Monday, February 19, 2018

Reviews for the Week of February 19, 2018

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

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

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to check out new material from Keith Minnion, and in his latest short story collection there are several previously unpublished pieces.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

Definitely Recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

Did you hear that?

-Jon R. Meyers


Monday, February 5, 2018

Reviews for the Week of February 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


Monday, January 22, 2018

Reviews for the Week of January 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

This is the last thing you’ll ever see.

-Jon R. Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

A smart, emotional, spooky offering.

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

You never know what you’re going to get.

-Jon R. Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


Please see the bottom of the main page for submission info. Also note that people often contact reviewers here on the side asking for reviews. Please also note that we still have a BULK of review material we're attempting to get through, some dating back almost two years, so please be patient and use common sense and courtesy if a reviewer tells you he or she is too busy at the moment to accept your materials.

Thank you.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Reviews for the Week of January 8, 2018

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


THE LISTENER by Robert McCammon (to be published 2/27/18 by Cemetery Dance Publications / 380 pp / hardcover)

I admire the heck out of Robert McCammon and have repeatedly gone on record opining he's one of the most underrated writers of his generation. I still stand by that, but have to say, for me, this newest offering is just kind of ... okay.

It's well-written, make no mistake. It has the genuine immersive feel and detail McCammon brings to his historical fiction (if maybe somewhat overly cautious when touching on the racial issues and ugliess of the era). The characters are interesting and seem like real people, the story's solid enough. It's just missing the full depth and punch and wow factor I've come to expect.

The historical era in question is the Great Depression, and the book opens with a con-artist type Bible salesman plying his trade (definite shades of Greg Stillson in King's The Dead Zone). Then the salesman crosses paths with a couple who run a traveling sex-ed show (shades of Ed Kurtz's The Rib From Which I Remake the World).

One thing leads to another and there's some murder and betrayal and shady deals, and before long the criminals have hatched the notion for a big kidnapping score. Little do they know, a young black man with an unusual ability has a mysterious connection with one of their targets (and yes, more shades of King, The Shining in particular ...).

I guess I just wanted more from this book. I wanted more backstory on the kidnappers, I wanted more conflict and tension and resolution. I wanted more than the slightly winceworthy 'magical Negro' trope, while at the same time I wanted to know and see more of his abilities, wanted more proactivity.

Maybe I'm just greedy and spoiled when it comes to my favorite authors; I expected so much more. Wasn't a waste of my reading time or anything like that. Just wasn't what I think it could and should have been.

-Christine Morgan

UNDER THE SHANGHAI TUNNELS AND OTHER WEIRD TALES by Lee Widener (2017 Strangehouse Books / 136 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I knew Lee Widener was a weird writer, and a writer of weird fiction, but somehow it took until now for me to realize he was also a writer of "weird fiction" in that sense, and it makes me wonder what else I've been missing!

UNDER THE SHANGHAI TUNNELS AND OTHER WEIRD TALES certainly sets things straight on that account. The opening tale (fittingly titled "Under the Shanghai Tunnels") appealed to me instantly because I have been on the underground tours in both Portland and Seattle; they're fascinating combinations of urban spelunking and often-sordid history (smuggling, bootlegging, prostitution, kidnapping, etc), with more than a whisper of the paranormal.

This story, though, takes it to new levels ... deeper levels ... when the descendant of someone who went missing long ago discovers remains, and a journal in the classic Lovecraftian descent-into-horror-and-beyond, and the all-too-real truth.

Then, in a jarringly hilarious change of page, we get my personal favorite of the collection, "At the Shoe Shop of Madness." I love twists on fairy tales and twisted fairy tales; this one delivers bigtime as a struggling shoemaker turns his business around with the help of a foul-mouthed drunkard of an elf, only to have his success turn out to be its own nightmare.

The next two stories continue that drastic veering back and forth in style and tone. "Eternal Beauty," about a flower of haunting perfection, is smooth and subtle and eerie ... while "The Thing That Came to Haunt Adamski" just kicks out the gonzo stops and goes for the bizarre.

"KONG-Tiki" and "Sleeper Under the Sea" are connected, set late-50's/early-60's as a band leader goes from the eventful opening of a happenin' new club (complete with hula girls, caged gorilla, and carved tiki god) to the investigation into a medium whose seances touch something other than the spirit world. Both are pulpy good fun, and I would gladly read more such adventures.

-Christine Morgan


PRETTY MARYS ALL IN A ROW by Gwendolyn Kiste (2017 Broken Eye Books / 92 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

There's a particular shivery kind of dark nostalgia you get when something you'd forgotten so completely you didn't even know you'd forgotten it is brought rushing back complete. Something like a ghostly urban legend, a creepy party game, a nursery rhyme, old tradition, or (and this is the one that got me like whoa) a jump-rope chant.

I mean, woo. Hadn't thought of her in YEARS, that Mary. I wasn't even a good jump-roper. Wouldn't have had any reason for thinking of her. But suddenly, with a single simple touch, and there it all is. Yeesh. Gave me goosebumps.

She's not the only Mary in this book -- the others, I knew or had never heard of -- but that feeling, that shivery dark nostalgia rush, was worth the price of admission on its own. Even now, typing this, the nape of my neck's all prickly. Maybe she won't have the same effect on everyone, but maybe one or more of her sisters will.

Because, you see, those Marys ... here, they're real. Or as real as they can be, trapped in a repetitive night-cycle of haunting and a mysterious house where they gather to share the fruits of their labors, gathered from human fear.

Until one of the Marys begins to wonder about her real life, and develops suspicions about the force holding them to their grim tasks. Until she tries to find ways to break the cycle, in hopes of freeing her sisters and herself.

A clever, twisted melding of modern myth and folklore, resonating way down deep to the schoolyard childhood, slumber parties, and whispered campfire tales, Pretty Marys All In A Row brings that nostalgia factor while also spinning a tense new take, a unique sort of ghost story. Very nicely done.

-Christine Morgan

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Top Five Reads of 2017 (Part Two)

Our second year-end Best Of list comes from HFR staff writer Jon R. Meyers. Jon shares his Top Five Favorites for 2017.

Counting down from 5-1:


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

4) THE CLUB by Kyle M. Scott 

The book tells the twisted story through the eyes of five separate characters. Four of them amidst a murderous rampage, an over-the-road-trip killing spree across the darker parts of the U.S, and one of their helpless hostages; a gorgeous girl that the leader of the group of misfits, Jason, wants to save all for himself, going into depth the special plans he has for her after he kills and his way with her sister. And, although we as the reader never really get a clear description of any of the characters’ appearance, we do get a strong sense of their emotion, impending doom as the plot thickens, and their overall character, enabling us to connect with them very much the same through their different POV’s on what is going on at the time and how they’re feeling about their overall missions and objectives. The crew hits the deep woods after the cops thicken in town, there are too many risks. After a falling out with one of their members of the team, Conner, he’s wanting to leave before getting caught by the cops, the hostage escapes, as the others hold him over the fire and put an end to his cowardly weakness. Now Jason has the girls all to himself. This is where things really start to get bloody and interesting. After everything the girl and the crew has been through leading up to this point, it only takes a turn for the worse. Her character develops into much more of a fighter, and the content of the book picks up heightened levels of dark and sexual depravity, as the crew stumbles upon a mansion in the middle of the woods and gets a literal taste of their own medicine as they fight for survival of the fittest. The fancy driveway is full of fancy, black luxury vehicles, and there appears to be quite the gathering going on inside. It has to be safe, right? After all it’s a club constructed of some of the richest and wealthiest men and woman in the country.

3) THIS TOWN NEEDS A MONSTER by Andersen Prunty

The book introduces us to a man 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 one 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 as it was happening. 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 that everything in the town is connected and premeditated, including the strange inhabitants there as everything spirals out of control and turns into mass sticky green chaos before his eyes as he gets closer to seeking the truth behind the town monster. Not everything is what it seems throughout the entirety of this book.


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.

...And drum roll please:


The Endless Fall and Other Weird Fictions is as of recently now one of my favorite short story collections to date. Thomas is a brilliantly talented author, who without error manages to engage the reader into the heart and soul of his characters, often taking them along for the wild ride through his unique imagination as these fourteen weird tales of hopeless horror, cosmic dread, and perverse despair unfold before our eyes. There are many powerful stories here that will perhaps stay with you, like they did for me for some time to come, keeping you on the edge of your dream feet and peeking your head around the corner of the next dark alcoves of your mind as the unknown happens before your very eyes.

Amongst my favorites in this collection were ‘Jar of Mist’, where a distant father seeks out answers to his daughter’s sudden death. At first, he believes it has something to do with her strange boyfriend that up and left her behind for a place called Sesqua Valley, but upon further inspection discovers the truth in a jar of mist at the mysterious antique shop located below her apartment. ‘The Prosthesis’, I found this story very entertaining and accurate as I personally know somebody in this line of work, and it made for a great and pleasurable reading experience as we see a more humorous side of the author here. ‘Ghosts in Amber’, this one is going towards the top as one of my favorite short stories of all-time list! The main character takes us on a trip down memory lane in his boring marriage when he stumbles upon some old memories, something odd leaking from the rooftop, and much more in the old factory across the street. ‘The Spectators’, otherworldly obsidian black creatures pay earth a little visit to check-in and tell you they are still out there watching. While most fear their initial arrival, as they just show up in the corner of a room in your house out of nowhere— the main character in this story embraces its presence, pours himself a glass of bourbon, and has nightly talks to the entity about some of the finer things in life until he goes back to wherever it is that he came from.