Saturday, December 17, 2011

Shock Totem: Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted


Edited by K. Allen Wood
Published by Shock Totem Publications


Culturally, we tend to adopt a dualist approach to the holiday season, bookending our naughty/nice deliberations between those representative yin-yang extremes of the color spectrum, Black Friday and White Christmas. Perhaps this is the kind of simplicity we need to get through the Exodus-rivaling travel, wallet-flogging, and family intrigue, not to mention all the trite, overdone bitching over department store Christmas muzak casually rattled off ad nauseam—as if buying toilet paper to the strains of Kelly Clarkson’s latest breakup anthem back in October had been some kind of transcendental, edifying experience! Which is to say, amidst yuletide chaos tradition is employed as a small oasis, and we seize upon it for whatever serenity it can offer us.

Now imagine you’re standing next to the tinsel-festooned tree in your mother’s living room, nursing a second eggnog and wondering how long you can resist those Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer sugar cookies. The Burl Ives is on repeat and you’re smiling and nodding even though you haven’t picked up a goddamned word Uncle Ralph has been laying down lo these last forty-five minutes.

Screw it, you say to yourself, Rudolph can light the way down my esophagus for him and his whole gang.

Ralphie finally pauses to take a breath and you make an escape speedy enough to rival those epicene teenage vampires that are all the rage these days. You’ve almost reached the dessert spread when the sound of breaking glass stops you in your tracks. A fat man in a crimson suit lined with white fur waves jollily through a shattered windowpane then thrusts an industrial sized nozzle into the room. The intermittent, multihued illumination of the outdoor Christmas lights reveals a hose snaking across the backyard to a tank soldered onto the back of his souped-up sleigh. You are tempted to utter some of the same obscenities dad did while staple-gunning those blinking faux icicles and glowing plastic evergreens to the eaves, but before the vituperation finds its way to the tip of your tongue an elf hits a switch on the sleigh, the hose engorges, and soon the room is awash in bloody gore—plasma and fat and bits that could probably be put together in the form of an organ by Auntie Ester, the family’s jigsaw master.

Ho, ho, ho! Never sounded so sinister.

The preceding scenario is something of an allegory for what Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted achieves. This excellent volume of sublime malevolence from the provocateurs at Shock Totem magazine dispenses with the goodwill toward men fairly early on and sets about planting sticks of dynamite around that aforementioned oasis. Fair warning: The humor is black, the twists are twisted indeed, and before you stick a finger in the splatters of red stuff coagulating everywhere, please be aware chances are it is not cherry pie filling.

It would be a shame, really, to degrade shock value with a detailed review. But in the interest of whetting appetites let’s just say that in the skewed Shock Totem reality bad clowns occasionally become even worse Santas, some elves are not nearly as gregarious as Dudley Moore and Will Ferrell, getting exactly the gift you ask for can be more curse than blessing, and not all kids take Santa’s “naughty” verdict lying down.

Oh yes, K. Allen Wood and crew go there…and then some. Remember when Siskel and Ebert threw a tantrum back in ’84 over Silent Night, Deadly Night? Those scolds had no idea. The stories in Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted make Silent Night, Deadly Night look approximately as gritty as The Muppets Take Manhattan.

As an added bonus Shock Totem peppers the volume with holiday recollections of several horror fiction luminaries—brief respites from dark otherworldly visions, sometimes heartwarming, sometimes heartrending.

Christ, what more could a fan of horror fiction ask for, really, than a poem by Jack Ketchum about decorating a Christmas tree stoned out of his gourd in 1969?

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Shawn Macomber

Shawn Macomber is a Miami based writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason, Radar, Yankee, The Weekly Standard,the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Decibel, among many other fine and middling publications. He has reported from five continents covering everything from combat in Iraq, riots in the Baltics, and two presidential elections to designer cat shows at Madison Square Garden, the cross Carrot Top bears, and the Carcass “Exhumed to Consume” reunion tour. His story "Demon Envy" will appear in Shroud #12. More info at www.shawnmacomber.net

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Escape from Zombie City


by Ray Wallace
Published by Apex Book Company


RAY WALLACE hails from the Tampa, FL area and is the author of The Nameless (Black Death Books). More than two dozen of his short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as The Zombie Fee: VOL. 1, The Blackest Death: VOL. 1&2, and Erotic Fantasy: Tales of the Paranormal. A few of his other stories have appeared at The Chiaroscuro website where he took first place in their second annual fiction contest. He also wrote a long running book review column for The Twilight Showcase webzine and now writes reviews for Chizine and SFReader.com. His most recent novel is Escape From Zombie City.

In the past few days, I have been bombed; fallen to my death on top of a zombie; mauled by zombies in an elevator; captured by religious fanatics for the sake of sacrifice only to be bombed again; trapped into a car and eaten to death; shot execution style by the military; shot off the top of a building; trapped on a boat, pulled under by zombies and eaten to death while drowning; and turned into a zombie. All of this is thanks to Ray Wallace's Escape from Zombie City. Escape from Zombie City is a story in which the reader is periodically given choices, and these choices lead to different endings. Most of these endings result in the death of the reader, but one leads to ultimate survival. This book is built around the model of the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books popular with tweens in the 1980s and 90s, but with far grislier content.

While the concept of a CYOA novel for adults is not new, this is the first attempt I know of using zombies, which seems like a natural fit. Zombie tales, be they fiction, films or otherwise, center around the choices made by the protagonists attempting to escape or simply survive. These choices sometimes lead to freedom, but usually lead to one or many of the main characters being eaten alive. In Escape from Zombie City, you face the same fate. The choices readers make can lead to freedom, but usually lead to the reader's demise. As the series title suggests, there literally is only one way out.

There are a few issues with the various plots. For example, in one narrative, the reader's gun gets stolen, but a few pages later, the reader uses it to beat off a zombie. Other narratives are quite short, the length of a short story, which makes for a disappointing read. But of course, that's all part of the adventure. Reader's can learn from their mistakes, flip back a few pages, make better decisions, and survive. That, or they can die an equally horrible death. Wallace makes sure that happens a lot.

All in all, the cleverness of the novel and its nostalgic throwback to CYOA novels more than makes up for any disappointments the reader might have with the book. Ray Wallace's Escape from Zombie City is a really fun read and welcome addition to zombie literature.

Buy it here.

Reviewed By Joshua Gage

Joshua Gage is an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland. His first full-length collection, "breaths", is available from VanZeno Press. Intrinsic Night, a collaborative project he wrote with J. E. Stanley, was recently published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. He has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, rye whiskey and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs. He stomps around Cleveland in a purple bathrobe where he hosts the monthly Deep Cleveland Poetry hour and enjoys the beer at Brew Kettle. Hooks and Books livejournal.com

Monday, November 28, 2011

Eyes To See


by Joseph Nassise
Published by TOR

Joseph Nassise has been involved in the horror genre as former president of the Horror Writer's Association and the author of the Templar Chronicles. His latest protagonist, Jeremiah Hunt in Eyes To See from Tor books, is also involved in horror – the sort that goes bump in the night.

Billed as an urban fantasy novel -- what's urban fantasy for one generation is Gothic to those of us dinosaurs who remember it –- Nassise paints a wounded character in the midst of a haunted environment. Reminiscent of a noir detective, Jeremiah utilizes his gift of “ghostsight” to help the local police detective Stanton to track down a brutal killer and earn cash on the side. Mesh this noir attitude with a dash of the occult and an atmospheric setting and you have Eyes To See.

The origins of Jeremiah's Hunt's lonely and alienated life and how he becomes blind to everything but the haunts that surround him, have to do with the disappearance of his daughter five years before. While Nassise provides plenty of plot and action to keep the reader busy attempting to untangle the path that lies before Hunt, it's the back story that proves most intriguing. Hunt's transformation from happily married man declining into a broke-down shell in his search for the daughter he blames himself for losing, he eventually finds himself in an occult underground world. His journey into the heart of desperation defines horror itself as he trades away his eyesight in the hopes of finding his child.

Nassise also succeeds in dishing up a last minute surprise. While Hunt's prior life is defined by the absence of people he cares about, toward the conclusion it becomes filled with new people who have secret histories of their own, from the hedge-witch Denise to the street-wise bartender Dmitri.

If you find yourself alone on a dark night, Jeremiah Hunt's ghosts from Eyes To See would prove entertaining company. . .

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Martin Rose

Martin Rose lives in New Jersey, where he writes a range of fiction from the fantastic to the macabre, holds a degree in graphic design, and enjoys blurring the line between art and life. More details are available at mrmartinrose.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Night of the Crabs


by Guy N. Smith
Ghostwriter Publications


Originally published in paperback in 1976, this instant bestseller and seminal classic is back from the depths and in print for the first time in hardback. “Night of the Crabs” spawned an entire series about giant crustaceans with a taste for human flesh and crowned Guy N. Smith king of pulp.

Professor Cliff Davenport, one of the UK's leading botanists, is expecting a visit from his nephew, Ian Wright, and Ian's fiancée, Julie Coles, who are vacationing on the Welsh coast. However, the couple never arrives. Instead, Davenport gets a visit from the police informing him they found his nephew's car abandoned with the couple's clothes inside. It looks as if they were swept out to sea while swimming.

Davenport heads to the Welsh coast to help search for the couple, but what he finds is something far different. On the beach are strange tracks in the sand, tracks that look like claw marks, crab claws, from impossibly huge crabs. It's not long before the professor is hunkered down in the sand dunes watching in horror as giant crabs the size of cows crawl from the sea with almost human-like expressions of evil on their faces.

The professor rings up an old friend in the Ministry of Defense and the troops are sent in. They hit the crabs with bullets, mortars and tank fire, but the crabs get back up and keep coming, tossing transport trucks and the tank into the sea like toys. The carnage is stopped only when the leader of of the crabs, the most monstrous beast of them all, King Crab, clicks his claws and sends them back into the sea.

Now it's up to Professor Davenport to find the monsters' underwater lair and devise a way of exterminating them before they push farther inland, crushing villages and killing hundreds of people along the way.

“Night of the Crabs” is a quick, fun read that never tries to be anything other that what it is: pulp fiction at its best. Smith keeps the plot arrow straight, the cast of characters minimal and the action non-stop. There are gallons of blood, buckets of bowels and loads of dismembered limbs. Oh, yes, and giant, cattle-sized crabs. This new version of the book includes an intro by the author, foreword by J.F. Gonzalez, prologue and epilogue, a new chapter and additions to several others. The hardback version is limited to 100 signed copies with a paperback run ongoing.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Durant Haire

Durant Haire has been writing for 13 years, working as a reporter, copy editor and copywriter. His stories have been published in magazines and books such as Dark Wisdom, Dark Lurkers, Darkness Rising and Decadence 2 to name a few. He lives in North Carolina and holds a B.A. in English.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Amazonas, (Cemetery Dance), by Alan Peter Ryan

Amazonas, by the late Alan Peter Ryan, reads like a fantastically lucid fever dream. A surreal journey, it works a hallucinatory magic by blurring the lines between reality and horror, taking the reader on a journey deep into the jungles of the Amazon, where the normal rules of civilization and humanity have no meaning. The horror here is all too real: the cruelty of slavery, the lust and hunger of ordinary men driven to fever pitches, the inability of feeble human good to do anything to stop it.

The story is simple: three whites and a group of natives are traveling down the river, deep into the jungle, searching for something called "The Slave Tree". What they find defies all logic and rationale, a figment of some dark fantasy, but dreams of financial success plumbing the slave market with an inexhaustible supply of slaves dies in the ravages of disease, lust for power and violence.


There are no winners in this story, but that is faithful to the world and mood Ryan establishes early in the narrative: this is not world in which anyone can win, because there are no rules to play by.

Even if not an homage to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the comparison is inevitable, and not just because of the setting. Ryan invokes that same sense of "slipperiness" and madness without the density of Conrad's prose, and like in Darkness, the jungle is presented as an alien entity, uncaring of human aims or goals.

The Slave Tree itself remains largely unexplained, but this doesn't detract from the tale, simply adds to the story's thrust: most of the natural world is unexplained, much of it dark, and often, humanity just wants to exploit it for mercenary means.

The ending is fast and furious, but again: this feels loyal to the tone of the story, that violence is fast and brutal, and the natural world around it indifferent of the outcome.

Buy it today.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Blood War


by Dylan J. Morgan
Published by Pill Hill Press

For six centuries, armies of vampires (led by the coldly calculating Markus) and packs of werewolves (led by the brutally savage Isaac) have been locked in a bitter war, their struggles hidden in the shadows away from human eyes or waged from within the cover of mortal conflicts. Their conflict spans the years and the continents, each immortal faction seeking to gain dominance over the other with the ultimate fate of mankind at stake. But now a new enemy is rising to wrest control of the supernatural world from the old regimes: hybrids. These bizarre offspring of both lycanthrope and vampire, long outlawed amongst their sires, seek to control their own destinies and bring their persecution to an end.

Blood War is arranged in three “books”. The first, “The Freaks Come Out at 9 and Its 20 to 10,” describes the struggles between the vampires and werewolves leading up to the present day. The second part, “Monsters and Mortals,” introduces the only two mortal characters in the novel and the manner in which their lives are embroiled in the struggle. The final book, “Last Stand,” brings the various conflicts to their inevitable conclusion. Morgan’s writing is strong and descriptive, especially so during the novel’s many action sequences. The author also does a fine job of balancing about a dozen or so different characters and points of view while aptly describing the centuries-long, globetrotting conflict at the heart of the novel. He has a lot of pins in the air and never misses a catch. The “blood war” described is exciting and harrowing, with each vivid scene obviously crafted to drive the plot to its next destination.

Unfortunately Blood War misses some opportunities for depth by not creating an emotional attachment with its audience. Morgan creates very complex and interesting characters among the immortals, but for every spark of sympathy invoked for the players, we are reminded of their innate monstrosity. Frankly, the reader doesn’t know who to root for. Further, the ultimate stakes of this contest—the fate of humanity—is woefully underplayed, resulting in a distinct lack of emotional investment in the conflict.

But sometimes all you need is the adrenaline rush of a good fight. You don’t have to care who wins to enjoy vampires and werewolves and hybrids beating the crap out of each other. In the end, with its exotic locales, tight action scenes, and large cast of bad-ass immortals, Blood War is a well-written, highly entertaining action movie of a novel.

Buy it here.

Visit Dylan Morgan's site.

Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Perfect Suspect


by Margaret Coel
Published by Berkley


Margaret Coel explores the corruption of love and politics in her taut thriller, The Perfect Suspect published by Berkley's Prime Crime imprint.

Catherine McLeod is the central character, an investigative news reporter who finds herself thrust into the events of a recent homicide, the murder of a venerated politician on the fast-track to the White House. Catherine McLeod must choose between advancing the truth as she uncovers new evidence that can change the course of the investigation, or allowing a scapegoat to take the fall for the true killer by doing nothing at all.

Margaret Coel quickly advances the action; from the first pages we are thrust into the mind of a conflicted killer caught between love and betrayal as she shoots David Mathews, the sophisticated politician expected to take the governor's seat in the state of Colorado. Coel creates a portrait of corruption both internal and external – love spoiled and tainted, the flawless politician whose spotless image is thin cover for his adulterous affairs, and the killer herself, Detective Ryan Beckman, put in charge of the homicide investigation when her job is to protect and to serve. Catherine McLeod is one of the few characters who holds firm against this moral decay. She insists upon pursuing evidence on the strength of an anonymous phone call that implicates Detective Ryan Beckman as the killer.

The action unfolds as the murder expands into a spiral of circumstances – Beckman uses all the resources of her occupation she can muster to silence potential witnesses, while McLeod proves equally tenacious, unable to stand by and watch as Sydney Mathews, David's wife, takes the heat of the investigation and is charged with murder. The key to bringing Beckman to justice revolves around the anonymous caller, and it becomes a race between them as each struggles to reach the witness first – McLeod becoming Beckman's target in the process.

Margaret Coel provides the action in swift succession, allowing the reader insights into characters and their motivations in a slow unfolding, seeing the crime and its after effects from multiple angles. Fast-paced, any crime lover will no doubt enjoy this latest installment in Coel's recurring character of Catherine McLeod.

Martin Rose lives in New Jersey, where he writes a range of fiction from the fantastic to the macabre, holds a degree in graphic design, and enjoys blurring the line between art and life. More details are available at www.MartinRoseHorror.com.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cinema Of Shadows


by, Michael West
Publisher, Seventh Star Press, August 2011


Cinema Of Shadows is a full-throttle, unique journey that takes the concept of the conventional “haunting” to new territory. Well written, with a suspense that is palpable, West delivers a novel that strikes emotional chords and challenges our imaginations.

The Woodfield Movie Palace has stained the community of Harmony, Indiana. From fires, murders, to suicides; its sorted history is about to come to an end with a wrecking ball. But, from within, an evil that precedes antiquity begs to differ. It plans and waits.

Kim is a struggling college student who is doing her best to pass her classes and move on from a past of nightmares that still awake her. Most fans will remember her--and what set her on her path--from West’s short story The Bridge that appeared in his collection, A Skull Full Of Kisses. There is only one way out of this perpetual torture, and the answers she seeks: a Parapsychology class headed by a Professor with a past just as dark, and haunted as Kim’s.

Professor Burke’s intent is to have his students collect as much data as possible from the Woodfield Movie Palace before demolition starts. As they do, what waits for them subtly extends its reach into the sleepy town with fingers that desiccate everything and everyone they touch. Even the doctors and the police become embroiled in the escalating chaos—and the humble people that comprise the town carry their suspicions on whispers.

Kim and her class-mates friendships, relationships, and their inherent trust are put to the test, as a reality bereft of logic consume them. As the stakes rise with every pulse-pounding chapter, these bonds are stretched to their limits. Can they stand together and do what must be done, lest their home and life itself vanish like the people the Woodfield has consumed?

Cinema Of Shadows is a compelling novel that catches the reader off-guard. West begins with familiar territory and makes it his own, in all of its horrific glory as emotional chords are plucked...one by one. The real beauty of this novel is West’s unique approach to ambiguity. Each chapter raises the bar, as well as our emotions it elicits. As usual, West gives us a novel that snares us into a world eerily similar to ours, tickles our imaginations, and proves once again that his voice is rare and quite formidable.

To find out more about Michael West, please visit his website.

Reviewed by Ben Eads

Ben Eads is a dark fiction author of short stories and longer fiction. His work tends to represent modern horror coupled with what he likes to call: “Imagination-tickling elements”. Ben is also a huge fan of dark fiction and dark movies. At the age of ten he wrote his first story. Taking writing seriously in early 2008, Ben Eads has published numerous short dark fiction stories in various magazines, anthologies, and E-Zines.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

LITTLE BOY LOST


By T.M. Wright
Published by Uninvited Books

WHY WOULD A DEMON WANT A CHILD?

When his six-year-old son vanishes, Miles Gale is suspected of having committed an unthinkable crime. He alone knows that the truth is even more unthinkable: his son has been taken by a creature out of time, a creature out of nightmare. The boy’s mother has returned to claim him…and Miles will have to go through hell to get him back. (back cover blurb of Little Boy Lost)


This 1992 re-issue of Little Boy Lost focuses on the ultimate parental nightmare—that of a child lost. So clearly does Wright’s surreal prose explain the unreal, “I must be dreaming because this can’t really be happening” world in which those who have lost a child live, that even childless readers are able to fully empathize with Miles’ desperation, anguish, and helplessness when little Aaron disappears. And to make it all the more realistic, the child disappears at a local mall, where these sorts of things happen with a fair degree of regularity outside of the pages of a novel.

We get most of the details of the story from CJ, Aaron’s older half-brother, who has an eidetic memory. During police interrogations (because, of course, the police think that CJ’s father, Miles, is responsible) CJ recounts every single detail of the day, down to the hairstyle of a woman at the far end of the parking lot. Being a child, CJ doesn’t yet know how to filter through everything his mind has recorded, and so he just plays back every second, whether relevant or not. A small detail, perhaps, but a crucial one, and it perfectly fit the character, as do all T.M. Wright’s subtle touches. He is truly the Da Vinci of literary horror, where God is in the details.

With his typical, always fascinating hallucinatory edginess Wright takes us on a frantic search for Aaron—in this world and…other places. There is nothing predictable about the searching, nor the way the book ends, for that matter.

T.M. Wright is truly an author for analytical adults who appreciate the more literary side of the horror genre. Younger people may find him frustrating, because little is spelled out and endings are not necessarily all neatly tied up and obvious. So if you’re looking for a cheap thrill, gratuitous gore, or hardcore horror, Wright is probably not for you.

But if you want something haunting, something that you will think about during the day, something that will quietly creep into your dreams at night…well, now you know just where to look.

Another home run, Mr. Wright…all the way from 1992!

Five out of five stars.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Carson Buckingham

Carson Buckingham’s first dark fantasy novel, HOME, will be released this Halloween and will be available on Amazon.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

GRAVEMINDER


by Melissa Marr
Published by William Morrow-Pinnacle Press

What is it that makes a novel “gothic”? We all know that it sure as hell isn’t pouty teenage girls fainting in the embrace of sparkly vampires, but negative proof is never much help. Is it old, crumbling manses or castles sinking into the unbearable stench of a cursed moor? Ghosts that haunt the periphery of the damned? Some alchemy made from cobwebs and wrought iron posts? Or, is it old secrets, buried deep but still boiling to the surface? The inescapable past sneaking up on the unknowing present?

If, like me, those last two are what really make the genre for you, then you’re in for a dilly of a tale with Melissa Marr’s Graveminder.

Rebekkah Barrow left Claysville a decade ago and did her best to never look back, despite the deep connection to her step-grandmother Maylene and long running ignored relationship with the town’s Undertaker in training. As with all best laid plans of meece and menses, this all goes to hell when Maylene is murdered. Someone or something tore her apart and finding out who only begins the mystery that forces Rebekkah back into the town she never truly called home and the arms of the man she never admitted into her heart, ByronMontgomery. It seems that the town elders had made a pack in the long ago that binds everyone within its borders and more than just ghosts are worming their way out of the ground.

Graveminder takes an interesting approach to the traditional gothic ghost story in that it is the town itself that is haunted, instead of a specific person or house. Not so much haunted by ghosts (though the dead do walk within these town limits) as by the remnants of decisions made long ago. That aspect is what makes it a uniquely American, distinctly post-millennial Gothic novel while maintaining the sense of history and age associated with the genre, this sense that even as we strive for personal freedom we are bound by the sins of our fathers. No matter how much we may strive and struggle against this hold of the past, we inevitably find ourselves unable to escape and must find some way to live with it. Melissa Marr beautifully captures this age old strain of freedom versus fate in both Rebekkah’s constant fight against it and Byron’s passive acceptance.

Of course, you could ignore that and lose yourself in the loamy, dusty ambiance (you’re soaking in it) while the hungry dead chew at your flesh.

On the down side, the ending seemed a tad rushed to me. The setup was far too rich and the emotions seemed too complicated to play out as quickly as they did. Also, the romance portion fell flat for me. I didn’t feel the connection between the two in any way beyond the superficial and still have a tough time buying it. These aren’t story killers by any means, but it could’ve played out a little stronger with more patience.

Regardless, Graveminder goes well beyond the standard penny dreadful and kept me up well into the dreary hours with Ms. Marr’s combination of originality, heart and whip quick pacing.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Nowhere Hall


by Cate Gardner
Published by Spectral Press

"Someone stole the world and packed it up in a briefcase."

We all know how to deal with ghosts (salt, prayers, just move out of the friggin house already), vampires are old hat (stake, decap or wait til sunrise for the sparklies) and no matter what new permutation on zombies you may come up with, we have our plans ready (we won’t go into that). Physical threats are blasé, but many of us have to face a new horror: economic uncertainty. Yes, this is nothing new for the blue collar world (Braunbeck’s “Union Dues” pretty well sealed that one up for us), but now those who had always felt safe behind a desk aren’t so secure anymore. White collar Willy Lomans litter the pavement and we all know that we might be next. Enter Kate Gardner’s novella Nowhere Hall to poke and prod at this new chink in our psychological armor.

Meet Ron. We’re not sure where he’s going or even where he’s been, but neither is he. We just know that this poor soul seems snapped in a few places and that he’d been let go because he’s let himself go. His world seems familiar enough, but its logic doesn’t work quite right, things don’t make the sense that they should. And he finds himself at the door of a building, crossed with police tape and heralded by a falling umbrella with a simple note attached: We want to live. Help us.

In a way, Nowhere Hall can be looked at as in inwardly aimed ghost story that twists reality in the same vein as Poppy Z. Brite’s Drawing Blood. It is surreal, but in a way that slips through the spaces between dendrites rather than slamming against the forebrain, shouting “Ooooh booga booga. I’ve got a marshmallow in my eyes!” Cate paints Ron as one who haunts as much as he is haunted, an empty shell roaming halls that have long forgotten him, and the effect is emotionally devastating. In this case, the slipstream flow of illogic is used to great effect in reflecting the inward confusion that Ron is experiencing as his world dissolves instead of simply being used for shock value.

Yes, if you prefer your narratives to be of the more direct variety, then you will not enjoy yourself here. It certainly took me several attempts rereading whole paragraphs multiple times to make sense out of the situation. But, as I said before, that’s the point. It should be confusing and disconcerting, it needs to be. It also isn’t a particularly cheery tale, ending with a question none of us really want answered (I want to say that we do, Cate, but I’m too afraid to find out the truth). However, the resulting experience is well worth it all.

Nowhere Hall ends up as a journey that is bewildering and heartbreaking, a painful search for worth where objective value has been removed that would fit perfectly along side of Tom Piccirilli’s Every Shallow Cut (read the review), if you have a favorite razor you’d like to cuddle up with.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Four Legs in the Morning, (Cemetery Dance), by Norman Prentiss

This new collection of three linked stories once again proves Norman Prentiss as one of the premier writers in the field. Featuring a mysterious (perhaps even diabolical) English Department chair and three people who run afoul of him - a protege who scorns Dr. Sibley's old fashioned views, a guilt-ridden plagiarist and a young administrator who discovers just how powerful Dr. Sibley is when he learns the fate of his predecessor - these interlocking tales have been wonderfully sculpted by Prentiss' deft, sure and subtle hand.

Reviewers have compared Norman Prentiss to the late Charles Grant, but he's so much more than just an imitator. A superb stylist in his own right, Norman is marking out a place of his very own in genre fiction. Four Legs in the Morning is quiet, haunting, and as Prentiss dangles unknowable secrets just beyond our reach (which may be for the best), we wait anxiously for a new morning after the long, quiet night. And even if that morning never comes, we wait for it still, in breathless anticipation.

Very nearly sold out. Pre-order today!

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies.
He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at
www.kevinlucia.com.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Blood and Other Cravings


Edited by Ellen Datlow
Published by Tor

“Each of us needs something - food, liquor, pot, whatever - to help us survive. Dracula needs blood.” Frank Langella (Playboy Magazine, 1979)

Anytime you sample a collection edited by veteran anthologist Ellen Datlow (Snow White, Blood Red; Teeth; Supernatural Noir), you know that you are in for a treat. Blood and Other Cravings is no exception. This top-notch collection takes vampirism as its theme, but each story veers far and away from the now-worn tropes of the genre. The creatures (some human, some decidedly not) featured in these tales feed not only upon blood but hope, emotion, and life itself. They are beings of insatiable hunger and predation, stalking us from the shadows of 1970s New York, from behind the blinds of suburban homes, and from our parents’ bedrooms.

While there is not a bad story in the bunch, some are worthy of special mention. “Keeping Corky” by Melanie Tem is a sublimely disturbing piece involving a mentally-challenged young mother whose indomitable will affects those that would stand between her and her son. Fledgling talesmith Nicole J. LeBoeuf’s piece, “First Breath”, is a beautiful exploration of identity and point-of-view involving the lifecycle of a family of ethereal beings. The anthology closes with Laird Barron’s “The Siphon”, where an evil man encounters creatures of blood and nightmare that lie in the shadows thrown across time and myth.

Blood and Other Cravings reminds us of why we should fear those that stalk the night.

Buy it here.

Visit Ellen Datlow's site here.

Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thunderstorm Books Trifecta, Part 3: For Emma, by Mary SanGiovanni

**Premiering at Horrorfind Weekend, 2011, and at Thunderstorm Books, after September 4th, 2011.

"…..I want a reason for babies born with cancer, for the endless supply of thoughtless cruelties both little and large we inflict on one another on an everyday basis, for old folks who are abandoned to die alone and unwanted and unloved.

I want an explanation, please, for all of the soul-sick, broken-hearted people who become so hollowed by their aloneness that they turn on the gas, eat the business end of shotgun, or find a ceiling beam that can take their weight. I want sense made of this. I want to know the reason why...and since none is forthcoming, either from above or those around me, I've decided to try and find an answer on my own. So far, the best - the only - way for me to work toward this is through writing horror stories."

  • Gary Braunbeck, To Each Their Darkness (Apex Publications)

Apologies for the long quote, but it's the first thing that comes to mind after reading Mary Sangiovanni's latest offering, a novella from Thunderstorm Books. Not only is For Emmy chilling, heartbreaking, and quietly terrifying, it works at something behind the scenes, reaching for explanations for the thousands of little tragedies that occur around us every single day, explanations that all too often can never be reached . It's this – and Sangiovanni's flawless prose – that makes her genre fiction more; insightful and chilling commentaries into the human experience, a musing about our possible experiences with something Other than human.

When Dana's McClusky's four year old sister Emmy disappears from her father's bookstore, she does so without a trace. With no evidence of foul play. No ransom note, no clues. For months, Dana and her widower father grapple with their shattered lives, wondering what happened to Emmy, where she's gone, how she got there, and if they'll ever see her again.

Wondering if, perhaps, it would be better not to know.

And then one day Emmy returns. To the same exact spot she disappeared from in her father's bookstore. Disheveled, muddied, slightly wounded and malnourished...and different, somehow. See, not all of Emmy came back. Wherever she went, something happened to her, draining her youth and vitality and spark, leaving behind a traumatized, emotionally-stunted, empty husk. A “not quite Emmy.” And even worse?

The thing that took Emmy away wants more. As usual, Sangiovanni's handle of her prose and story is flawless. And, like precious few other horror writers – Ramsey Campbell comes to mind - she's able to harness the essence of Lovecraftian horror: fear of the unknown, the alien, the unsolvable, and harness it for her own uses, rather than creating homages or pastiches. And this isn't just a spooky, ghostly tale for fun and frights: there's a serious wondering here, about all the unexplained, tragic phenomena that occurs every day, a wondering if perhaps it would be better for us never to know the answers.

Visit Mary SanGiovanni. Buy it after September 4th.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Thunderstorm Books Trifecta, Part 2: The Neighborhood, by Kelli Owen

**Premiering at Horrorfind Weekend, 2011, and at Thunderstorm Books, after September 4th, 2011.

So.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Not just a fun little song from Sesame Street, but an important question. Especially if you live in one of those small little towns where everyone knows everyone else. The kind of town with only one school, church, police department, where parents do triple duty on the school, church and Town Boards. The kind of place where everyone has heard every little thing about everyone else. Where the men all meet at the general hardware store to shoot the bull, and the women meet twice a month for their bridge or book or wine of the month club. Where there are no secrets...


Except the ones everyone willfully turns a blind eye towards, and keeps from themselves.

Thus forms the basis of Kelli Owen's creepy new novella The Neighborhood, out from Thunderstorm Books, September 2nd. In perhaps her most understated, restrained work yet, Owen builds her story and its suspense slowly, brick by brick, using even, smooth brushstrokes to paint a chilling portrait of a small little town where everyone is happy.

At peace.

Going about their business. And even though rumors spread like in any small town and everyone seems to know the tick and click of everyone else's social affairs, certain things are not discussed. Some thoughts not entertained. The only shadows here in Neillsville hide in the corners. Ones townspeople are too willing to shy away from and ignore. Until the blood comes spilling out into their lives. But even then, the adults “circle their wagons.”

Keep their own counsel. Don't talk to the kids. And by all means, don't LISTEN to the kids, when they tell strange tales too fantastic and dreadful to be true. Because they're only kids, after all. With wild imaginations too prone to carry them away. This is Neillsville, where everyone takes care of their own. And minds their own, too.

So. Who are the people in your neighborhood? Do you know them?

Really? Because Kelli Owen's The Neighborhood may very well cause you to doubt what you think you know...


Visit Kelli Owen. Buy it after September 4th.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thunderstorm Books Trifecta, Part 1: Samson and Denial, by Robert Ford

**Premiering at Horrorfind Weekend, 2011, and at Thunderstorm Books, after September 4th, 2011.

Samson and Denial (Thunderstorm Books) is a powerful debut from author Robert Ford, a story reeling at a break-neck pace that demands a reading in one sitting. This is Robert E. Howard, Norman Partridge and Bryan Smith, all rolled into one explosive package that doesn't mince words, but also doesn't sacrifice its craft. It's a story of substance as well as fast-paced thrills.

Things have taken a nasty turn for pawnbroker and small-time drug-dealer Samson Gallows. His brother and drug-dealing partner Marky tortured and murdered in ruthless fashion by merciless Russian gangsters, his wife Tia abducted and in mortal danger, Samson finds himself barreling towards the kind of fight he's never wanted: one with no good outcome, no victory possible, but one he must embrace regardless. His dear brother, mutilated beyond recognition; beloved wife possibly facing the same, maybe even already dead. What else can he do?

But perhaps not all is lost. For Samson has in his possession a grisly artifact pawned to him earlier by one of his usual junkie customers. With this artifact comes a strange and horrifying legacy. And awful powers. When it saves Samson from the same men who killed Marky – in bloody fashion – a small chance for survival offers itself to him...if he can also survive the artifact's rightful owners, who fear neither death nor hell in their service to it, and would sooner gut him like a fish, rather than let it slip from their grasp again.

Ford's even-handed voice never loses control of his narrative. The prose flows, nice and tight and powerful, each word precisely chosen for maximum punch. And the story itself tears up the track like a dragster burning high octane nitrous oxide. Along the way, Ford paints poignant, bitter-sweet portraits of life in the city, infusing his tale with a thundering heart that refuses to quit, right to the last page.

Visit Bob Ford. Buy it after September 4th.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Last Days


By Brian Evenson
Published by Underland Press

Here is everything you need to know about Last Days: This short novel is brilliant enough live up to the eleven-page fawning introduction penned by Peter Straub—though, fair warning, the Ghost Story author festoons his effusions with so many delicious twists and snatches of plot you’d be crazy to read it before diving into the tale beyond.

Of course, if that’s not enough to pique your interest, we can toss in a dismemberment-obsessed cult that makes the axe-wielding psychos Sly Stallone tangled with in Cobra look like extras in a particularly feisty episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, a jaded one-handed cop through whose eyes we experience the faction’s absurd depravities, and a narrative that somehow balances pitch-black satire against harrowing blood-and-guts corporeal believability.

Still on the fence? Didn’t think so.

Much like Jonathan Lethem’s literary fraternal twins Motherless Brooklyn and Gun, with Occasional Music, Last Days mashes noir archetypes atop bizarro contrivances to summon forth a fantastical world only a degree or two off from our own, then sets the beguiling creation barreling off down the rabbit hole, improbably managing to up the stakes over and over again, right up until the last line of the disquieting finale. Evenson—an incontestably superior talent since his opening 2002 salvo, Altmann’s Tongue—herein further establishes himself as a writer utterly allergic to the (too) well-defined boundaries of horror fiction, and, consequently, raises the genre up in his clenched jaw and carries it forward, a literary feline nimbly prowling toward fresher killing fields.

Reviewed by Shawn Macomber

Shawn Macomber is a Miami based writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason, Radar, Yankee, The Weekly Standard,the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Decibel, among many other fine and middling publications. He has reported from five continents covering everything from combat in Iraq, riots in the Baltics, and two presidential elections to designer cat shows at Madison Square Garden, the cross Carrot Top bears, and the Carcass “Exhumed to Consume” reunion tour. His story "Demon Envy" will appear in Shroud #12. More info at www.shawnmacomber.net

Descent


by Sandy DeLuca
Published by Uninvited Books

Back in the seventies young Julia developed a thirst for bad boys so lusty it could not be quenched by any run of the mill rebel-without-a-cause biker. And so, ignoring the cryptic warnings of her Wiccan aunt and dead brother, she made a play for a disciple of Satan whose idea of a weekend getaway was a multi-state killing spree.

Alas, Julia learns too late the most important relationship law The Rules failed to cover: A man with a taste for a homemade blood/semen cocktail is likely not boyfriend material. The union, needless to say, does not have a storybook ending, unless you’re into fairytales stocked with Deliverance sexcapades and motel room crucifixions.

Descent opens a few decades later. Broken by a past she cannot put behind her, Julia appears determined to self-sabotage any prospect of happiness, perhaps as an act of penance, perhaps because as a painter she cannot afford the necessary therapy. “Loneliness is a bitch,” she muses. “But memories can be even worse.” Trouble is, Julia’s memories aren’t content to remain locked in her mind anymore—they seep out into the real world, possess friends and acquaintances, make sudden appearances like quick cuts in horror flick. Around this mystery of what is and what is not real, Sandy DeLuca constructs a trippy, altered state narrative. Is Julia truly being haunted by demons bound and determined to prove Faulkner’s oft-quoted maxim, “The past is not dead. In fact, it is not even past”? Or is she suffering hallucinogenic reverberations from the trauma that withered the flower of her youth?

“Sanity visits me now and then, but never stays long,” Julia says, appearing to make the case for the former.

“How do you make them see that the monsters are real—that the dead really do come back?” she later asks, suggesting the latter.

It is a testament to DeLuca’s authorial prowess that both explanations feel plausible throughout the book. When the final wave at long last breaks, the dénouement is richly imagined enough to leave you wishing DeLuca was not so brief in her exploration of it. I would have liked to see her delve a little more deeply into the transcendent implications of the specters that emerge from Julia’s paintings as well. These are, however, minor quibbles. DeLuca’s taunt, fast-paced yarn draws you in and screws with your equilibrium, much like those demons Julia glimpses out of the corner of her eye.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Shawn Macomber

Shawn Macomber is a Miami based writer whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason, Radar, Yankee, The Weekly Standard,the Los Angeles Times, National Review, and Decibel, among many other fine and middling publications. He has reported from five continents covering everything from combat in Iraq, riots in the Baltics, and two presidential elections to designer cat shows at Madison Square Garden, the cross Carrot Top bears, and the Carcass “Exhumed to Consume” reunion tour. His story "Demon Envy" will appear in Shroud #12. More info at www.shawnmacomber.net

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Deadline book 2 of the Newsflesh Trilogy


By Mira Grant
Published by Orbit


*Warning, this review contains spoilers for FEED, the preceding book in Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy read the review here, then read that book first.*

It sucks to be the second part of a trilogy. The first part is young and impetuous, the vibrant child introducing us to new worlds and people while establishing the broad conflict. The last one is older, more mature, bringing it all together and providing us with a sense of closure. All the middle kids does is get everyone into as much trouble as possible.

Boy, howdy does DEADLINE do that.

Picking up scant months after the events of FEED, we're plopped into the head of Shaun Mason as he barely holds the crew of After the End Times together. The ghost of his dead sister is in his head, an officially deceased CDC researcher is in his apartment and his city is overrun with the hungry amplified. This new addition to the group has information that someone is willing to firebomb the entirety of Oakland to keep secret. It would appear that the conspiracy behind his sister's death is alive and Shaun will stop at nothing to get at the heart of the matter.

Everything that made FEED my favorite novel of last year, as well as my second favorite zombie novel of all time, is still here: political intrigue, in-depth and honest characters that work their way into your heart and life, spot on social commentary on the way we live under the threat of a terror state and some damn fine “hold onto your britches while you fill them with poo” action. Of course, Mira continues to ratchet up the tension with the increasingly tightening noose around the necks of our intrepid newsies. Her previously proven Whedonesque willingness to kill off any character, no matter how important they may seem, certainly kept me on my toes in that regard.

I specifically enjoyed the change in POV from FEED's supremely self-assured and driven Georgia to the increasingly apathetic and uncertain Shaun. His feelings of inadequacy and mental breakdown (he doesn't just talk to his dead sis, she argues back) provide the heavy emotional impact this go round. The world around and within him is collapsing into chaos and you'll feel every moment.

Sure, it will leave you hanging in the air once the last page is turned, but that is what middle children do. Also, there's a revelation near the end that I want to call cheap but it does fit with the information we are provided earlier and I'm curious to see how it will play out in BLACKOUT. Overall, it's a hell of a worthy followup to FEED that had me tearing through the pages and left me salivating more. What else can you ask for?

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Margaret’s Ark, (Other Road Press), by Daniel G. Keohane

Many view publishing's future and the Amazon.com self-publishing revolution with equal parts trepidation and suspicion. How will the industry – whatever it becomes - maintain standards of quality? How will readers know if something is good, even with word of mouth, because opinions on “good” vary so greatly?

And what about the authors themselves? Don't they still need editors and gatekeepers to keep them (authors and would-be authors) on their toes? Keep them from getting complacent? Whatever happened to working hard, being patient, earning the satisfaction that came with a Publisher’s stamp of approval?

These concerns aside, if Margaret's Ark, by Daniel G. Keohane, is an indication of publishing and self-publishing's potential future, things might not be so bad.


Of course, it makes a difference when the author self-publishing is an experienced professional with valid publishing credentials outside their self-published venue, and a Bram Stoker Award Nominee to boot. It makes a difference when the author self-publishing has done their time and has achieved industry success. Not to be redundant, but it also makes a difference when the author's self-published novel was a semi-finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novelist contest, scoring a positive review from Publisher's Weekly, even.

All these things make a big difference, because Margaret's Ark is not a sloppily conceived story slapped together in Word and Adobe, then uploaded to CreateSpace. Nor is it a rookie author's efforts. It's a quality work of fiction, written by a professional who knows his stuff. A gripping story about the power of faith, but also a frightening portrayal of that inevitable conflict that must erupt – because we're human and flawed – between those who would choose to follow their faith unswervingly, those who follow it only for selfish reasons, those who fear and do not understand faith's power...and those who ultimately reject it.

Solomon's Grave, Keohane's first novel, proved a solid debut and earned him a Bram Stoker nomination for “Superior Achievement in a First Novel”, however Margaret's Ark is Keohane's best work to date. Though it moves slowly and takes time building its tension – and build tension it does – this novel is the mark of an experienced craftsmen. The characters are varied and engaging, prompting genuine sympathy in the reader.

Keohane manages to walk a fine theological line, also. His story is original and well-written, not a shabbily veiled religious allegory, but it shouldn't prove too radical in regards to doctrine. His success is that he does what spiritual fiction often fails at: he focuses on the human element, how humans deal and grapple with the difficulty – and demands – of faith.

Margaret's Ark is published through Keohane's own, self-styled imprint, Other Road Press. Time will tell if he'll release other works through this venue, either his own or of other authors. In any case, not only is it a fine novel, but the book itself – its craft, its formatting – serves as a rare example of self-publishing's promise for the future.

Visit www.dankeohane.com and www.otherroadpress.com. Buy it today.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Department Nineteen


By Will Hill
Published by Penguin Books/Razorbill Press

Young Jamie Carpenter is in for the shock of his life. Accused as a terrorist, Jamie’s father is gunned down in a hail of submachine bullets from mysterious men in black body armor.

As Department Nineteen begins, these events darken the lives of sixteen-year-old Jamie and his distraught mother. Publically hounded into hiding, Jamie hopes for a normal life and wants to clear the family name. But evil forces are at work. When Jamie comes face-to-face with Larissa, a girl with supernatural powers that has been ordered to assassinate him, he learns of a secret department of the British government chartered to protect the citizenry from vampires.

Yes, blood-sucking vampires that feel no remorse at draining the life from their human victims. And there are thousands of vampires. Maybe millions.

Amazingly, he learns the truth from Frankenstein, the monster whose life is now dedicated to Department Nineteen and its top-secret mission. Jamie, recruited as an agent, discovers the department’s dark origins as the true story of Van Helsing, Bram Stoker, and Count Dracula is revealed. Not only are vampires real, there is an underground war where Department Nineteen stands as the last line of defense.

Department Nineteen is the first novel in a YA series aimed primarily at boys that might find the storylines in female-oriented supernatural stories unsatisfying. Having said that, readers of both sexes can enjoy this story as there’s plenty of action, suspense, blood and thrills as Jamie learns that his father once worked for Department Nineteen and that Alexandru, a vampire leader originally turned by Count Dracula himself, has kidnapped his mother.

This book (a hefty 440 pages) is a very enjoyable origin tale, and sets the stage for a much larger confrontation between Department Nineteen and the foes that strive to conquer the world and turn humans into enslaved blood banks. Adult readers may find the opening a bit clunky, and the plot lines a bit predictable, but adults are not the target audience for this book. A young reader will be swept along by the action and YA boys and girls will engage in the story of a normal boy secretly attracted to a vampire girl. Talk about adolescent relationship challenges.

The author, Will Hill, has done a commendable job of integrating his own vision of Department Nineteen lore with the classic horror novels of the 19th Century. The Frankenstein and Dracula storylines are paid homage to as Mr. Hill informs the reader (and Jamie Carpenter) what really happened, and how those fictional books hid the gruesome truth. Dual storylines, one in the present, and one in the past, explain the complex relationships between generations of characters. The scope of the story is ambitious and complex and Mr. Hill pulls it off quite nicely.

Department Nineteen should be on every YA reading list and bookshelf space should be cleared for upcoming sequels. The story is compelling and YA readers will want every exciting volume.

Buy it here.

Review by R. B. Payne

R. B. Payne is a dark fiction writer. His stories have appeared in Doorways, Dark Discoveries, Necrotic Tissue, and the recent Stoker-nominated Midnight Walk anthology. He is insanely enthusiastic about writing book reviews for Shroud magazine. But rather than continuing to blurb himself by pretending that someone else wrote this bio, he would prefer you seek out his stories and read them late at night. For the record, he lives in Los Angeles and lurks at www.rbpayne.com. He would love to hear from you as long as it’s not a beating heart delivered in a cardboard box.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kissy Killy & Pretty Scary



by Vox Anon

Two volumes of poetry, Kissy Killy and Pretty Scary, are brought to you by the unnamed author, Vox Anon, who has previously released a volume entitled The Unicorn Man.

Both these volumes showcase self-contained poems, whose main focus revolves around highly charged sexual imagery at times infused with familiar archetypes. Predominant themes at play in both of these texts are those of love -- not the light-hearted, fluffy kind of love, but more like the sado-masochistic heavy metal kind of love, if one is left to judge by the lines of "Cherry Pitted" from Kissy Killy: "fissures cracks sweat whips screams tears gages wires icky goo."

Even the cover photo of the Starchild skull that graces Pretty Scary has sexual overtones when viewed through the lens of Vox Anon's poetic offerings, such as "Jealous Of The Cup" in which the cup is a metaphor for a woman's vagina, coupled with the phallic "ivory tower."

These sorts of metaphors abound, along with biblical references scattered here and there (such as the reference to the "scapegoat" in Kissy Killy's "Eaten By Doves," which in this case appears to be an allusion to the Lamb of God). The rhythm and force of the poems have the feel of modern-day rock music. There is no greater, underlying narrative apparent to this reader, other than an artist's attempt to make sense of himself as a spiritual creature who at turns struggles with the union and alienation of a sexual relationship -- a sexual relationship gone bad.

Buy Kissy Killy here.

Buy Pretty Scary here.

Reviewed by Martin Rose

Martin Rose lives in New Jersey, where he writes a range of fiction from the fantastic to the macabre, holds a degree in graphic design, and enjoys blurring the line between art and life. Look for his work in Murky Depths Issue 17 and Art From Art anthology from Modernist Press. More details are available at www.MartinRoseHorror.com.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Central Park Knight


By C.J. Henderson
Published by Tor Books

The cover and back copy of C.J. Henderson’s Central Park Knight can be boiled down to a simple equation of awesomeness: Indiana Jones + Dragons = YAY! Needless to say, I go fairly excited. Unfortunately, the story did not manage to reach my hopes.

You’ve got Professor Piers Knight, a dowdy and somewhat eccentric scholar who works at the Brooklyn Museum and, in addition to having nearly limitless access to arcane artifacts from past cultures and untold knowledge of their every facet is also quite proficient at the use of these sometimes magical artifacts. After saving the world twice in not quite so many months, the good professor finds himself faced with the reemergence of Dragonkind in the world. Worse, one specific dragon wishes nothing more than total subjugation of humanity, and he is perfectly willing to use humanities nuclear capabilities to accomplish this end.

From the start, the protagonist made it very hard for me to get into this book. Piers Knight is too perfect, at least from what we are constantly told. Too assured, too quick witted and too all around effective. Likewise, his initially bumbling intern is quickly revealed to be a genius. From page one, there is no doubt that they will survive and triumph over the cartoonishly single minded big bad. I can’t find it in myself to care about anyone this perfect and it leaves no room for tension in the story and no interest in him as a character.

In addition, Mr. Henderson spends quite a bit of time telling us how much ass his character kicks and how suave he is, without showing us any of it. This dependence upon telling over showing would be grating enough on its own, but gets worse when coupled with lines like the following: “So, tell me young George Rainert, would you care for the chance to be torn apart, burned to death and otherwise pounded into salt by an immortal nightmare beyond understanding, or would you rather we get you back to the city and put you in a cab so you can eat chips and drink diet soda while uploading the story of your day to the internet.” Instead of being suave and cool, this comes across as more self-consciously cumbersome than Quentin Tarantino at its worst. This guy, in real life, would be the dork who tries way too hard to sound aloof and cool while firmly placing his lack of social skills on display. What we are told definitely does not jibe with what we see and I do not get the sense that the author is doing this deliberately in an attempt to make a more complex tale.

Granted, Henderson’s writing style is brisk and moves smoothly and I kinda dug the transmutation of the Cthulhu Mythos into dragons (even if calling them “Great Old Ones” is a bit heavy handed). Heck, the story may have enough to it to make up for the previously listed faults, but the central character is incredibly important to any story and I couldn’t get myself past this one to notice anything else.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners, (Cemetery Dance), edited by Joe R. Lansdale

The Bram Stoker Awards.

Every year, the Horror Writers Association bestows this award upon winners in several different categories. Regardless of how one feels about the debated validity of the Stokers, there's one category in which winners truly stand out, those laboring in perhaps the most challenging form of prose: that of short fiction.

Cemetery Dance's Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners, edited by Stoker Winner and celebrated author Joe R. Lansdale, brings together a stunning collection of Stoker Award Winners, a volume of short fiction that represents what one should think of in regards to "award-winning." Hard to pick amongst this collection for the best tales, but the following do shine above the rest:

"The Pear Shaped Man", by George R.R. Martin, about that mysterious, filthy, socially challenged obese man we've all seen lurking on the streets or in alleys at one time or another, but in this case, The Pear Shaped Man hides an eerie secret in his cramped home that'll change a young female artist's life...forever.

"The Box", by Jack Ketchum, a haunting story about a husband and father who helplessly watches his family consumed - literally - by an invisible secret, hidden in a bum's empty box.

"The Boy Who Came Back From the Dead", by Alan Rodgers, is a rousing, fun romp about an adolescent boy raised from the dead by aliens, and his difficulties resuming his life on Earth. An excellent example of how some stories, even award winners, should be just plain fun.

"Orange is for Anguish, Blue is for Insanity", by David Morrell, a story about an artist's obsessive quest to understand one of the greatest misunderstood painters of all time, of his friend's mistake in trying to understand his friend's obsession, and the unearthly secret behind it and the painter's genius.

The best story in the collection is undoubtedly
"The Night We Buried Road Dog", by the late Jack Cady. In my mind, it's the perfect example of what a Stoker Award Winning short story should be, because it's not based on a predictable monster or demon or serial killer or any of the usual horror staples, but rather on a life of freedom lived on the open road, behind a growling engine pushing metal down endless black asphalt, how men change and grow but never lose a bit of that young wildness, and how sometimes - most times - the ghosts that haunt us come from within, are of our own creation.

Pre-order
Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners today.

Kevin Lucia is a Contributing Editor for Shroud Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He's currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles, and he's currently working on his first novel. Visit him on the web at www.kevinlucia.com.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Secret of Crickley Hall


by James Herbert
Published by Macmillan

One might think that by now we’d all be tired of the standard horror tropes--vampires, zombies, demons and the like. There’s a couple of these old horror standbys that James Herbert tackles in The Secret of Crickley Hall: ghosts and the haunted house. The novel’s 633 pages seem more like half of that because the story just keeps rolling, and Herbert definitely makes the reader willing to accept these things that might seem to be stale when handled by lesser authors.

This is a story about a family that has been having some difficult times. The Caleighs move into Crickley Hall, a mysterious place in a remote part of England, when Gabe has to do a temporary engineering job. His wife, Eve, hasn’t been the same since their son went missing during a trip to a local park. There are two daughters who move into the house with them, and it isn’t long before bad things start happening all around.

Scary sounds in the middle of the night, doors opening and closing of their own volition, even things that the family starts to think that they are seeing but just aren’t sure: Crickley Hall has all the problems one might expect from a haunted house. When the Caleighs go into town to a store they find out fairly quickly that no tenant has wanted to stay at the Hall for long. A little research shows that it was once a boarding house for orphans that was under the care of siblings Augustus and Magda Cribben. The history of Crickley Hall and the Cribbens unfolds at a rapid pace and soon offers plenty of explanation for the frightening events that surround the house many decades later. Clearly the Cribbens were in the wrong line of work and their treatment of the orphans would understandably create some restless spirits.

James Herbert creates a carefully orchestrated story in The Secret of Crickley Hall. By the time the reader reaches the end, Herbert’s onomatopoetic swish-thwack! is likely to instill more than just a twinge of fear. This is a long novel, and it is still easy to digest because there is plenty of space devoted to developing well-rounded characters. Everyone has a backstory and everyone has a purpose for being in the story, making for a satisfying read that has plenty of shocks and horrors along the way. I found myself paying attention to something I usually gloss over: every chapter has a title. Some chapters are titled after characters, some are just ominous words, but all of them are meaningful and worth taking a look at. All of the plot’s loose ends are tied up nicely by the story’s end; all that the reader has to do is sit back and enjoy the work of a horror author who clearly knows how to build a heart-racing and frightening tale.

An important thing to note: if anyone thinks this is a brand new book, that’s mostly untrue. It’s been readily available in the U.K. for five years but is just making its way to an American release this week.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Christopher Larochelle

Christopher Larochelle spends time reading comics so he can fill some digital space over at his blog all about them. The time is now post-college graduation and things are in a state of flux, but it's certain that there will always be books that need to be read and things that need to be written about. Visitors are always welcome over at www.clarocomics.blogspot.com.