Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Reviews for the Week of October 16, 2017

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

EVERYHING HAS TEETH by Jeff Strand (2017 Amazon Digital / 219 pp / eBook)

Just when you thought it was safe to crack open another short story collection, Jeff Strand returns with his third batch of shorts (stories, not drawers you freak!), most of which combine horror and humor and some good 'ol fashioned freakiness. On tap this time we have:

-THE TIPPING POINT: After meeting on an Internet dating site, Warren and Julia go out to a fancy restaurant and things quickly go way off the rails. If you haven't read Strand before this is a great place to start: horror and dark humor run wild in this inventive tale.

-NAILS: Ricky is having a good time living with his girlfriend Maggie, but his quick-growing fingernails have other plans. Excellent!

-STUMPS: A man gains immortality through an evil ritual only to have things backfire on him. Really, really backfire.

-JOHN HENRY, THE STEEL-DRIVIN' MAN: This "alt-history" story is a bit silly but fun. Plus: dragons!

-FAIR TRADE: A cheating husband learns he's not half as wild as his wife in this quick sickie.

-Crime thriller meets creature feature in CHIGGERS, as two men meet unusual fates.

-CRY: A man, unable to cry, uses self inflicted pain to make himself be able to. Hilariously weird.

-THE FIERCE STABBING AND SUBSEQUENT POST-DEATH VENGEANCE OF SCOOTER BROWN: After stabbing a random stranger over 40 times, a killer seeks the help of a psychic to apologize to the deceased. Strand's fascination with knives is as morbid as it is funny.

-IT'S BATH TIME!: Chester's young son is afraid he'll slide down the bathtub's drain. While his wife manages to bathe their son, Chester's attempt the next day turns into an all-out nightmare. I strongly recommend NOT reading this one to kids!

-ALIEN FACE: A cop kills the serial killer who killed his daughter, then discovers body parts all over the killer's secluded cabin...both human and alien. One of my favorites here, containing some really funny lines.

-APOCALYPSE OF THE YARD GNOME: An amateur omniscient narrator (!) describes the relationship between a weird man and his garden gnome...and the end of the world.

-DEAD BIGFOOT ON THE LAWN: Trailer trash Buffalo wing eater Gus discovers his girlfriend is more than slightly unbalanced in this hysterical slice (full pun intended) of murderous mayhem.

-GROSS OUT: THE RETURN: Strand's entry in the 2016 WHC Gross Out Contest. Enter at your own risk. I showered twice after reading.

-DEFORMED SON: A stranded traveling blender salesman lets his curiosity override his welcome at a farmer's isolated home.

-THE ORIGIN OF SLASHY: A woman gets revenge on her rapist with...another man? Yep, this one's a real sickie!

-SECRET MESSAGE (DECODED): Fans of Strand's first collection GLEEFULLY MACABRE TAKES are in for a treat here...

-THE SENTIENT CHERRY COLA THAT TRIED TO DESTROY THE WORLD: A truly hilarious apocalyptic monster romp that displays Strand's wacky sense of humor.

-THE EGGMAN FALLETH: This reimagined nursery rhyme will make you laugh and cause your young niece or nephew to doubt your sanity...

-THE STORY OF MY FIRST KISS: An absurd look at elementary school. Another one of my favorites.

-DAD (A TRUE STORY): This may be a way out of place serious meditation on a father and son's relationship, but I liked it. A lot.

-And lastly we get the novella BAD BRATWURST: A silly but hilarious riff on EATING RAOUL I had first read in a 'purdy limited edition chapbook from White Noise Press. Now EVERYONE can get in on the sausagey fun, complete with over 1,000 more words than the LE version!

Strand ends with some interesting story notes, and like his first two collections (GLEEFULLY MACABRE TALES and DEAD CLOWN BARBEQUE), EVERYTHING HAS TEETH showcases a sick, funny, imaginative writer gone completely amuck. When I interviewed Jeff Strand over 10 years ago for THE HORROR FICTION REVIEW, I had labeled him the "Horror Comedy King." It's a title I doubt he's ever going to lose.

-Nick Cato

A TEAR IN THE VEIL by Patrrick Loveland (2017 April Moon Books / 606 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I confess, I almost gave up on this one at first ... after a strong horrific and intriguing prologue start, it went into what seemed like a long stretch of trendy sexy artsy young people doing trendy sexy artsy young people things ... like FRIENDS set in a funky bohemian San Francisco instead of New York.

That first part also held some of what made me lose interest in Dean Koontz, a lot of explanatory telling that feels mostly there to prove how much the author knows or learned about various subjects. Even when said subjects are of interest to me, I often find it irksome.

But I stuck with it, and I'm glad I did, because once the weirdness really started, it got weirder and weirder, faster and faster, until it was pretty much blowing the doors off reality. Unfavorable comparisons to Koontz were pushed aside for favorable ones to King, particularly stories like "The Ten-O'Clock People" and the good parts of Insomnia.

See, this budding filmmaker, Felix, gets his hands on a rare model of camera, and when he triggers one of the buttons, he suddenly starts seeing the world in a very different way. He also starts seeing his girlfriend in a very different, very scary way. Scary enough that he ends up getting hauled off to a private mental health clinic, to be medicated back to sanity.

That's when it gets Matrix-y, too, as Felix finds out he's not the only one who's seeing these things ... that there are groups trying to uproot the truth, and groups trying to stop them. He's caught in the middle with no way to know who to trust, and soon enough is on the run.

The vividly described weirdreality Felix sees were more than enough to make me forgive those earlier slow chapters. Laden with both beauty and creepiness, full of increasingly strange surprises, my only other complaint would be that the abrupt ending left the story feeling a little unfinished.

-Christine Morgan

ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL REPLICAS by Christopher Conlon (2017 Bear Manor Media / 70 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Conlon (author of the fantastic novels MIDNIGHT ON MOURN STREET and SAVAGING THE DARK) delivers a reimagined version of Karel Capek's classic 1921 doomsday story R.U.R., and does so in a play format (in the 20s the original was a smash hit and was performed on stage all over the world).

Rossum is 70 years old, the most powerful man on earth, who has dedicated his life to his company, which manufactures life-like human replicas that are now more plentiful than humans. The replicas are designed to serve mankind. His daughter Helena runs the company with him, and when her sister Nina comes around, stating she believes the Replicas are starting to revolt, her fears are confirmed by Dr. Gall, a research scientist at Rossum's company, R.U.R.

The two replicas who have raised Helena and Nina, Gertrude and Raymond, do indeed show signs that they may have developed their own wills. And as the humans in this tale learn they may be the last alive, Rossum's head butler/replica Primus explains what is now happening around the globe.

ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL REPLICA'S, while epic in scale, is a quick read full of genuine tension, wonder, and a horrifying finale. After reading Conlon's reimagining, I located a copy of Capek's original story, and while it's enjoyable, Conlon's version modernizes a few details and in my opinion, makes the replicas twice as eerie. Fans of apocalyptic stories will surely enjoy this "retro-apocalypse" and perhaps be inspired, like I was, to seek out the source material.

-Nick Cato

MARY ROSE by Geoffrey Girard (2017 Adaptive Books / 272 pp / in audiobook now, in trade paperback April of 2018)

I had not known about the Hitchcock connection here, until I reached the afterword. Even before that, though, wow, what a lush and lovely piece of work this book is ... a modern gothic, part not-quite-ghost-story-or-is-it, part shadowy romance ... laden with secrets of the past and mysterious folklore ... leaving the reader with a haunting sense of unreality.

The title character, Mary Rose, was only a little girl when she used to go out to a remote Scottish island with her father. She claims to remember it fondly, with no idea she's at the heart of a local legend. When she becomes engaged, her parents take her fiance aside and tell him of the month she went missing, then returned as if out of nowhere with no recollection.

Simon, the fiance, isn't so sure about those absent memories of the intervening time. He knows Mary Rose is troubled by dreams and moments when she seems distant from herself, but his urge to protect her by uncovering the truth collides with everyone else's urges to protect her by keeping it hidden.

The island itself has its own history, with rumors of druids and devil worshipers and otherworldly doorways. Her parents want her to stay far from it, but Mary Rose claims to feel happy there, so Simon accompanies her. He's soon drawn deeper into the tangles of what may or may not have happened all those years ago, and realizes whatever they learn may come at great cost.

It's a definite keep-you-guessing kind of book, with several of the kinds of cryptic close-mouthed characters you just want to grab and shake until they TALK already dangit. Then that explanatory afterword sheds all new kinds of light on an already impressive experience.

-Christine Morgan

**(See below for exclusive excerpt from this novel)**

THE TEARDROP METHOD by Simon Avery (2017 TTA Press / 160 pp / trade paperback)

This 4th entry in TTA Press' novella series follows Hungarian musician Krisztina Ligeti as she wanders around Budapest, mourning the death of her girlfriend and working on her sophomore album. She discovers she has the ability to hear songs coming from people as they near the end of their life, and is able to channel those songs from the dying. In the middle of putting the album together, she reconnects with her father, he a famous musician from the 60s, and things seem to be looking upward until Krisztina becomes the target of an off-balanced author and her former model husband...

Avery's story is a dark and tense thriller, set against a cold Hungarian back drop. The reconnection between father and daughter gives THE TEARDROP METHOD melancholy in light of the father's declining health, and the handling of the supernatural element is done so latently it feels authentic and hence, genuinely spooky. The prose here is compulsively readable and even the stranger members of the cast pop off the page.

Also included is Avery's short story 'Going Back to the World,' which had appeared in Black Static magazine issue 44, and features music journalist Dave Cook who plays a part in the main novella.

A fine novella collectors will want and a great introduction for those who aren't familiar with the author.

-Nick Cato

THE FORSAKEN: STORIES OF ABANDONED PLACES edited by Joe McKinney and Mark Onspaugh (2017 Cemetery Dance Publications / 344 pp / eBook)

Here's another anthology I wish I'd known about earlier; the theme is one to instantly capture the imagination. Abandoned places, is anything quite so creepy? As the book's introduction says, we've all seen them. And something about them just seems extra wrong.

Why? Why are they so disturbing, the ghost towns, the derelict buildings, the factories left to rot and ruin, the amusement parks being reclaimed by nature? Why are they so much more unsettling than the untouched wilderness? Is it because abandoned places serve to remind us of our own futility and impermanence? That we, as a species, tried to make a lasting mark ... and failed?

Or is it because we fear, deep down, what else might be there? Maybe there are reasons for those places to be abandoned. Maybe they aren't so abandoned after all. Maybe any number of scenarios too scary to imagine, but that's okay because here are twenty-two examples of terrifyingly talented authors imagining them for you.

I mentioned amusement parks above, since those more than any other abandoned place really get under the skin of my mind. I was therefore delighted, in a thoroughly creeped out way, by Mark Onspaugh's "Lullaby Land" and "The Storybook Forest" by Norman Prentiss, which present two very different takes on the subject.

For sheer breathtaking wow-factor, though, it was Michael C. Lea's "Hollow" that blew me away for the top spot in my personal faves. Set on the Moon, and going in unexpected directions, this one took abandoned places to a whole new cosmic scale.

Special mention also to James Whelan for sheer fun cleverness in "Gordon's Last Chance Gas and Cafe," and Lisa Morton's "High Desert" for taking me back to the freaky Joshua trees of the Mojave where I grew up.

You'll find movie theaters like in the old days, government facilities and military bases, churches, candy stores, hospitals, adrift ships and ancient sites, diners, and more. Whether haunted or hungry, whether tragic or cursed, there's more than enough abandoned places within these pages to make even the most stalwart urban explorer think twice.

-Christine Morgan

TALES FROM A TALKING BOARD by Ross E. Lockhart (2017 Word Horde / 178 pp / trade paperback & eBook)
Website: www.wordhorde.com

Here's another I will be kicking myself over missing out on ... Word Horde does gorgeous books, and what a theme! Spirit board, Ouija board, whatever you happen to call it, there's just something so tantalizing, so alluring and beautiful and spooky, about those ornate letters waiting there to have a planchette glide across the smooth surface to spell out messages from beyond.

Of course, as any of a number of horror movies have taught us, it's also about the quickest way for things to go supernaturally bad, which only adds to the fun. In this book are fourteen stories exploring this seemingly harmless child's toy / witch's keyboard of utter evil, plus the editor's introduction about its fascinating history.

Now, okay, the degree to which these fourteen tales actually involve a board varies ... some focus on cards or other methods of divination/communication ... but the feeling, that exquisite sense of apprehension and possibility, comes through strongly in them all.

If I had one problem with some of the stories, it's with how many of them ended with a kind of leave-you-hanging ... as if the planchette stopped moving, spirits come back, spirits tell me more! Yet even that kind of fits here. Maybe we can't get all the answers. Maybe we shouldn't push our luck to ask.

Among my personal picks would have to be Anya Martin's saucy-fun but ominous Vaudeville-days "Weegee, Weegee, Tell Me Do," David Templeton's clever take on the afterlife in "Questions and Answers," the uncanny candy clairvoyance of Wendy Wagner's "The Burnt Sugar Stench," Matthew M. Bartlett's tattoos-with-a-dark-twist in "Deep Into the Skin," Nadia Bulkin's insidiously haunting "May You Live In Interesting Times," and the sheer night-ride-purgatory weirdness factor of David James Keaton's "Spin the Throttle."

Heh, there I go again, with my faves list still ending up being almost half the TOC, and even narrowing it down that much was a close contest. Tales From A Talking Board is another winner from Word Horde.

-Christine Morgan


Enjoy this excerpt from MARY ROSE by Geoffrey Girard, courtesy of Adaptive Books:

He followed after her and caught her halfway down the hill. 
“Right down here,” she explained, pointing. 
“I see it.” A thick grove of birch and rowan waited ahead. Maybe an acre of dense woodland. He checked his watch. Another two hours until sunset. They had some time. “You’d come here as a little girl.” 
She nodded, then turned, grinning. “See? There it is again.” 
“The call of the island?” he asked, but there was no humor in the question. 
She closed her eyes for several steps and then led him down and across the short field to the edge of the wood. 
Mary Rose took his hand. “Trust us,” she said. 
He thought he’d misheard. 
It was another few minutes before Simon also heard the music. 
Barely, at first. Only a soft indefinable sound carried somewhere deep within the enduring rustle of cool summer wind in the surrounding trees. Fading in and out. Obviously imagined. A trick of sound. Then, more distinct. Deliberate. More melodious. 
“That is music,” he agreed, still doubting enough. The island was deserted. There’d been no other boats. “Right? I thought you were kidding.” 
Mary Rose continued without remark. 
They followed a slender and loose trail, overgrown with scrub, the trees stretching overhead in a heavy canopy that allowed the sun to split through only in well-defined fixed beams, and the sunlight somehow made the copse seem darker, casting blacker shadows than what should be. The musical drone had grown stronger, more real, with each step. 
Twice, he’d turned. Convinced they were being followed. They weren’t alone anymore. That someone had stepped onto the path no more than twenty yards behind them, and then jumped back again into the shadows each time he’d turned. The unique prickle of being watched coupled every step they took. “You know where we’re going?” 
he asked, striding through a wide shard of light. 
“I want to show you something,” Mary Rose said. Her voice star-tled him and he took a deep breath to bring his racing imagination back to real life. 
 “Something you saw as a girl?” 
She only nodded. 
“Did you ever—” 
Movement at the corner of his eye passed between several trees at their far right. Shadows, maybe, in the shifting sunlight. Or someone running. He’d automatically reached out a hand to stay Mary Rose. 
“What’s wrong?” she asked, turning. 
He held up his other hand for quiet. “Wait . . .” he whispered, listening, and also squinting ahead. The music had become unmis-takable words. Chanting, even. And not in English, for sure. Several voices intoning as one relentless drone of those concealed within the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead. It was a sound that somehow evoked the pounding of animal-skin drums and dark primordial shapes swaying in the moonlight before open fire—he could even smell it—and antlered demigods, or maybe just Brodie, 
“The Druid,” painting bull blood on some virgin’s bare ass. 
What a load of shit. 
But there was definite movement between those trees. Not another swaying birch, but someone. If it was such a “load of shit,” why was he holding his breath? Why did it feel as if his whole body were trembling? 
“We should go,” he decided. Had even searched the ground for a fallen limb as some pathetic sort of weapon. 
Mary Rose looked at him oddly, puzzled. 
He tugged her backward. “Come on. We can’t—” 
A terrible scream filled the woods. 
A woman, or some animal, maybe, the shriek of something having its throat slit over an ancient stone altar. The horrific echo drifted away between the trees slowly and deliberately. 
Simon was frozen, mostly wanting to pull Mary Rose to safety, but knowing someone was—
Mary Rose had made the decision for them both, jerking her hand free and sprinting ahead. 
His mind exploded with panic, and anger. “Mary,” his voice hissed in warning, but it was a voice for dogs broken free from their leash or unruly children in public places safe from spankings: a voice with no real control. She’d gone straight at the sound, and he dashed after her. 
Between the trees ahead, straight beyond Mary Rose, he glimpsed tall distorted figures coming directly toward her. And then the unmis-takable shine of bare flesh—sinewy, powerful, bronzed and glistening in sweat, a flash of plump pale breasts—the skin and surrounding trees spattered in vibrant dripping blood. 
He could hear two voices, their words clear now. 
Their dark incantation. 
“. . . a snare without escape, set for evil, a net whence none can issue forth . . .” 
He leaned forward to grab a random stick from the ground. 
“Evil spirit, or evil fiend, hag-demon, ghoul, phantom, or night-wraith 
. . . or evil plague or unclean disease . . . That which may do harm . . .” 
Snapped and turned it in his hand, finding the sharpest point. 
He’d braced himself to stab and stab and stab . . . 
“Which hath broken the Barrier, let not the Barrier of the Gods . . .” 
Mary Rose had stopped, turned, hands to her mouth. But hiding a smile? It made no sense. Her eyes were wide with joy. 
“Its Throat May They Cut. Its Face May They Smite. Its—” 
“Holy shit!” a deep voice yelled, followed by laughter and more cursing. 
Simon had caught Mary Rose and finally overlooked the same clearing. Five people—teens, at most twenty—stood frozen in various poses before them. Both guys were bare chested, one of the girls still pulling up her beach towel around her own topless form. Simon got another flash of bikini bottoms and a long thin thigh. The other two were also girls, eyes wide in panic. The sweet pong of marijuana hov-ered over the whole clearing, the “fire” he’d smelled. Simon spotted beer cans, a couple of book bags, beach towels, and iPhones. There was no blood, no daggers, no primordial demigods. He’d seen only clusters of rowan flowers and five kids getting high. 
“Who screamed?” he demanded, using a voice his father would have once used. He laid a comforting hand against Mary Rose’s back. 
All the teens turned to one girl, whose wide eyes grew despondent. 
“I was . . . I’m sorry.” Already welling with tears. “I was . . . just joking.” 
Simon shook his head. “Everyone’s okay?” 
The kids all nodded. “Hey, man,” one of the boys said. “Sorry to freak you guys out. We were . . .” His voice trailed off, then started up again to match his abashed grin. “You know.” 
“Yeah,” Simon said. “I know.” 
“You guys American, yeah?” 
Simon ignored the question and studied their stuff again. “How’d you all get here? I didn’t see your boat.” 
The other boy pointed away from where Simon and Mary Rose had entered the woods. “The cove over by the lake,” he explained. Simon had seen the lake only from afar— they dragged the lake for her—but didn’t know the cove the kid spoke of. Obviously an easy place to store a boat, grab a little girl, and vanish again. 
“You were calling them.” Mary Rose said. 
The teens exchanged quick looks. 
Simon whispered to her: “Calling who?” 
One of the girls held up a sheet of paper. “My aunt gave me these.” 
“It’s almost solstice,” one of the boys said, as if that explained ev-erything. “You know . . .” 
“What?” Simon snipped. “Like magic stuff.” 
The boy shrugged. “Yeah. You say the words the hour before sunset? 
Light a fire. Yeah, all that stuff.” 
“Do any of you truly believe?” Mary Rose asked. 
Again, the group exchanged looks in the telepathic speak of all teenagers. “Aye,” one girl said, and the others nodded in agreement. 
“And you’re afraid,” Mary Rose said. 
The girl lowered her head. 
“Don’t be,” Mary Rose said. 
“Do you know how to do it?” another girl asked. 
Mary Rose only smiled. 
“Can you show us?” 
Simon held out a hand. “It’s late. We’d better get going. Sorry to scare you guys.” 
“No, man, that’s totally on us. We’re sorry.” 
The girl held out the sheet of paper for Mary Rose to take. 
“Inviting me in to help?” Mary Rose had crossed her arms. 
 “Yeah, sure,” the first boy answered. “We don’t know what we’re doing.” 
Mary Rose stepped into the clearing, and Simon followed, tossing aside the stick he’d been holding. For the first time, he noticed that several oblong upright boulders encircled the entire opening. “This is what I wanted to show you, anyway,” Mary Rose said, looking back to him. She took the sheet of paper and studied the words. 
“Are you, like . . . a Wiccan?” The one girl asked. 
Mary Rose shook her head. “Not at all. I’m not sure . . . ” She thought. “I used to come here.” 
One of the boys cautiously offered Simon the half-burnt joint he’d been cupping in his hand. Simon shook his head, and the kid licked his fingers to stub it out. “Sorry, man,” he apologized again. 
“Not a problem.” And there wasn’t. Simon had certainly spent enough of his teens doing shots and partaking in the occasional hit to not worry about these kids having a good time on summer break. 
“You guys okay out here?” 
The guy smiled. “Yeah, sure.” He leaned closer. “You mean all that weird stuff. Ghosts and stuff?” He laughed. “We were just ‘concen-trating the magic circle.’” 
“Consecrating,” his friend corrected, and they both snickered again. 
“Look, the girls sprinkled salt between the rocks.” 
Simon pretended to look but turned more to watch Mary Rose and the girls. They were, all four, laughing and whispering quietly. Even, especially, the freckled one who’d first looked afraid. Mary Rose was lifting her hands in the air, making her twirls while the others giggled. 
“That your wife?” the kid asked, clearly impressed. 
“That’s what they tell me.” Simon couldn’t believe how easily she’d fallen in with the girls, already almost one of them. Like long-lost sisters. He grinned. No wonder men got so nervous whenever women gathered together alone. 
“We really should go,” he declared loudly, checking his watch. 
Damn, they’d now be leaving at dusk at best. He’d be coming back into Mhoire’s Point in the near dark. He’d completely lost track of the time. “You guys, too. It’ll be dark in less than an hour.” 
“We’re staying all night,” the second boy said. 
“On the island?” For some reason, Simon found the idea loath-some. Maybe because he suspected Mary Rose would stay with them if they offered. “It’ll get cold tonight. You guys should—” 
“Got blankets and the fire.” The first teen smirked. “And the girls.” 
“Plus, we’re used to it.” The kid with the sideburns tried a wink. 
Simon smiled politely, started backing from the clearing. “Mary Rose . . .” 
She waved, whispered something else to the three girls, and then jogged across the clearing to join him. “Be good, guys!” Simon called out to all five of them. “Keep safe.” 
The five teens waved and nodded back. 
“They okay?” he asked Mary Rose. 
She smiled. “Should be.” 
“What, exactly, did you tell them?” 
“Oh, I don’t know. Just to have fun. Not to be so serious. To dance and sing and love.” 
“Great.” Simon chuckled. “The guys will appreciate that.” 
She shrugged. 
“Who are they ‘calling’ now?” 
“Spirits of the island. The Fae. That kind of thing.” 
“Do you believe in that stuff?” 
“What did you think of the standing stones?” 
“The circle of rocks? And how do you know that?” 
She looked off. “I don’t know. I must have heard it somewhere before.” 
“It’s fucking absurd your father used to let you wander alone back here. I’m thirty-four and, honestly, half-scared to death.” He stole a look. “What if you’d run into somebody?” 
“Those five were harmless.” 
“Yeah, they were. You ever run into someone who wasn’t?” 
He expected a flash of fear, sadness, or even anxiety to cross her features, but Mary Rose simply threw up her hands. “Simon!” she said, exasperated. “Will you stop with the cross-examination! I don’t recall anything that happened here—I know something did. I do. I’m not an idiot. But my mind has lost it— I  have lost it. I’d appreciate it, if you love me, if you’d lose it, too.” She reached out for him, and he let her take his hands in hers, drawing him close. “Isn’t it enough that you are here, and I am here, and we’re happy? Isn’t that all that matters, husband?” 
Her face, in that moment, was so transcendent with happiness that Simon went perfectly still. Her eyes were enormous, and their gaze so piercing, so intent that she’d never felt more real to him. The lawyer in him gave way to the man, and the man was in love with this woman. 
She was his wife, she was happy. Something terrible had happened to her but—she was not where he’d find his answers. She was only someone he could protect. 
“Deal,” he said, and her smile lit up her entire face, reaching even to those beautiful, fathomless eyes, and in that moment, he felt that it all would be all right, eventually. Every last part. 
“Thank you,” she whispered, stepping up on her toes to brush his lips lightly. Simon’s heart was racing now, only he couldn’t say why. 
She turned and led him onward. 
They made it out of the woods, more quickly than they’d entered. 
So much so that Simon would have sworn they’d taken a shortcut of some kind. With the whole sun resting on the farthest horizon, they jogged up to the top of the hill and collected their things. Mary Rose was laughing, having fun, enjoying the new challenge of making it back to the boat in time. Simon, now that the woods were behind him, not as much. The idea of returning to Mhoire’s Point in the dark wasn’t a pleasant one, especially in an unfamiliar boat on unfamiliar waters. 
They waded back to the boat, the tide higher than the first time they’d come out. While Mary Rose toweled off and sorted through their tumbled provisions, Simon got the boat going and turned out of the shallow inlet as quickly as possible. The sun was behind the island, only its glow in the sky providing light. 
Minutes later, the island was a retreating silhouette in the back-ground, looking hardly bigger than a sporting boat itself. Simon turned back to watch it plunge into the darkening ocean. He was convinced he’d spotted a single spark on the island, a small fire finally blazing to life somewhere deep in the woods. 
The kids. 
He smiled, finally feeling better. If they were willing to chance it overnight on the island, how bad could it be? 
“Simon!” Mary Rose’s laughing call drew his attention away, and he fixed his gaze on her as she leaned over the edge of her boat, catching the spray in her outstretched hand. As the setting sun edged her figure she once again looked almost incandescent against the murky water, the blue fairy come to life. 
When he looked back to the island again, there were now several small lights glowing in the shadows, scattered across the whole island, and even as he watched, another flared to life on the island’s farthest edge. 
A trick of the sunset and shifting water, he decided. 
Like all the things Cameron had once seen. 
There was no other explanation.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Reviews for the Week of October 2, 2017

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

DOUBLE BARREL HORROR edited by Matthew Weber (2016 Pint Bottle Press / 35 pp / eBook)

What a nifty idea for a project! Assemble a crew of solid heavy-hitter horror writers, have them do two stories each, and come away with a full dozen tales of the extreme, the gory, the gross, and the violent. Which, hey, is right up my alley, and I'm pleased to report that they don't disappoint. Each is its own sick journey into wrongness.

Amanda Hard turns what initially seems like just another predictable blind date into something even more twisted ... then brings a fresh take on a classic, when a mother's devotion and careful wish fulfillment leads to unexpectedly dark places.

Next up is K.Trap Jones, who manages the near-impossible by making the reader almost feel sorry for a clown ... almost ... and takes a grown man on an adventure to learn the even-worse truth behind a childhood rural legend.

Vic Kerry looks at some perils of parenthood and pregnancy with both of his contributions, one of which has a young couple preparing for their unexpected little bundle of joy ... while in the other, a man gets a surprise visit from the daughter he might have had, and she's not happy.

Then comes a dual dose of dealings with devils, courtesy of J.C.Michael ...whether it's making sure bad people get what they deserve, or discovering the true source of ultimate evil behind the horrors of war and life's cruelties.

The powerhouse Sisters of Slaughter are at it again, hitting close to home twice ... whether it's pitting cops against something much worse than a simple robbery, or confronting the landlord about all those aggravating problems with the rental.

Matthew Weber finishes things off with two tales of people getting what's coming to them ... three guys try to escape a revenge curse (one which, as a pet-lover, I found it hard to argue with), and a couple of bullies have a turn of bad luck.

-Christine Morgan

CHILLS by Mary SanGiovanni (2016 Kensington / 190 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Part of why I chose now to read Chills was, admittedly, psychosomatic ... a prolonged heatwave for which Portland is not prepared left me desperate for alternate ways to cool off. So, how about some suggestibility? Winter horror! An entire town in the grips of an unnatural freeze, all ice and deep snow!

And, thanks to Mary SanGiovanni's flair for immersive description, it helped! There were shivers! A slight drawback being, since this is also a horror novel filled with creepy eldritch frostbeasts and rime monsters and cold-blooded cultists, there were those kinds of shivers as well.

Strange weather has taken over all of Colby. Not just a late unseasonable quirk, a final flurry before spring. This is severe, nearly Fimbulwinter-level stuff. Schools are closing for snow days when kids should be getting ready for summer vacation. And to top it all off, an anonymous ritual-murder victim has just been found.

For Detective Jack Glazier, that case is only the beginning. He and his team soon find themselves dealing with way more than a few little ceremonies and sacrifices. It's not wrong to say that the whole world and all of humanity might be at stake. Not to mention the lives of Jack's family and friends.

For occult expert Kathy Ryan, it's also personal ... requiring her to confront a demon (literal or figurative? you be the judge!) from her past and threatening a hope for happiness in her future. She's going to need all her strength and arcane knowledge to stand a chance.

A gripping, and dare I say, chilling read from start to finish, colder than cold coldity-cold cosmic horror with the indescribable beautifully (and terrifyingly) described, Chills definitely delivers for super cool summer reading.

-Christine Morgan

THE FORTY-TWO by Ed Kurtz (2014 New Pulp Press / 368 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It's 1979 in New York City. Charley is addicted to seeing horror double features on 42nd Street, and travels quite often to be there from his downtown apartment. During a screening at the legendary Harris Theater, a beautiful woman sits next to him and before he fully realizes what has happened, she is stabbed in the back, right through her chair. What follows is a noir-type tale that brings Scorcese's AFTER HOURS to mind, as Charley, unable to let this murder go, does what he has to to find out who the killer is.

While at first I thought, why would he even care, considering she was a stranger, I believe it's Charley's love for The Deuce (a.k.a. 42nd Street) that leads him on this wild solo investigation that takes us to the seedier sections of the Manhattan of yesteryear. Besides, he's the clerk at a run down hotel and on occasion helps with the sound on b-movies for little moolah, so it's not like he has a lot going on.

Kurtz brings in all kinds of sleazeball (and some stand up) characters, including an unusually nice prostitute, some Serbian gangsters, and a couple of cops who bring humor into this mainly lurid tale.

For those who long for the days of Times Square's sleaze-era, THE FORTY-TWO will surely make you smile with it's descriptions of cinemas, films, and the general feel of the time, and under Kurtz' well-guided pen, those into crime/noir-ish stories will surely enjoy Charley's plight, which culminates in a satisfying finale. A fine non-horror novel by a beloved horror writer.

-Nick Cato

DOA III edited by Marc Ciccarone and Andrea Dawn (2017 Blood Bound Books / 393 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Oh wow but this is a whole hefty lot of messed-up right here ... this is some of the hardest of the hardcore, putting the triple-X in extreme. Thirty stories from thirty-plus of the genre's wickedest minds and bloodiest pens.

A scan of the TOC, or even the cover, is a who's who of names known for unleashing utter atrocity. Splatterlords extraordinaire like John Skipp, Jack Ketchum, Wrath James White, Edward Lee, Shane McKenzie, Ryan Harding ... rising stars like Kristopher Triana, Betty Rocksteady, K. Trap Jones ... legends like Matheson and Little ... unexpected treats courtesy of Jeff Strand and Hal Bodner ... and so many more!

Seriously, check your sensitive sensibilities at the door. Even the most seasoned sicko will find things within these pages to marvel at and recoil from. At least, I sure did. It's sex and violence from the get-go. Taboos mean nothing to these people, nothing except maybe a hold-my-beer kind of challenge.

Have to tip the hat to "Skipp's Splatterpunk Alphabet Souffle," of course, y the inimitable John Skipp. It gives a literal A-to-Z of snippets, some fiction, some essay, some just quick nuggets of wisdom from the genre's coolest cool uncle.

I got particular chuckles from Jeff Strand's "Hostile," a brief and hilarious look at an unseen aspect of torture-porn. Hal Bodner, in "L'Amuse Bouche," blasts his usual reputation for more light-hearted humor/horror completely out of the water.

Must also give props to "Proud Papa" by Adrien Ludens, for a ghastly entertaining look at the joys of fatherhood ... and Christopher Weber's "Taking Root," for major visceral squick-out ... and Jaap Boekestein's gorgeously imagined "Metal Heat."

"Junk," by Ryan Harding, will have you wincing forever even if you don't have guy-parts. Garrett Cook's "Woeful City" will bend your brain into pandimensional shapes.

There really are way too many excellent pieces in here to single them each out; I mean, it's basically the entire book. If you like boundaries trampled, transgressions gleefully transgressed, the offensive and unthinkable splashed right there before your very eyes, this is definitely one for you!

-Christine Morgan

NOW THAT WE'RE ALONE by Nicholas Day (2017 Bizarro Pulp Press / 167 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

The cover art here, by demented genius Jim Agpalza, is creepy in many, many ways. The longer you look, the creepier it gets. The same can be said for many of the stories in this collection, each of which also features a bonus illustration by Luke Spooner.

The eleven tales contained herein run a strange gamut, the tone of weirdness well-set with the opening catchy-poetic flash fic "This Is Why Johnny Is In Therapy Now," which is almost cheery in tone even as it describes an awful scene.

From there, things take a colder and grimmer turn with "The Ghosts In Winter's Wake," as an old man with a failing memory tries to make sense of tragedy and loss ... but then shifts gears again to B-movie nature run amok monster carnage in "Chomp Chomp."

"Jacks" was one I'd seen before because a friend has a story in the same evil toys anthology where it first appeared, but it's still as enjoyable the second time around, and took me back to my childhood where I never could get the hang of those dratted things anyway.

Is it wrong that, as I read "Beast Mode," I kept thinking it was like what would happen if someone made a gritty reboot of the horror movie they're watching at the beginning of Thriller? The nice young couple, but suddenly bikers, and bloody revenge mayhem?

"Bright Red Mess" is one of my personal favorites here, full of family dysfunction and a lot of really uncomfortable broken glass imagery. I also quite liked the concept and execution of "Negative Space;" like it inspiration, the epiphany just suddenly clicks.

-Christine Morgan

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Reviews for the Week of September 11, 2017

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


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

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

This one is as good as it sounds and more.

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

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

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

An absolute must for any genre fan's bookshelf.

-Nick Cato


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still not over the sheep thing though. Just saying.

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reviews for the Week of August 28, 2017

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Nick Cato

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

-Jon R. Meyers


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan

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

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

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

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

-Jon R. Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Christine Morgan


BLACK STATIC no. 59 (Jul-Aug 2017)

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

This issue features seven short stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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-Nick Cato