Monday, August 28, 2017

Reviews for the Week of August 28, 2017

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




PREVIEW:

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

PREVIEW:

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


MAGAZINES:



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


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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



COMICS



PREVIEW:

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





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