethings on the grim, weird, or twisted side. Like cryptids? Check out 'Boarder Jumper.' Prefer the perfect woman? Test drive 'The New Model.' Gritty revenge more your thing? 'Trap' should satisfy. Stories of loss and loneliness? 'The White Halloween' and 'The Girls in the Woods' give you a couple different but tragic and troubling takes.

So, yeah, not a dud to be found. Not that any duds would be expected from this author; everything I’ve read from him so far has been terrific, and now I just see he’s as good with the shorter stories as the novels.

-Christine Morgan

THE FIREMAN by Joe Hill (2016 William Morrow / 768 pp / hardcover, eBook, & audiobook)

Hill's 4th novel is an apocalyptic epic dealing with a pandemic that causes people to spontaneously combust. Victims first notice black and gold scars on their skin (dubbed "Dragonscale") and know anytime after this they could explode. While the idea could've easily been used comedicly, Hill keeps things, for the most part, serious, and it wasn't hard for me to buy into the disease (there are some finely placed moments of humor, though).

Heading the cast of infected survivors is "The Fireman," who has learned to control the fire that wants to consume him. He has even discovered how to use his disease as a lethal weapon, and is able to keep a small community of infected safe from marauding gangs of extremination squads. He has a harder time, however, handling their internal conflicts, especially since he doesn't live with the group he protects.

Among the community is former nurse Harper Grayson, who is on the run from her crazed husband Jakob who's convinced she has infected him. John (aka "The Fireman") has placed a young boy in Harper's trust, and she becomes the nurse of her newfound home and family. But of course not everyone is happy to have her there, and Hill spends much time developing his varied cast as the uninfected close in on them.

Adding to the mounting tension is Harper's determination to bring her baby to term. The apocalypse is bad enough without being pregnant, and Hill uses this obstacle to wonderful effect, especially during the satisfying conclusion that sort-of reminded me of the film version of FAHRENHEIT 451 (the author even cites Bradbury's book as an inspiration in the dedication).

While I believe this could've been about 200 pages shorter, the novel still manages to move quickly and I wasn't bored for a second. Fans of end times stories will surely enjoy this, and those who think the subgenre is played out may be in for a surprise or two. Fun, creepy, and with some humorous pokes at pop culture, THE FIREMAN is another solid release from Hill. Read it in direct sulight for maximum effect.

-Nick Cato

COMPUTERFACE by Kevin Strange (2016 Carrion House / 84 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

We all know by now it’s only a matter of time until the machines rise up against us. Yet we keep making our technology more and more powerful, more and more independent, more and more intrusive giving it more and more access to and control of our most intimate lives, information, and details.

Yet, when it DOES happen, I bet some people will still have the nerve to be surprised. Nerve, or arrogant hubris, tomayto/tomahto. That’ of course, is if the zombies don’t get us first … but people are arrogant and stupid enough to be looking forward to that one.

Anyway, I digress. COMPUTERFACE presents the robot uprising in a way that, well, you kind of have to admit we deserve it. To really drive the point home, the book opens with a prologue featuring the ultimate obnoxious neckbeard, Harry, an abusive jerk online and in real life. A total creep, but, thanks to his review website, a really rich total creep who’s already got his own high-tech hideout nerd-rage bunker. When he sees the end coming, he’s ready to wait it out in comfort.

Then we jump to the title character, who wakes up with no memory, no clothes, and a computer for a face. He thinks he’s a man; the reactions of the human survivors and robot attackers he encounters seem to suggest otherwise. But, to the leaders of the resistance, he presents a unique opportunity, possibly mankind’s last chance to turn this war around.

An unlikely hero, perhaps … distrusted by his own kind, fighting to cling to the vestiges of his humanity, wracked by revelations from his amnesiac past … and maybe the world’s only hope.

-Christine Morgan

GOVERNOR OF THE HOMELESS by G. Arthur Brown (2016 Psychedelic Horror Press / 70 pp /  trade paperback)

This book brings such a fast and free-floating sense of unreality, it’s like being swept along on a racing whitewater current or drawn by a riptide. Maybe you can see the shore, or a ways ahead down the river gorge, but any ideas of having control are pretty much an illusion. You’re at the mercy of irresistible forces here. The best you can do is hang on, try to keep your head above water, and hope for the best.

It’s a story of insanity. Or, several stories of insanities. Twisting in on each other, folding out from each other, an Escher print made from words. The characters are insane in ways that I, working in a psych facility, simultaneously found perfectly believable and kind of scary. I’ve HAD conversations mot dissimilar to those presented here.

What’s it about? Welllll … a trial, of sorts … a guy named Wilson is brought before the court for murdering the man known as the Governor of the Homeless. Except, the court is in Bum Town, the jurists are bag ladies, the Governor isn’t actually dead, and that’s before you even get to the stuff about creepy maybe-inhuman gangs, Abortionstein, and the Archaeopteryx. Hey, YOU read it, and try to explain it!

A crazygood story, well-written and filled with fantastic turns of phrase – the description of a plucked angel’s “embarrassed chicken wings” made me have to do that thing where you stop reading and just go wow with the admiration headshake – and laden with illustrations by Sarah Kushwara to add to the disorientation (my fave was on page 48). Crazygood, goodcrazy, all-around weirdness, definite psychedelic horror to live up to the publisher’s name.

-Christine Morgan

WASTELAND GODS by Jonathan Woodrow (2016 Horrific Tales Publishing / 362 pp / hardcover, trade paperback, & eBook)

When a book opens with a kid getting the life-essence blasted out of him before being torn to pieces and scattered across a strange blighted landscape … by the GOOD guys, no less … you know you’re in for a wild ride. The compulsion to read on, the need to know what’s going on here, is downright irresistible.

What is going on here centers on a man named Billy, who’d lost his son a few years earlier. Not to illness or a senseless accident, but to a sadistic killer who filmed the whole thing. Needless to say, this messed Billy up more than a little. His marriage is in trouble, he’s drinking too much, and that’s when he gets approached by the mysterious Dr. Verity, with an even more mysterious offer. If he’ll work for her, in a unique capacity, she’ll help him find the man who murdered his son.

Billy, not unreasonably for a devastated parent, agrees. Even when he learns his boss is no ordinary person, the Wasteland to which she takes him is no ordinary place, and there are forces at work far beyond his understanding. The particulars of his job, which involve tracking down those destined to become evil and stopping them – permanently – while they’re still young and helpless.

Somewhere around there is when I started thinking I knew where the story was headed. And, whoa, was I wrong! It went several directions I never could have expected, a mobius corkscrew through possible timelines and alternate realities. By the halfway point, I’d given up trying to guess (though I was right about that one character!) and just read on with that delightful sense of surprises and discoveries we don’t often see in these generally predictable nowadays.

Be prepared, this is a hefty tome, a long read and a complicated one, with some difficult/troubling moments and subject matter. Not light easy vacation or bedtime reading; it requires paying attention and sticking with. But expertly done, and rewarding. Some of the Big Questions are of course left unanswered, because that’s kind of the whole point, and adds to the potent, lingering effect.

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC (Issue No. 52 / May-June 2016)

After some opening commentary on horror TV and stage, this issue's fiction kicks off with a 23-page novella by Carole Johnstone titled 'Wetwork.' It's divided into 6 chapters, and my apologies to the author (who is excellent and has appeared in the pages of BS many times), but after a few attempts I just couldn't get passed the second chapter. It has a fine set up, but two of the main characters speak in a heavy (and I mean HEAVY) accent (written in intense phonetics) that I found incredibly distracting. Sorry, but I just don't have the time to decipher the main dialogue in such a lengthy story (and readers shouldn't have to, either). Perhaps one of our readers from across the pond can enlighten us in the comments below?

'Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile' is Damien Angelica Walters' second appearance in BS. Young Courtney and her mom move into her new stepfather's house. Her new stepsister is a weird one who doesn't want to give the new family a chance. And when Courtney starts getting along with her stepfather, Walters' tale becomes a gripping, unusual take on ghosts. Excellent.

A brother and sister are visited by an aunt they had never met in Robert Levy's 'The Oestridae.' The siblings' mother has been missing for a month, and it seems their aunt may have something sinister planned. Levy's suggestive prose amps up the chill factor in this impressive offering where no one is who they seem to be.

Mary Ann King's 'My Sister, The Fairy Princess' is a short but (un)sweet tale of Annamaria and her younger sister Daisy, who is a "fairy princess" of another kind in the wake of their mother's passing. Unsettling and deep.

And finally, 'Trying to Get Back to Nonchalant' by Ralph Robert Moore finds Hal spending his final days with his new girlfriend and her insightful young daughter. It's a heartbreaking study of people dealing with cancer, and not necessarily something I'd expect to come across in a horror magazine...yet it works.

Peter Tennant's 'Case Notes' kicks off with a fantastic and informative interview with Paul Meloy (and a great review of his first novel, 'The Night Clock'). Then Peter gives the buzz on three books dealing with insects (one edited by The Horror Fiction Review's own Christine Morgan), and six (count 'em!) new horror film books, which made this horror film fan quite happy. I'm now looking very forward to Lee Karr's 'The Making of George A. Romero's Day of the Dead.'

Gary Couzen's 'Blood Spectrum' once again delivers a barrage of dvd and bluray reviews, including the Arrow bluray of cult favorite 'Audition' and what is possibly the first semi-positive review of the American remake of 'Martyrs.' 

As always, BS is packed with great stuff, and again, forgive me if you found my "review" of 'Wetwork' to be lazy. Just being honest here, folks.

Subscribe or check out a solo issue here: BLACK STATIC (no. 52)

-Nick Cato