Thursday, December 29, 2016

Of Foster Homes and Flies - by Chad Lutzke - One very trying week in the life of a sixth grader

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Meet Denny Christopher Newman, a sixth grader at Maguire Elementary School.  Pretty much neglected, a latchkey kid, and a terrific speller.

There is an amazing amount of detail in this novella length story. Things that add just the right amount of color to the canvas that is the writer's narrative.

Our small house acts as an oven in the summer and an old A/C still hangs from the living room window, though it hasn't worked for years.

I've read a number of coming of age tales this year, it's one of my favorite sub-genres.  Of Foster Homes and Flies is the darkest among them.  On par with Robert McCammon's Boys life  or Steven King's The Body.

When Denny's Mom dies unexpectedly, he has no idea what to do, he only knows he wants more than anything to compete in the sixth grade spelling bee the following Wednesday. Lutzke's story is about how he gets there and it's at once compelling, heartbreaking, witty, and charming.

Of Foster Homes and Flies, published by Scary Carpet, is available in e-book, paperback, and audible formats,  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the authors bio - Chad Lutzke lives in Battle Creek, MI. with his wife and children where he works as a medical language specialist. Chad loves music, rain, sarcasm, dry humor, and cheese. He has a strong disdain for dishonesty and hard-boiled eggs. He has written for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Rue Morgue and Scream magazine. He is a regular contributor to Horror Novel Reviews.

My Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2016

Once again I was fortunate enough to read somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 books in the last calendar year.  At this time I'd like to present my favorite reads of 2016.  The first 9 books on the list are in alphabetical order and then, at the end, I'll give you my favorite read in four categories.

Dark Matter - Blake Crouch

I was immediately taken in by the author's writing style.  Clear, concise, narrative.  Fully realized characters.  And a thrilling story to boot. Dark Matter is an amazing journey that is wildly imaginative yet totally believable.

The actual quantum physics involved are a bit over my head, but simplified to the point where even I could follow along.

There are several unexpected twists along the way and underneath all the science and mystery is a love story for the ages.



I Will Rot Without You - Danger Slater 

I Will Rot Without You is not a book I would have sought out on my own.  I've never read anything by the author, other than some of the reviews he's written on Goodreads.  I've never read anything from the small press responsible for its publication, although I have read a number of short stories from John Skipp, the owner of Fungasm Press.

I Will Rot Without You is gonzo or bizarro writing with a bit of beautiful prose mixed in.  At times surreal and totally off-the-wall, yet the underlying story is charming.  Its so much more than in-your-face splatterpunk, it truly defies description.



Mongrels - by Stephen Graham Jones

Mongrels is a completely different kind of werewolf story, told from the point of view of a teenage werewolf who has yet to shift for the first time.  In addition to facing the same issues teens everywhere must deal with, this one faces the uncertainty of when, or even if, he will ever change.

Good literary horror is something to be appreciated, and when you combine that with werewolves, it's time to relax in your favorite reading chair and dig in.



Robert Bloch's Psycho: Sanitarium - by Chet Williamson

If you've never read Robert Bloch's 1959 novel Psycho, not to worry, Chet Williamson provides an excellent synopsis to get the reader up to speed on the events which precede Psycho: Sanitarium.  The story itself succeeds on many levels.  The depiction of life in the asylum rings true with patients running the gamut from calm to violent and a professional staff of both caring individuals and a few that should be committed themselves.  The tone and pacing of the story matches up well with Robert Bloch's original work.  All of the characters are well developed, and the story features a number of delicious twists, all within the realm of possibility.



The Night Parade - by Ronald Malfi 

It's an amazing feeling when you start a new book by a capable writer. one who gently takes you by the hand and guides you on your journey.  Ronald Malfi is such a writer.

Malfi is a master at giving the reader just enough to draw you into his world and then slowly reveals bits and pieces until it all comes together.  Much like painter creating a work of art by adding layer after layer until the piece is just right.

There is a new plague in the land. Wanderer's Folly, which results in nosebleeds, hallucinations, and ultimately death.




Odd Adventures with Your Other Father - by Norman Prentiss

Odd Adventures with Your Other Father is a genre-bending novel, blending fantasy, horror, and a love story that transcends the ordinary.

Celia, had two fathers, one of them passed away when she was four.  Her Father, Shawn, tells her a series of "odd" stories about her other Father, Jack.

It was so easy to become lost in the story-telling.  Somewhat like sitting around a campfire listening to an experienced counselor tell his best tale and then clamoring for one more before crawling into your sleeping bag for the night.



The Rib from Which I Remake the World - by Ed Kurtz

The Rib from Which I Remake the World  is one of those books which doesn't fit neatly into any category.  Is it Noir? Horror? Psychological Thriller? Occult? The list could go on, but truthfully, what Ed Kurtz's latest is, is a heluva read.

A Road Show comes to town with film to play at the Palace Theatre Motherhood Too Soon. It's scandalous, purporting to show an actual childbirth at the end of the motion picture.

Then there's a mysterious, invitation only, midnight show which accompanies the main feature   This is where Kurtz's tale goes from being a crime story to something more. Before long it warps into something completely metaphysical and becomes an unrelenting nightmare for those still alive.



They Say A Girl Died Here Once - by Sarah Pinborough

Four stages of womanhood stuck together by life, but with nothing in common.

I found They Say a Girl Died Here Once to be quietly disturbing, yet beautifully written, spellbinding, powerful stuff  It's not a "fun" read, but it is a potent story which builds to a pulse-pounding climax.

In my modest opinion They Say a Girl Died Here Once is as close to a perfect horror story as you'll find.



Tijuana Donkey Showdown - by Adam Howe 

No need to get into plot details, they don't really matter, what does matter is that reading Tijuana Donkey Showdown is a chance to kick back and relax with a totally fun read.    It's a story filled with OMG moments, just one outrageous surprise after another.


Make no mistake, Tijuana Donkey Showdown, is certainly for adults and even some of those may find the material offensive, but if that's you and you're looking for something to take your mind off the world we live in.  Look no further.



And now my favorite reads of 2016

American Nocturne - by Hank Schwaeble - Favorite Collection  

There are so many talented writers working in the fields of horror and speculative fiction that I'm constantly discovering authors I've not read before who immediately leave me wanting to read more of their work.  Case in point, Hank Schwaeble.  Prior to being sent a copy of this new collection I'd never even heard of him.  Maybe I just need to get out more or stay in and read more.


Jonathan Maberry, an author I have read and greatly respect, has penned an excellent introduction to Hank Schwaeble in general and specifically to American Nocturne.  In essence, he says Hank is the real deal, and that's good enough for me.

After reading this collection this is one I can seriously recommend.



Wicked Witches - An Anthology of the New England Horror Writers - ed. by Scott Goudsward, David Price, & Daniel Keohane - Favorite Anthology

I found the stories in Wicked Witches to be diverse, engrossing, and totally enjoyable. This may seem like a narrow theme for such a large anthology, but each story had it's own unique vision keeping the collection fresh from start to finish.


Halloween may be past, but good horror can be appreciated all year long.



Odd Man Out - by James Newman - Favorite Novella

It's been a few years since The Boy Scouts of America changed their policy to allow gay members. In Newman's Odd Man Out a conservative Christian Church is struggling with allowing the scouts to continue using their building as a meeting place.

What follows is the story of of what happened during a trial run of the Black Mountain Camp for Boys in the Summer of 1989.

Although the campers in Odd Man Out were wonderfully diverse, there was one in their midst who was decidedly different. Wesley Westmore.

By now, I think you might have a pretty good sense of where Newman's tale is headed. There are monsters in Odd Man Out, but they are not the monsters of fiction.  Here the monsters are real.  Just as real as you and I.


I give Odd Man Out my highest recommendation.



Children of the Dark -  by Jonathan Janz  - Favorite Novel

Children of the Dark is one of the most talked about horror books of 2016.  I just had to see what the fuss was about for myself.  Wow.  This is one time where all of the hype was dead on.

In its heart, this book is cryptid horror at it most effective.  A masterpiece of terror. Tenacious in its pacing, and just when you think things can't get any worse...frying pan, meet fire.

When I was finished reading Children of the Dark I was left feeling emotionally drained.  This is what happens when a reader is fully invested in a story.  It's a sign of great writing and regardless of genre this book is definitely great writing.


Feel free to let me know what books you loved this year in the comments section below


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Did You Forget About Me? - by Andrew Cull - A short story that's long on atmosphere

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I recently read and greatly enjoyed an anthology of Christmas themed horror written by members of the Australian Horror Writers Association.  That book was Hell's Bells and one of the stories within was Old Man Christmas, written by filmmaker/writer Andrew Cull.  When Andrew reached out to me with a request to read and review his new short story, Did You Forget About Me? I jumped at the opportunity.

Cam Miller is a struggling actor and at age thirty he has yet to make his mark.  When his long estranged father dies and leaves Cam his childhood home he contacts his sister and makes plans to visit the property.  The trip brings back unpleasant memories and more.

I don't want to get into he nitty-gritty here.  After all, this is just a short story and it's secrets should be discovered by the reader.  I will say I enjoyed the experience and that Cull makes effective use of his filmmaker's eye for detail.

I pulled the curtain aside.  I could feel the cold pressing against the glass outside, wanting in.

Although this is only a short story, Did You Forget About Me? had something that's been missing in a lot of books I've been reading recently and that's "atmosphere." 

Recommended.

Self-Published and currently available only for the Kindle.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - Andrew Cull is both a writer and director. His first novel, Remains, is set for release in 2017.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Devils in Dark Houses - by B.E. Scully - Four intertwined novellas of murder and mayhem in the Pacific Northwest

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Having never read anything from B.E. Scully before, I had no idea what to expect.  Truthfully, I didn't anticipate being entertained as completely as I was.

Devils in Dark Houses is a set of four equally powerful novellas set in the author's home state of Oregon.  The stories are all connected through a pair of homicide detectives assigned to the individual cases.

Before the tales, the author shares a pretty dark quote from Teddy Roosevelt - There is not one among us in whom a devil does not dwell; at some time, on some point, that devil masters each of us.... It is not having been in the Dark House, but having left it, that counts.

The Eye That Blinds - Ross Devlin, Tyler Wickett, and Brooke Merrill, call themselves the Three Muskateers. College friends, each with their own set of delusions.  Ross believes he's been selected for a new reality show called "The Eye,"  Tyler is obsessed with monitoring and controlling Brooke's life, and Brooke has self-diagnosed MS.  Scully delivers a captivating read which will leave detectives Monte Martinez and Cassie Shirdon trying to figure out a brutal, twisted puzzle, the kind we see on TV and just end up shaking our collective heads.

Each Castle Has Its King - A story that asks, "Can a house be evil?" Calvin Goodman and his wife, Rachel, and their dog, Jackson, move to the country.  ...leaving Los Angeles for a "more peaceful, sane place." like Oregon.  There was no question about the peaceful part. But Rachel wasn't at all convinced about the "more sane" part of the bargain.   Their neighbor on the one side, Roy Crampton, was less than friendly.  The Dell sisters, Mary and Mabel, lived on the other side of their property and were disturbing in their own way.

Nostri -  This was my favorite of the four novellas is the collection.  Disenfranchised teens and a story that asks some hard questions.  Thought provoking and frightening.  What starts with a fascination with the teachings of a Roman philosopher and taking a stand on some social issues, in an unusual way, takes a decidedly dark turn and ends in murder.  Once again, Martinez and Shirdon are on the case.  Without a doubt this was one of the most powerful narratives I've read this year. Chilling in its ramifications.

Devils in Dark Houses - Another story about ethics, addressing the issue in an entertaining, dark fiction sort of way. Good cops, not so good cops, DB Cooper, and an itinerant schizophrenic that refers to himself as the Hound.  What's not to love. Plus, the Hound knows something about the past in the very police department where Martinez and Shirdon still work homicide.  Given what they have to work with, getting to the truth will be anything but easy.

B.E. Scully has a very comfortable writing style which made reading this quartet of novellas a joy and I look forward to reading her work again, soon.

Definitely recommended.

Devils in Dark Houses is available from DarkFuse in both paperback and e-book formats.   If you subscribe to the Kindle Unlimited program you can read this book at no additional charge.  Also, if you're an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - B.E. Scully lives in a haunted red house that lacks a foundation in the misty woods of Oregon with a variety of human and animal companions.  Scully is the author of the gothic thriller Verland: the Transformation, the short story collection The Knife and the Wound It Deals, and numerous other short stories, poems, and articles.




Monday, December 26, 2016

Where the Dead Go to Die - A story of loss, love, and zombies

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Been a while since I've read a great opening line, but this one drew me right in...

The dead roam those halls.

Emily Samuels is starting new job and the protesters were out in force, complete with signs reading, "LIFE IS 4 THE LIVING","BRING OUT UR DED",  'NO TOLERRENCE FOR BONE EATERS", "LET' FINISH THE JOB".

Where the Dead Go to Die is a decidedly different take on the zombie apocalypse...

"No, no, no! We don't say zombie here.  Nor do we refer to our guests as 'smilers', or 'bone eaters' or whatever else it is you hear over there in the Russian quarter, it won't fly here, Emily.  There's a reason those offensive B movies and trashy novels about the infected have been withdrawn from circulation and banned."

In the world created by authors Dries and Gunnells, once infected it can take years before the "dead' become hungry.  As a result the ministry has established long-term care facilities where they can stay until they absolutely need to be terminated. It's not brains these zombies cry for.  Here, the infected crave sugar, fats, and with time, marrow.

Where the Dead Go to Die is a captivating story, powerful in the way its told.  In some ways a comment on elder care as much as it is a story about zombies.  A story with a great deal of humanity, yet filled with gore and...hope.  At one point I was actually moved to tears.

There are several illustrations interspersed throughout the the book.  Each character was rich with authenticity and the storytelling is a cut above...

The pigeon rolled trying to flap itself right again.  Only it was too late.  It entangled itself in the barbed wire lining the lunch area fence.  Meta thorns pierced the bird's fragile hulk, and the more it tried to fight the stronger that hold became.  The pigeon screamed until the pain became too much, and the cooed itself into stunned resignation.

Using a zombie tale to tell a story of the turbulent times we live in seems nothing short of inspired

Not sure whose idea it was to use instructions on creating an origami crane to open each of the Interludes in the story, but that was really inspired.

Wholeheartedly recommended.

Where the Dead Go to Die is published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available in both paperback and for the Kindle.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge. Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the authors' bios...

Aaron Dries was raised in a small New South Wales town in Australia.  Among his many jobs is a stint as an aged-care nurse, experience which came in handy in creating the backdrop for Where the Dead Go to Die.  Aaron graduated from the University of Newcastle with a Bachelor of Communication, majoring in creative writing and video production. As a filmmaker, he won a number of awards for his short films.  When he is not writing, Aaron is thinking about writing, or upcoming film projects. He is also an avid traveler.

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Children of the Dark - Jonathan Janz - Well-crafted creature horror

5 of 5 Stars

Children of the Dark is one of the most talked about horror books of 2016.  I just had to see what the fuss was about for myself.  Wow.  This is one time where all of the hype was dead on.

How's this for an opening line?  The week I saw seventeen people die didn't begin with blood, monsters, or a sadistic serial killer.  And things just got better from there.

Will, Chris, and Barley.  Best friends for life. Chiildren of the Dark begins like a typical coming of age novel. Teenage boys discovering teenage girls. Bullies making life difficult.  But, there comes a point when things turn dreadfully dark. Nearly everyone I talked to that night wound up dead anyway.

In its heart, this book is cryptid horror at it most effective.  A masterpiece of terror. Tenacious in its pacing, and just when you think things can't get any worse...frying pan, meet fire.

One of the things that makes Children of the Dark so effective was the contrast between having to deal with the somewhat normal circumstances of growing up, no matter how difficult they may be, and then having that turn into an unrelenting nightmare.  The beginning of the story is filled with charming moments, young love, the anecdote about how Barley got his nickname was nothing short of brilliant, and then BAM!

When I was finished reading Children of the Dark I was left feeling emotionally drained.  This is what happens when a reader is fully invested in a story.  It's a sign of great writing and regardless of genre this book is definitely great writing.

Available in both paperback and e-book formats, Children of the Dark, is published by Sinister Grin Press.

From the author's bio - Jonathan Janz grew up between a dark forest and a graveyard, which explains everything. Brian Keene named his debut novel The Sorrows "the best horror novel of 2012." The Library Journal deemed his follow-up, House of Skin, "reminiscent of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Peter Straub's Ghost Story."

His primary interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children, and though he realizes that every author's wife and children are wonderful and amazing, in this case the cliché happens to be true.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hell's Bells - edited by a commitee of the Australian Horror Writers Association- An anthology of festive fear

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Hell's Bells happens to be one of my favorite tracks from Back In Black arguably the best album from the Australian rock band AC/DC and fits well as the title for this new anthology. Much like the in-your-face rock 'n' roll AC/DC is known for, Hell's Bells, a collection of 40 flash stories of 500 words or less, will leave you rocking.

I've been aware of Australia as a hotbed of horror for a few years now, and this anthology just solidifies that view.  In the mix are author's I've read a lot, some I've read a bit, and many I've just read for the first time.  While not every story hit the high notes, enough of them did to make this collection worth your time.

There are all kinds of Christmas horror stories among these tales, but my favorites are the Christmas ghost stories, of which there are several.  There truly is something for every fan of dark fiction in Hell's Bells.  It's not easy to write a complete story in under 500 words, but for the most part that's just what the writers accomplish in this compilation.

As I write this review, it's nearly Summer in the land of Oz and here I was reading these stories in the bitterly cold Northeast United States. So I just imagined myself relaxing out on the deck while me mate grills a thick juicy steak on the barbie.  Let me tell ya, that just warmed the cockles of me heart.

Hell's Bells is published by the Australian Horror Writers Association and is currently available for the Kindle. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Clockwork Universe - by John W. Dennehy - A pretty good first novel - Steampunk adventure

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Kevin Barnes is a commuter, headed to Boston from the Merrimack Valley in Southern New Hampshire.  On the weekends he performs in a throwback punk band and he looks the part, with a purple Mohawk, diaper pins in his ears, wearing jackboots with crimson laces.

Prior to boarding a stranger asks him to watch his briefcase for a moment, when the man doesn't return, Kevin boards with the briefcase and begins a journey he won't soon forget.

Kevin is thrown into a time and place he barely recognizes, a Boston where the patriots lost the revolution and steam is the primary source of energy.  Here he meets big game hunter, Silas Cunningham and his companion, Niles Barton.  The Englishmen have been tasked with capturing and destroying two dangerous animals which have become loose in the city.

"We are facing Rhino-pards," Cunningham explained.  "They are part rhino and part leopard. Some sort of vivisection done on the Ivory Coast.  A mad French scientist shacked up in a village doing unusual experiments on animals."

The trick with enjoying this debut novel from John W. Dennehy is not to ask too many questions. Questions like, how did a simple commute to Boston result in arriving in an alternate universe in a different timeline and why was there a ray-gun in the stranger's briefcase.

In the end, I found Clockwork Universe to be an entertaining story that could have been so much more.  There is this wonderful world in which Kevin finds himself and yet, most of the story, as good as it is, is spent chasing Rhino-pards.

Clockwork Universe is published by Severed Press in both paperback and for the Kindle.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge. Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - John W. Dennehy is a writer of Horror & Suspense. He has three books under contract with a publisher that will be out soon.  Clockwork Universe is his first published novel.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

I Travel by Night - by Robert McCammon - A wonderfully constructed vampire novella; first in a series

5 of 5 Stars   Review copy

Trevor Lawson was a good man, a confederate soldier, injured at the battle of Shilo and bitten by the vampire LaRouge.  A quarter century has passed and he's still struggling to hold on to the last remnants of his humanity.  On his business card, "beneath his name and the address of the Hotel Sanctuaire, was the line All Matters Handled. And below that: I Travel By Night."

Robert McCammon has some serious writing chops and uses them to tell a tight and completely entertaining story that is ripe with the possibilities for as many sequels as he may care to write.

Lawson lives with "the hope that one day he might throw off this heavy burden and find his way back to the sun.  But to do that, (he) would have to find—and kill—the vampire he knew as LaRouge. There had been many trails, but always she slipped the moment.  The Dark Society protected her, for she was their deathless and beautiful Queen."

I readily recommend this tale of the weird wild west.

I Travel by Night by Robert McCammon, from Subterranean Press, is available as an e-book and on the secondary market as a Deluxe Hardcover signed by the author.

From the author's bio - Robert McCammon is the New York Times bestselling author of nineteen novels, including the award-winning Boy's Life and my personal favorite Swan Song.  There are more than four million copies of his books in print.



Monday, December 12, 2016

Odd Man Out - James Newman - A gut-wrenching novella that's perfect for our times

5 of 5 Stars      Review copy

Odd Man Out  was originally released as a signed Limited edition from Thunderstorm Books, but this truly is a book everyone should get to read and so now it's deservedly getting the wide release treatment from Bloodshot Books.

It's been a few years since The Boy Scouts of America changed their policy to allow gay members. In Newman's Odd Man Out a conservative Christian Church is struggling with allowing the scouts to continue using their building as a meeting place.

There's a vote that does not go in the scouts favor and this brings back memories Dennis Munce has managed to block out for nearly three decades.

What follows is the story of of what happened during a trial run of the Black Mountain Camp for Boys in the Summer of 1989.

James Newman is a gifted storyteller with an eye for detail. Alongside the tables sat about thirty beige metal folding chairs, like the ones my favorite wrestlers were always hitting each other over the head with on WCW Saturday Morning.  It's not like I'm reading an account of events, but more like I've been transported to the actual place and time.

The banter among the teenage boys was much like what I heard from my cruder friends growing up. Although the campers in Odd Man Out were wonderfully diverse, there was one in their midst who was decidedly different. Wesley Westmore.

When you're young there is no greater sense of relief than when the bullies' sights are no longer turned on you.

By now, I think you might have a pretty good sense of where Newman's tale is headed. There are monsters in Odd Man Out, but they are not the monsters of fiction.  Here the monsters are real.  Just as real as you and I.

It's as if the writer anticipated the fallout from the recent Presidential election.  True, these behaviors have existed for a long time, but this story could not be more relevant.  It's a tale that had a profound effect on me.  If you're willing to keep your mind open and experience the true horror of this novella you might just be in for a mind-altering read.

I give Odd Man Out my highest recommendation.

James Newman's Odd Man Out is available from Bloodshot Books in paperback and e-book formats. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - James Newman lives in North Carolina with his wife and their two sons.  His published works include The Wicked, Animosity, and Ugly As Sin, and the collection People Are Strange.



Friday, December 9, 2016

SNAFU: Black Ops - edited by Amanda J. Spedding and Geoff Brown - The exceptional military Horror anthology series continues

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Editors Amanda J. Spedding and Geoff Brown have once again gathered some of the best and brightest writers to be a part of their highly successful SNAFU military horror anthology series.

Somewhere along the way I've lost count on the exact number of books in this collection, but it's getting to the point where it could occupy it's own shelf on your bookcase and every one of them has been as good as the first.  SNAFU: Black Ops is no exception.  Get ready for thirteen tales of military horror filled with monsters and mayhem.

Back to Black - Jonathan Maberry & Bryan Thomas Schmidt - A Joe Ledger/Sam Imura Rot & Ruin novella.  Definitely a power-packed way to kick off the anthology.  In the absence of official orders.  Top and Bunny had assigned themselves a mission.  The rules were simple.  Keep moving.  Save whom you could save.  Kill as many zombies as was practical.  Rinse.  Repeat.

The Waking Dragon - R.P.L. Johnson - I loved the ideas the author put forth in this short story.  VR Torture and AI Warfare.  Can it really be that far off?  The advantage of virtual reality torture was after it was done you were still relatively intact.  The agony was real, but temporary.

The Clash of Cymbals - Richard Lee Byers - This story features Crusaders battling the Moors, curses, and more.

Black Tide -James A. Moore & Charles Rutledge - Another familiar hero in the personage of Jonathan Crowley and a well-told story that adds a bit of Lovecraft to the military horror.  As a kid, one of Brent's favorite movies had been The Creature From the Black Lagoon.  This thing looked like the titular creature's bigger, meaner sibling.

Raven's First Flight - Alan Baxter - An adventure featuring the Dark Squad which has caught the attention of Armour.  Armour exists to take care of magical, unnatural, supernatural, etcetera threats to the non-magical, unsuspecting masses.

Sons of Apophis - Christine Morgan - An entertaining tale set in the world of Egyptian mythology
The author tells a story of the creation of night and day I had never heard before.  Fascinating.

Seal Team Blue - John O'Brien - A New World novella.  A virus, a world-wide pandemic, a rushed to production vaccine, and a cure that was worse than the virus.  Fast-paced and action-packed.  One of the better stories in the collection.

A Debt Repaid - Tim Marquitz and J.M. Martin - A Tales of the Prodigy story from two of my favorite writers.  A mission to rescue the woman taken by Bal Surathanan, the slaver.  Gryl will let nothing get in the way of his freeing Jacquial.

Ground Zero - Kirsten Cross - Hands down, my favorite story in the anthology.  Excellently written story about battling Taints (vampires) in the London underground.  One of the most savage and evil monsters ever to walk the face of the earth was currently standing casually on a London underground platform as if it were the most natural thing in the world, dressed in normal clothes, and looking every inch like a bog-standard commuter.  A hidden horror, right there in plain sight.

Deepest, Darkest -Hank Schwaeble - More fun with monsters in the form of a Jake Hatcher short. Jake is forced on a bogus mission under false pretenses. A layered tale and a lot of fun.

Raid on Wewelsberg - Seth Skorkowsky - A fast-paced story from Skorkowsky's Valducan series set back in WWII fighting Nazi abominations.

God-Killers In Our Midst - James Lovegrove & N.X. Sharps - A tale which answers the question, "Is it possible to kill a god?"

Extinction Lost - Nicholas Sansbury Smith - As a Marine All it takes is all you've got.  Smith has his characters fighting Nazis and the monsters they've created and longing for The good old days when they were fighting men, not monsters.

Black Ops is a broad mix of novellas and short stories from worlds established and new, some tales are weird, some scary, some you might even lose sleep over, but every tale is right on target as the SNAFU series show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

SNAFU: Black Ops is published by Cohesion Press and is currently available for the Kindle and will soon be out in paperback, too.

I totally recommend every one of the books in the SNAFU anthology series.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Haven, Kansas - by Alethea Kontis -

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Alethea Kontis is already a very successful writer, but one I've never had a chance to read, until now.  Haven, Kansas may be a YA novel, but it is certainly not without its scares.

Erin was supposed to go to her best friend Lora's for...

the Blood Moon, the last full moon before the Witches' New Year and Erin's birthday.  According to the Wiccan books Lora had acquired for her research library, the October moon  was meant to be a night of cleansing, a purge of  all the bad things in their lives.  A time to give thanks for the bounty that the year had brought them.  It was all about new beginnings ...or, it should have been.

Instead, Erin has a rendezvous with a boy, a meetup that does not go as planned, where a lost spirit enters her body, what her grandmother would call a Ghost Dancer.  Erin had always loved those stories.  Not anymore.

What follows is an entertaining tale of ghosts, witches, and ancient curses.

I am instantly drawn to the rich characters and great storytelling.  The family dynamics between Lora and her brothers Conner and Luke and her parents feet real.  And although just a bit player in the this tale, I found Ashley, part of a clique of mean girls in Lora's class, was one of those characters you just love to hate.

Only a few days ago it had all been that simple—one more day just like the one before it, full of the same, silly, mundane problems.  She had been just another teenager who thought witches and magic were an entertaining way to pass the time an knew nothing of the restless ghosts and bloody murder and the smell and sight of death.  If she let her mind wander, she could almost imagine that none of it ever happened, that it was just a fantasy, that she was really insane and living in a delusion of grandeur.

Early in the story there are hints at horror, but mostly it just seems like so much teenage angst.  Stick with it.  This may be a YA story, but in the end there is plenty of horror and plenty of scares, several "oh, wow" moments, and there was even one scene I was reading all alone where I let out an audible gasp.  It's that good.

Ultimately, a story dealing with loss and sacrifice, it's one I can strongly recommend.

Haven, Kansas is available now in hardback, paperback, and e-book formats.

Author bio - New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a fairy godmother, and a geek.  In 2015, she gave a keynote address at the Lewis Carroll Society’s Alice150 Conference in New York City, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Born in Burlington, Vermont, Alethea currently lives and writes on the Space Coast of Florida. She makes the best baklava you’ve ever tasted and sleeps with a teddy bear named Charlie.


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Wrathbone and Other Stories - by Jason Parent - A solid collection of chilling tales

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Jason Parent's new collection, Wrathbone and Other Stories, includes some wonderfully original tales of horror.  There may be only 5 stories in this collection, totaling 160 pages, but each tale is deserving of your attention and if you have yet to discover Jason's work, this book will serve as a worthy introduction.

Wrathbone - The collection begins with the novella length story of Lincoln's assassination, told as never before, in the voice of Poe or perhaps Lovecraft. The author truly captures the writing style of the old masters. "Terror ate at my sanity like mealworms through bread."  A great way to start this compilation of tales.

The Only Good Lawyer - Here the author breaths new life into the voodoo doll story with a narrative of a lawyer having a very bad day.

Dorian's Mirror - Dorian Clarke is a good looking guy, a model, and a part-time bartender. The reader will quickly discover the author choose this character's name for a reason.  "He owed his sub-par appearance to hallucinations spawned by a long night of drinking, drugging, and sex with a girl whose name he'd never forget."

For The Birds - Nev loved his parrot, Joli, a bird which has developed some unusual eating habits over the years.  Habits, Nev was all too happy to indulge. This particular tale didn't quite go the way I expected and was all the better for it.

Revenge Is a Dish - Maurice is a top-notch chef who takes a job aboard a rich Doctor's yacht on a trip around the world.  Ostensibly to cook, but also to bone the Doc's much younger wife every chance he gets.  Things don't exactly go as planned in this cold-hearted conclusion to a superb collection.

Wrathbone and Other Stories gets my highest recommendation and is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Comet Press.

From the author's bio - In his head, Jason Parent lives in many places, but in the real world, he calls New England his home. The region offers an abundance of settings for his writing and many wonderful places in which to write them. He currently resides in Southeastern Massachusetts with his cuddly corgi named Calypso.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Vyrmin - by Gene Lazuta

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Before I get to the review, just a quick comment about the publisher, Bloodshot Books.  I really admire the effort being made to find books that either had a limited print run or have gone out of print over the years and giving them new life in the digital age by releasing them in paperback and e-book formats. Earlier this year, they gave this treatment to The Awakening by Brett McBride, a wonderful coming of age story and one of the best books I've read in 2016.

All that being said, Vyrmin  missed the mark for me.  Originally released nearly twenty years ago, Vyrmin is a somewhat fresh take on the werewolf trope. Steeped in legend. the story spends much of it's 360 pages going nowhere.

The book starts with a chilling children's rhyme circa 1800...

There's wolves in the woods,
               my girl, my girl,
        There's wolves in the woods,
                  my dear.

            But come the full moon,

              see the blue moon,
      And there's wolves in the house,
                and the mirror.

The back story about Mr. Norris' five-year-old son who has something in his brain, that makes him see things...makes things happen, is compelling.  The father has taken his boy to numerous Doctors, but no one seems to be able to help.  Finally they find a Doctor who reveals the truth to the lad, but not to the father.

So far, so good.

However, when we get to modern times in Harpersville, Ohio the story seems to get bogged down, becomes repetitive, and just doesn't seem to go anywhere until the very end.

When I commit to reading a book, I always see it through to the last page, but I will admit, this time, there were moments I wanted to put it down and not pick it up again.

Don't get me wrong there are some bright spots to keep me reading...

"Everybody's got some o' the evil; and everybody's got some o' the good.  Only the saints are all one way; and only the Vyrmin are all the other."

The good news is Vyrmin is available from Bloodshot Books through the Kindle Unlimited program, so if you are a subscriber you can check it out for yourself for no additional charge.  Also, if you're an Amazon Prime member you can read the book for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

I can't recommend this one, but as I like to say, your mileage may vary.

From the author's bio - Gene Lazuta was introduced to dark stories of fear and the supernatural by his grandmother.  He's the author of ten books, (six horror and four murder mysteries.  Gene lives in Berea, Ohio with his wife of over thirty years.










Monday, November 28, 2016

The Veil (Testaments I and II) - by Joseph D'Lacey - A pair of novellas set in the same apocalyptic world

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

While I admire Joseph D'Lacey's attempt at doing something different with the post apocalyptic trope, The Veil (Testaments I and II) did little to excite me.

Two novellas, set in the same world, told by different survivors and yet I was no more enlightened having read this pair of stories than I was going in.

Testament I - This story begins with a group of survivors holed up in The Station.  They call themselves the Stoppers and they are doing what they can to hold off the Commuters, so named because they still get around. They called the event that started it all or perhaps ended it all. The Long Silence.

This story, told through the eyes of Sherri Foley, is about life at The Station, her sometimes lover, Ike, eleven year old Trixie, and the ad-hoc family they've become.

Testament II - The same circumstances from another point of view.  Here the event was known as The Hush.  There was more details about what was happening in the aftermath and the ensuing fungal infestation.

This time the story-teller is Rob who wants to protect his family, Tara and Jake, and at the same time needs to get away from it all

Although I'm glad I read these two novellas, I'm not sure I can honestly recommend them to other readers.

The Veil (Testaments I and II) is available in paperback and for the Kindle from Horrific Tales Publishing.   If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge. Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - Joseph D'Lacey writes Horror, SF & Fantasy and is best known for his unsettling novel, Meat. He won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer in 2009.  H also writes children's stories with his daughter.






Thursday, November 24, 2016

Creepy Clown - by Vance L. Mellen - I wanted to like this novella, I really did

2 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Early on in Creepy Clown the author warns the reader...

 This will not be a well-written book.  I don't have time to proofread it, clean it up, or censor it.. It will just flow out of my hands, like practiced magic tricks or acrobatic stunts.  I have to write it down as quickly as I possibly can and get it out before it's too late for all of us.  Before I change my mind.

Even taking the above into consideration, Creepy Clown, didn't work for me. There were some things I couldn't sort out about the timeline in the story, even after rereading some sections of the book.  Also, after I began reading the novella, the author contacted me about some proofreading corrections he had made and sent me the new copy which was about eighteen-percent shorter than what I had originally received.  This after I had already read half of the novella.  That's not what bothered me about the book, but it certainly didn't enhance the experience.

Creepy Clown is an interesting story idea.  I'm not a literary critic, so I couldn't say what its problems were  It just seemed like this was an early draft and there was room for improvement.

To add to the confusion there are two listings for this novella on Amazon.  Creepy Clown: Who We Are. Why We Are Here released on October 25, 2016 and Creepy Clown: Creepy Clowns - Who Are They? What do they want? released on November 19th, 2016, and they are different file sizes.  Very confusing.

Creepy Clown is currently available for the Kindle.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

As always, your mileage may vary.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Eat the Night - by Tim Waggoner - Escapism of the highest order

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Sick.  Demented.  Delightful.  Three words which can easily sum up my reading experience with this relatively new work from Tim Waggoner.

Eat the Night begins with Joan Lantz waking from a nightmare that was so real, it was more like a memory than a dream.  A dream of a charismatic singer turned cult leader and the lyrics of a song with the refrain...

Eat the night, eat the night, eat the night, we're gonna—Eat the Night!

This is also the story of an ultra secret organization simply known as Maintenance with Surveyor's, Analysts, Intervention Teams, all serving a Calling to keep entropy at bay.  And then there's the Durg.  It wasn't merely a carrion eater.  It was an everything eater, a thing whose sole purpose was to break down existence as swiftly and efficiently as it could. It was a servant of the Gyre, perhaps in a way even a part of it, an avatar of sorts.  That meant the creature was diametrically opposed to everything Maintenance stood for, and it had to be stopped—even if killing it ultimately increased entropy too.

As is the case with many of Tim Waggoner's original works, Eat the Night is incredibly complicated and assuredly less than believable, but somehow the author manages to have it make complete sense in the end.   Although, brutally merciless at times, there are a few chuckles along the way, and the result is escapism of the highest order.

There were several moments while reading Eat the Night where I got a Douglas Adams vibe. It could be because I've been watching Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency in BBC America, or it could just be me.  Either way a Douglas Adams vibe is a good thing.

This is a quick read I can solidly recommend.

Eat the Night is published by DarkFuse and is available in paperback and e-book formats.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Tim Waggoner’s first novel came out in 2001, and he’s published over thirty novels and three collections of short stories since. He writes original fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins.  He’s been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award, and his fiction has received numerous Honorable Mentions in volumes of Best Horror of the Year. In 2016, the Horror Writers Association honored him with the Mentor of the Year Award. In addition to writing, Tim is also a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair College.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Loch Ness Revenge - by Hunter Shea - More fun from the king of monster mayhem

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

More monster mayhem from a guy who's, as good as, or better than anyone currently writing in this horror sub-genre.

Hunter Shea has already given us stories about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and more recently The Jersey Devil and now The Loch Ness Monster.  Makes you wonder where he's headed next.

Twenty years ago, Natalie McQueen, her brother, Austin, and their parents were on vacation in Scotland, camping by the infamous Loch Ness.

"We can't go to Scotland without spending some time at Loch Ness," my father had said. "Maybe we'll even see the monster!"  Be careful what you ask for.

Natalie has spent the last twenty years searching, waiting, planning her revenge.  That's a long time to hold a grudge, but the events that occurred on that camping trip have never left her.  It's rare that a night goes by that she doesn't wake in terror from her dreams.

Loch Ness Revenge is a story which moves at a fever pace and can easily be read in an evening or two.  Hunter has a gift for silly similies, too.  Stuff like "...tension tighter than a Kardashian butt lift." It's good to have some humor in this tale or the tension could get to be too much.

Loch Ness Revenge is available in paperback and e-book formats from Severed Press. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Totally recommended.

From the author's bio - Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weened on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone and In Search Of. He doesn't just write about the paranormal - he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.

In my Cemetery Dance review of Hunter's apocalyptic thriller, Tortures of the Damned, I wrote, "A terrifying read that left me wanting more. I absolutely devoured this book!"

Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he's happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray's Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits. His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tijuana Donkey Showdown - by Adam Howe - An outrageous romp from start to finish

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Writer Adam Howe returns to the willywags for his fist full-length novel, Tijuana Donkey Showdown.  Specifically he invites readers back to Walt Wiley's titty tonk in Bigelow town, where we get to hang out with the denizens of The Henhouse.

When I reviewed Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, I said it was "some of the most entertaining reading I've done this year."  It was and I'm so happy I got to return to to this crazy mixed up world.

Last time the legend of the skunk ape featured prominently in one of Adam's stories, here it's a well-endowed donkey and a chupacabra, of sorts.  Even actor Nicolas Cage plays a part in the shenanigans.

No need to get into plot details, they don't really matter, what does matter is that reading Tijuana Donkey Showdown is a chance to kick back and relax with a totally fun read.    It's a story filled with OMG moments, just one outrageous surprise after another.  Plus, the writer has a love of great similies, stuff like Loved leering at Billy like a Tex Avery wolf and feeding shells into the shotgun like a degenerate gambler playing the slots.

Make no mistake, Tijuana Donkey Showdown, is certainly for adults and even some of those may find the material offensive, but if that's you and you're looking for something to take your mind off the world we live in.  Look no further.

You can pre-order your copy today.  Coming December 9th, 2016 from Comet Press, Tijuana Donkey Showdown will be available in both paperback and e-book formats.

Highly recommended.

From the author's bio - Adam Howe writes the twisted fiction your mother warned you about. A British writer of fiction and screenplays, he lives in London with his partner, their daughter, and a hellhound named Gino. Writing as Garrett Addams, his short story Jumper was chosen by Stephen King as the winner of the international On Writing contest.   He is the author of Tijuana Donkey Showdown, and two novella collections, Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet, and Black Cat Mojo. In the pipeline: the occult thriller Scapegoat, co-written with James Newman, a horror/crime collaboration with Adam Cesare, and 80s action throwback, One Tough Bastard.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Dream Woods - by Patrick Lacey - A visual tale made for the big screen, chilling in its execution

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I love amusement parks, especially the old ones from my youth.  The local ones were the best, where sometimes it seemed the rides were likely to fall apart while you were still riding them. The ones within an hour's drive from where I grew up. Lakeview Park, West Point Park, and Willow Grove Park, all in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  In it's dying days, the later was known as Six Gun Territory.  I remember they used to have a small wooden coaster, The Scenic, exciting not because of it's speed or height, but because of the way it always seemed like it could leave the track at any moment.

Today, the parks are bigger, the rides are more daring, and for the most part, safer than they were in the days of my youth. I may be in my sixties now, but I'll still ride any coaster on the planet at the drop of a hat.

Dream Woods was once one of the new generation of theme parks, with on site hotels and big thrill rides, a vacation destination second only to the Disney's parks.  That's why when Vince Carter saw the billboard with the park's mascot, Sebastian the bear, he more or less decided immediately it was just the vacation to breath new life into his family life.

But, Dream Woods had been closed for nearly twenty years and the idea of going to the park wasn't exactly an easy sell. Vince's wife Audra certainly had her doubts...

"Her mind flipped through a mental Rolodex until she came up with a few news headlines. Several bodies found in abandoned amusement park.  Strange symbols uncovered at defunct theme park.  Boy falls to his death from New England's fairy tale castle...Local hermit claims entrance to hell is beneath Dream Woods."

What happens after the Carter family checks in is worse than you can possibly imagine. Dream Woods starts strong and just keeps getting better as the author masterfully builds the suspense right up until the exhilarating conclusion.  A visual tale made for the big screen, chilling in its execution.

I actually wish the book was longer as I would have liked to have seen some of the story fleshed out even more.

Published by Sinister Grin Press, Dream Woods is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you may read it at no additional charge and if you're an Amazon Prime member you can read the book for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - Patrick Lacey says he was born and raised in a haunted house. Which, if true, would explain a lot. He currently spends his nights and weekends writing about things that make the general public uncomfortable.  He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, his Pomeranian, his cat, and his muse, who is likely trying to kill him.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Set in the Woods by Lacey Crowe - A somewhat creepy novella

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I had some time between reading novels an decided to take a chance on a horror novella by relative newcomer to the genre, Lacey Crowe.

I was attracted to Set in the Woods by the synopsis sent to me by the author, which I'm not going to share here.  Mainly because, once you've read the synopsis, you've basically read the story.

Sure there was a bit more flesh to it than what was in the outline, but there was no real meat, no muscle.  I learned everything I needed to know about the characters in the synopsis, there was nothing to be gained by reading the actual story.  It was like when you're disappointed with a movie because you've already seen all the best parts in the trailers.

The writing itself was OK and I certainly liked the story idea, but it just didn't work for me.

Set in the Woods is available as an e-book from TWB Publishing.

From the author's bio - Lacey Crowe writes for the lovers of the darker side of fiction, whether psychologically disturbing or drenched in bloody gore.  Her previously published novel is: Apostle, a psychological thriller.  When she's not writing, she's singing soul, blues, and heavy rocks songs with her duo, Bourbon House.  She's a Canadian living and writing in America with her husband Jacob, and two step-kids.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Wicked Witches: An Anthology of the New England Horror Writers - ed. by Scott Goudsward, David Price, & Daniel Keohane - A wonderfully diverse collection of witches

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Before reviewing the stories that make up this anthology I need to mention Mikio Murakami, the artist responsible for the artwork on the eye-catching cover of Wicked Witches. Beautifully done, as is this collection of twenty-wo remarkable short stories about good witches, bad  witches, and every shade in between.

That Witch We Dread by Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert - A delightful poem to begin  this wickedly entertaining anthology.

In Agatha Craggins' Defense by John McIlveen - John is one of several writers in this collection whose work is already familiar to me.   In this tale, John gives us the story of a woman everyone in town believes to be a witch, and her young apprentice.  Expect the unexpected.

Welcome to the D.I.V. by Errick A. Nunnally - How far would you go for a chance at significant wealth?  What does witchcraft have to do with becoming a big time stock broker?  The answers lie within.

The Witch's Apprentice by Morven Westfield - A young witch who wants it all now.  What could possible go wrong?

Going Home by James A. Moore - When it comes to storytelling there are few better than James A. Moore.  This one set in modern day Salem.

White Witch by Catherine Grant - A story steeped in the witchcraft known as voodoo.  There are some gems in Catherine's prose. He smelled of rum and whiskey, like a perfume gone to rot.  And...The blade sliding through his flesh like over-ripe papaya. This piece is as good as its prose.

Baskets by Paul McMahon by Tommy thinks he's gotten Gandma Shawl all figured out, but outsmarting a witch isn't as easy as it might seem.

The Saint of Regret by Nick Manzolillo - I liked the author's imagery well enough, but I didn't quite connect with this particular story.

Witch by Trisha J. Woolridge - Another poem fitting for this collection.  Admittedly, I'm not a fan of most poetry, but I loved this story and the way it was told.

Run in the Widow's Hell by K.H. Vaughn - Every holler had a Granny Witch, a tough old hill woman who could cure warts and fevers or brew up a charm for love or money.  Runnin' moonshine is not without it's perils and the revenuers aren't the only ones you need to watch out for.

Portrait of an Old Woman With Crows by Peter N. Dudar - One of my favorite stories in the anthology.  A perfectly creepy little tale, chilling and very effective, about what happens when an art student paints a subject without her permission.

Tilberian Holiday by Izzy Lee - Although just a short story.  This one packs a punch.  I loved how it all came together in the end.  A story of the tiberi, cool pets that do your bidding.

To Dance the Witches Circle Again by Morgan Sylvia - A first person tale of witch hunts with a truly delightful twist.

Another Plane by Patrick Lacey - A well-told tale of a man who loses his wife when she tries to find her sister on another plane.

Access Violation by Jeremy Flagg - A modern day coven made up of hackers performing their own special kind of witchcraft.

T.S. Eliot Burns in Hell by GD Dearborn - The disturbing tale of a journalist's quest to get the story of his music idol's disappearance at the very pinnacle of her career.  One of the best in an anthology of great shorts. I loved the line The ancient farmhouse looked like its best days were a century gone.  It aspired to ramshackle-ness.  Good stuff.

Black Forest, Black Heart by Joshua Goudreu - A story that combines witchcraft with werewolves and even a bit of Lovecraftian mythos, all deftly woven into one great tale.

The Jatinga Effect by Doug Rinaldi - A compelling read with great characterizations, particularly the Russian co-worker Bogdan.  When sleep walking becomes sleep driving...

The Place of Bones by Barry Lee Dejasu - "Any of you ever hear of the Bone Witch?"  A group of college students take a break from their studies and head off into the wooded area behind the campus, where campfire tales become all to real.

Creaking Through Salem by Ogmios - One more break for poetry.

Blessed Be and Kick Ass by Jan Kozlowski - A powerfully moving story which made me feel empathy for the young girls involved and anger toward their abusive parents.  Well done, Jan.

Moving House by Rob Smales - A great way to end the anthology.  If you've ever had a run-in with a condo or homeowner's association, you might get a kick out of this one.

I found the stories in Wicked Witches to be diverse, engrossing, and totally enjoyable. This may seem like a narrow theme for such a large anthology, but each story had it's own unique vision keeping the collection fresh from start to finish.

Halloween may be past, but good horror can be appreciated all year long.

Wicked Witches is published by NEHW Press and is available in both paperback and Kindle formats. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you may read it at no additional charge and if you're an Amazon Prime member you can read Wicked Witches for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The End of Halloween: Four Tales of All Hallows' Eve - by Greg Chapman - More Halloween goodness, a perfect read any time of the year

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Writer, Greg Chapman, loves Halloween. Not exactly a bold statement, the man is a horror writer, after all. What makes this interesting though is that Greg is from Australia, where Halloween is not nearly the big deal it is in the United States.

In his novella length collection of short fiction The End of Halloween: Four Tales of All Hallows' Eve, Greg writes with the passion of a long-time devotee of the holiday on which Americans are expected to spend 8.4 billion dollars in 2016.

Daughters of the Veil - This suitably spooky story begins with "goblins, princesses, devils and aliens in search of candy and fun." And quickly becomes a sharp tale of the mother of two daughters and promises made long ago.

Octoberville - Population 10,031. Where every day is Halloween. Get it? Octoberville is one of those Twilight Zone-ish stories where Tom Crane just wanted to get home to his wife, Sally, and his son, Tom Jr.

Hell-O-Ween - "Hell is always its brightest in October." Demon children are not much different than their earthly counterparts, excited about the festivities surrounding All Hallows' Eve, especially Trick or Treating. Hell-O-Ween is a more light-hearted tale than the other stories in the collection, but is every bit as good.

The End of Halloween - The title story and final tale opens with this rather ominous line, "Death stood amongst the ruins of Earth and, for the first time, feared his own demise."
I read this collection on a quiet October evening and enjoyed every minute of the experience. Skip the scary movies for a night and sink your teeth into a good book. It's better for you than candy.

The End of Halloween: Four Tales of All Hallows' Eve is available in both paperback and Kindle formats. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you may read it at no additional charge and if you're an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - Greg Chapman is a horror author and artist from Australia.  After joining the Australian Horror Writers Association in 2009, Greg was selected for its mentor program under the tutelage of author Brett McBean.  Since then he’s had more than a dozen short stories published in magazines and anthologies in Australia, the US and the United Kingdom.  Greg is also a horror artist and his first graphic novel Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times, written by Bram Stoker Award® winning authors Rocky Wood and Lisa Morton was published in 2012.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Retch! - by David Bernstein - A wild blend of graphic sex and gross-out horror

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

As much as I want to, I just can't give this novella 5 stars.  It's not Gone With the Wind, it's not The Stand, it's not even 2001: A Space odyssey.  

Retch! is a wild story of sex, accidental death, witchcraft, revenge, and gross-out horror beyond your wildest imagination.

Brian "was a good-looking, twenty-nine-year-old, single man who at times grew bored with how easy life had begun."  Trust me, that was all about to go away.

 When he accidentally kills his date after she vomits on him, his life changes dramatically.

A word of advice, if you decide to read Retch! be sure to check your disbelief at the door. Witchcraft, taking rats and spiders, it all gets a bit silly, but it certainly is a lot of fun.  If you've been reading a lot of heavier fiction, the kind of stuff that taxes the brain, this could be just the thing to clear your mental palate.

True, it's bloody disgusting, but sometimes that can be a good thing.  Truth be told, I was ready to bring up my lunch more than once while reading this book.  I don't get grossed out easily, but author David Bernstein was pretty effective at pushing all my buttons this time.

This book will not be for everyone, but if you don't mind hardcore sex mixed with gross-out horror, have I got a read for you.

Published by Bizarro Pulp Press, a division of JournalStone, Retch! is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - David Bernstein is originally from a small town in upstate New York, but now resides in NYC and misses being surrounded by chainsaw-wielding maniacs and wild backwoods people who like to eat human flesh.  He's grown used to the city, though hiding bodies is much harder there.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Black January: A Spectra Files Novel - by Douglas Wynne - Modern Lovecraftian horror at its finest

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Black January is the sequel to Douglas Wynne's Red Equinox which made my top ten list of favorite reads from all of 2015. The new work works well as a standalone novel, but if you haven't read the first book in the series, you are really missing out.

Both books deal with much of the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft, a world which continues to inspire writers for nearly a century.  While I personally find the works of Lovecraft to be a difficult read, I love his ideas and there are some  modern day authors continuing the tradition with great success.  Brett J. Talley's That Which Should Not Be and He Who Walks in Shadow, come to mind.  And certainly, Douglas Wynne falls squarely into that same category.

Central to the story in Black January is the Wade House, built by renowned candle maker and rumored witch Caleb Wade in 1782.

Photographer, Becca Phillips, is called upon once more by SPECTRA, a clandestine government agency charged with protecting citizens from things we're better off not knowing about.  She's important to the team because she has EDEP (Extra Dimensional Entity Perception).  She can see the things others can't.

The author does a fine job of catching the reader up on the first story through a combination of conversation and exposition, without coming across as preachy.

Douglas Wynne has actually manged to combine the best elements of a haunted house story with a heavy dose of Lovecraftian horror and the result is a remarkable piece of fiction.

If you read Black January keep an eye out for the Stu Redman reference.  That made me smile.

Even though this story manages to tie up all of the loose ends, there is a scene which nicely sets the stage for another book in the series and I already want to read that one, as well.

Strongly recommended.

Black January is published by JournalStone and is available in paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Douglas Wynne is the author of the novels The Devil of Echo Lake, Steel Breeze, and Red Equinox. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son and a houseful of animals just a stone's throw from H.P. Lovecraft's fictional town of Arkham.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life - by Ruth Franklin - The life and times of a truly remarkable literary voice

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Admittedly, I don't read a lot of biographies.  Not my thing. Nothing against them, I just prefer to spend my time reading fiction.  That being said, when I saw there was going to be a Shirley Jackson bio, I decided to get out of my comfort zone just a bit.

Shirley Jackson is perhaps most remembered for her short story, The Lottery, and her novel, The Haunting of Hill House, but there is so much more to her short life.

The bio covers her childhood, college years (she wasn't a very good student), early published works, novels, family life, her troubles with anxiety and a period of agoraphobia, and ends with her untimely death.

Shirley Jackson was the mother of four.  Two boys and two girls.  Laurence (Laurie), Joanne (Jannie), Sarah (Sally), & Barry.  Each unique in their own way and often fodder for lighter, more humorous stories she wrote, in sharp contrast to her more serious pieces.  She also had a sense of humor about the children's misdeeds.  One day Laurence, twelve or thirteen years old, balked when she told him to take a bath.  Shirley went into the kitchen, came back with an egg, and smashed it on his head.  "Now you need a bath," she told him.

Her husband, Stanley Hyman, was a firm believer in polyamorous relationships, much to Jackson's dismay, but despite numerous thoughts of divorce throughout the years, the couple remained married until her death in 1965.

Of the many quotes from Jackson's work included in her biography, there was one which seemed just as relevant today, as it was when written 60+ years ago.  From The Witchcraft of Salem Village...

"We are not more tolerant or more valiant than the people of Salem, and we are just as willing to do battle with an imaginary enemy...The people of Salem hanged and tortured their neighbors from a deep conviction that they were right to do so. Some of our own deepest convictions may be false. We might say that we have far more to be afraid of today than the people of Salem ever dreamed of, but that would not really be true. We have exactly the same thing to be afraid of--the demon in men's minds which prompts hatred and anger and fear, an irrational demon which shows a different face to every generation, but never gives up its fight to win over the world."

The biography is certainly complete, right own to the seemingly most minor of details.  As much a treatise on the times and the publishing industry in general as it was on the life of Jackson.  Plus, there are a number of wonderful pictures interspersed throughout the book.

Recommended for all readers who are the least bit curious about Shirley Jackson.

Published by Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life is available in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats.

From the author's bio.  Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. She has written for many publications, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Salmagundi. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rare Breeds - by Eric Hofstatter - Horrific with a payoff worth waiting for

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

This is the third time I've read and reviewed a work by Erik Hofstatter and truthfully, I haven't exactly been effusive in my praise of what I had read to date, but let me tell you.  This time Erik has hit a towering home run.  (OK, I read Rare Breeds during the MLB Playoffs).

Rare Breeds is a novella length book.  A quick read.  One I finished off on a quiet October afternoon.

Aurel, Zora, and Zora's ten-year-old daughter, Livie seem normal enough, but the more we learn about Aurel, the husband and step-father in this family, the more the reader realizes something is not quite right.  First there's Aurel's sleepwalking, but really that just begins to scratch the surface.

Before it's over Rare Breeds will run the gamut from sleepwalking, to infidelity, to incest, and beyond.  Whatever you do, if you pick up this book, do not give up on it.  I've read just over one hundred books this year and Rare Breeds has the best ending of the bunch.  It's worth the wait.

Rare Breeds is available as a paperback from Dark Silo Press and is well worth your time.

From the author's bio - Erik Hofstatter is a schlock horror writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association.  Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic.  He now dwells in Kent, England.  Some of his other works include include The Pariahs, Amaranthine and Other Stories, Katerina, and Moribund Tales.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Schrodinger's Clock - by John R. Little

5 of 5 Stars

You just don't see many chapbooks anymore and certainly none with the quality and attention to detail as those that appear quarterly from Keith Minnion's White Noise Press.

The latest such gem is a lovely short from John R. Little.  If you know John's work, you might know about his fascination with time.  Schrodinger's Clock  is a love story, of sorts.  "Jeremy was unlike any other person.  He was a genius, and sometimes it seemed like every thinking minutes he was focused on only one thing.  Understanding the nature of time."

When Jeremy and Katherine move in together, everything is fine for the first few years, but when he begins to disappear for increasingly longer periods of time, Katherine wants to know the truth.

To discover the what Jeremy is up to, you'll need to read this one for yourself.

Schrodingers Clock will be available, as a signed  limited edition chapbook, soon from White Noise Press.  For their complete list of chapbooks visit them online at http://www.whitenoisepress.com/shelf/

Recommended.

From the author's bio - John R. Little is an award-winning author of suspense, dark fantasy, and horror.  He currently lives in Ayr, a small town near Kitchener, Canada, and is always at work on his next book. John has published 14 books to date.