Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Hidden, (Harper Perennial), by Tobias Hill

The identity of “the Hidden” is at the heart of the mystery that unfolds in British author Tobias Hill’s fourth novel. The narrative follows Ben Mercer, an experienced “shovelmonkey” on various archaeological digs, who joins a group searching for the ruins of the long-lost city of Sparta. After going through a painful divorce, he finds the remote Greek countryside a welcome change of scenery—except that one of the members of the expedition, Eberhard Sauer, is a close acquaintance of his ex-wife.

They manage to get on well enough, and as time goes on, Ben finds himself getting romantically involved with one of the expedition members, a young Japanese woman named Natusko. Despite the fact that, by all appearances, he has been fully accepted as a member of the group, he occasionally hears whispers of some dark secret the others collectively keep. Even Natsuko refuses to give him a clue. Eventually, after undergoing what he believes to be a series of tests to prove him worthy, Ben faces the challenge of learning what the others have been keeping from him—knowing that, once he experiences it, his life will never be the same.

Interspersed with the story are passages that recount the history of Sparta, which ostensibly weave a backdrop for the present-day drama. These historical vignettes may, in fact, be the most intriguing and compelling aspects of the book. While Hill’s prose is lyrical and engaging, with vivid descriptions and rich atmosphere (although I find the usage of em dashes, rather than quotation marks, to denote dialogue a tedious affectation), narrative development is mired in verbal quicksand. Now, I do enjoy novels that focus on characterization and setting and that unfold gradually; as a recent example of these characteristics, I might point to The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. In fact, The Historian’s plodding pace rates highly as a subject of criticism.

Dare I say it, compared to The Hidden, The Historian is a screaming NASCAR race.

To better appreciate The Hidden, one may consider the novel less a literary drama than a biography of its main character. For example, the novel opens in England, with Ben Mercer working in a diner. The author introduces a number of characters and devotes significant time and effort developing the place and the people—none of which (apart from Eberhard Sauer) are ever revisited or even made relevant. The section is too long and detailed simply to serve as an introduction to Sauer; one must take it as a chapter of Mercer’s life that the author considers important.

And viewing the novel as a biographical portrait, one can see this as being one of Mercer’s pivotal life decisions; yet, for the sake of the drama, the entire back story could have been presented in briefer manner, and with considerably more impact. At the resolution, for all the novel’s atmosphere, rich historical detail, and living characters, the reader receives very little reward in the drama department.

While I admire the author’s elegant prose, I would have a hard time recommending The Hidden to any but the most patient readers—whose fondness for elegant prose supersedes a desire for well-rounded drama.

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Stephen Mark Rainey is the author of the novels Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie, HarperCollins, 1999), Balak (Wildside Books, 2000), The Lebo Coven (Thomson Gale/Five Star Books, 2004), The Nightmare Frontier (Sarob Press, 2006, and in e-book format by Crossroads Press, 2010), and Blue Devil Island (Thomson Gale/Five Star Books, 2007); three short story collections; and over 80 published works of short fiction. Stephen lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with a passle of Damned housecats, and over the past year have become an avid Damned geocacher. For updates on what's happening currently, visit The Blog Where Horror Dwells and/or the News page.

Monday, September 27, 2010

At the End of Church Street, (Belfire Press), by Gregory L. Hall

At The End Of Church Street is a well written, fast-paced, suspenseful tale that pulls the reader effortlessly into a dark, gritty world of wayward adolescents who gave up their normal lives in favor of a fantasy-land of immortality. In an abandoned theatre, the gothic family revels in the euphoria of youth and the thrill of hunting tourists for screams and laughs down the dark alleys they call home.

Rebecca Anne, a young run-away, desperately clings to the shadows of Orlando’s downtown. She can’t even recall the last time she had a proper meal. That's until Renfield, the faithful servant of the faux-vampire clan, offers her a new life she openly embraces. After purchasing her some proper Goth attire and buying her dinner, she is introduced to the children of Orlando’s night and a new alter-ego: Lilith.

Properly christened, she becomes friends with the vamps and acclimates to their rules, which are few, if any. When the kids return from a night out “hunting”, meeting the new girl takes a back seat to the realization that one of their own is missing. “People come and go here,” Adam, (the leader of the vampire clan) reminds them. But as time passes, the status-quo doesn’t seem to be the case.

Adam desperately tries to hold his family together and get to the bottom of the murders while their numbers dwindle. He even reaches out to the police - already engrossed in the media frenzy that ensued. Bonds of friendship, love and ideologies are tested. But can Adam and Lilith, or even those they call brothers and sisters, be trusted? Who can help when the hunter is the only one taking the vampires seriously?

At The End Of Church Street resonates with a fierce intensity that masterfully taps every emotion we have. Hall gives us people, not characters; weaving the reader into a tale with an eerily relatable, palpable atmosphere. Multi-layered and multi-faceted, with high suspense, Hall’s powerful voice blends these elements together, giving us a riveting novel that leaves the reader spell-bound.

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Reviewed by Ben Eads.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Wood Life, (Snuff Books), by Rich Ristow

Wood Life is a series of short pieces that read as one long poem detailing the descent of a serial killer into madness. It begins with Detective Latrell J. Johnson of the Monmouthside Police Department, who explores the history of the protagonist Daniel David Silvestre. One can already see Ristow's skill at crafting a voice and narrative, as Johnson's prose is littered with idiosyncrasies that help to develop his character. The obviously well intentioned officer suffers from a few repeated grammatical and mechanical errors, which casual readers may toss off as typos on Ristows' part, but also can be read as intentional, detailing Johnson's attempt to use superfluous language to appear smarter than he actually is, ultimately providing readers with some insight as to why Silvestre was so difficult to apprehend.

The first section of Wood Life is titled City Death, and deals with Silvestre's attempt to return to civilization, and his ultimate failure. He tries "to be good as [his] Grandma/would love [him] to be--/but hours in [his] home drag/without drama or incident..." Readers are invited to participate in Silvestre's nightmare--the boredom, insomniatic ache and the increasing desire to slit a throat. Readers finger knives with Silvestre and dream of throats, hear the abusive relationship that occurs in the apartment above him and the visions it churns up with in Silvestre.

Through it all, readers battle the morality of knowing that something is wrong but the desire to do it anyway with Silvestre. Ristow takes his time developing Silvestre's desires and his pain, so that when he is pushed over the edge, the reader is right there with him. Ristow takes his readers into the depths of Silvestre's madness, carefully building the suspense through various scenarios which, taken individually are dark enough, but when woven together in one long narrative become terrifying.

Through the telling, Silvestre occasionally flashes back to moments from his childhood, scenes of his parents' deaths or echoes of his grandmother, who constantly reminds him that he's a good guy. In these scenes, the skeletal narrative which Detective Johnson gave at the beginning of the book gains flesh and form, and Silvestre's tale is all the more scary for it. He is haunted by his ex, haunted by blackouts which he can't explain, haunted by desires he can't fulfill, and this anguish pours out on the page in reams and reams of blood. Ristow's narrative creates really excellent juxtapositions between scenes in which Silvestre aches and acts. Ristow also uses flashbacks creatively, giving us just enough of Silvestre's history to propel the narrative forward, carrying the reader along with it.

The second section of Wood Life is eponymous, and begins with an allusion to Ezra Pounds "In a Station of the Metro," twisted through the dark lens of Daniel David Silvestre. This section is Silvestre's narrative of his escape into hibernation, an escape literally haunted by ghosts and primal behavior. Silvestre is completely insane at this point, and Ristow drags his reader through the psychosis, until the final act of remembrance is beheld in all its gruesome glory.

Wood Life is an exciting book of poetry detailing the descent into madness which consumes a serial killer. Ristows lines are evocative and lyrical, but not to the point that meaning and narrative are obscured. Any fan of horror literature will enjoy this grisly poem.

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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.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Three Zombies And A Demon, (Stygian Publications), by Roy C. Booth

In this gruesome collection of one-act plays, Roy C. Booth outlines the trials and tribulations of zombie and demon lives, whilst comically comparing them with the morbid truth of humanity. The varied and engaging characters act as catalysts for some good belly-laughs, and the tales themselves boast some deliciously gross incidences in light-hearted macabre scenes.

Bloodsuckers: Grandpa Grizweld has been dead for three years, but that doesn’t stop him from attending his yearly birthday celebrations! More importantly, it doesn’t stop his grandchildren either, who can’t wait to get their greedy paws on the family trust money. With his sly attorney controlling the whole affair, the money-hungry grandchildren reluctantly continue to show their love and affection for Grandpa Grizweld, even if he is a cankerous, rotting corpse.

How To Make A Brain SoufflĂ©: The world is riddled with zombies. But what kind of world would this be, if someone hadn’t capitalized on the whole rotten, oozing affair? Meet Aldrich Byrne, Tv host, author, and zombie extraordinaire. He’s eager to teach the gormless undead how to cook a slap-up meal of brains, brains, and more brains. Juxtaposing themes of media-control with the brain-dead mannerisms of zombies, this play demands as much contemplation as it does laughs.

Tenure (Adaptation): Three months from now, a zombie outbreak occurs. Once strictly quarantined, zombies face subjugation by the military and are severely marginalised, stripped of their rights, and forced to live behind bars. All this, despite the fact that the zombies, or Necro-Sapiens as they prefer to be named, are fully-functioning beings once the initial lust for flesh has passed. With protesters clawing at the walls, General Bankhurst meets with zombie spokesperson Fillgrew, who maintains his professional aims despite the drawbacks of decomposition.

With Good Intentions (Adaptation): In the pits of hell, an over-worked demon named Vervek is busy matching soul receipts in the office, damnably slaving away to feed the Harpy and Hellions at home. Having experienced the thrill of wreaking havoc with no strings attached, long before he was a desk jockey under the thumb of the big guy downstairs, Vervek knows what he’s missing as a minion of hell. To add salt to the wounds, Vervek has to deal with smug Crilloc, an up-and-coming demon manager, who likes nothing more than to drop a few snide remarks here and there to ruin Vervek’s long, long day. Turns out that even Demons are feeling the strain, and tempting idle hands just isn’t the fun it used to be.

With acts just long enough to tempt your taste buds and read in one sitting, Roy C. Booth makes a refreshing contribution to play writing with these four satirical instalments. The subtext is subtle amongst the comedy, making it an enjoyable, quirky collection for your bookshelf, and offers an impressive, original take on traditional horror. A very enjoyable read.

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A. E. Grace is a literature geek, currently studying Creative And Media Writing at Middlesex University, UK. She is a film and literature buff, with a keen interest in horror. Her hobbies include writing, cartooning, books, and films.

“A Mouth for Picket Fences”, (Belfire Press), by Barry Napier

Poet Barry Napier uses subtle eroticism, 2nd-person narrative, and contrasting imagery to create portraits of everyday life laced with sinister undertones in his poetry collection, “A Mouth for Picket Fences”.

The collection is divided into three sections: Normalcy, The Darkness Weighs Us, and (in)humanity. Although each section delves into progressively darker themes, an ominous thread runs through all the poems. This darkness is subtly illustrated by contrasting it with a tableau of normality. Places drawn from the heart of Middle America, warts and all. Characters who live, love, and often keep secrets. Sunlight that makes the shadow more pronounced.

The poem from which this collection draws its title describes a visitor welcomed into a small community. Although nothing explicit is said about the man, there is a side to him the townsfolk do not see, but yet is tangible enough that the neighborhood dogs run from him in fear. The nature and extent of this man’s darkness is never explicitly stated and is left to the imagination of the reader.

What fascinates about these poems is, while the images may contrast, they seldom ever conflict. Neither the light nor the darkness is out of place; it is simply two angles from which to view the same scene. The collection challenges the reader to coalesce the darkness and light in the poems and therefore do the same in the reader’s own experience. It is no surprise that the last two lines from “Rituals of Farewell and Departure”, the last poem in the collection, read thus:

in order to see the light,

we must first come to know the darkness

“A Mouth for Picket Fences” showcases Barry Napier’s unique voice and maturing skill as a poet. His is a name worth watching, and “A Mouth for Picket Fences” is a collection worth reading.

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Brian Hatcher’s stories and poems have appeared in publications such as the Kanawha Review, Weird Tales, and Legends of the Mountain State. He performs live readings at conventions such as HorrorFind in Baltimore, and is an accomplished oral storyteller. He has been active in community theater for over fifteen years, playing a variety of roles on stage. He is a performing magician who appears at private parties and corporate benefits for companies such as the American Heart Association. His interests include carny performance (he is a trained fire-eater), stage hypnosis, music, art, psychology, science, and exploring various cultures and fields of human endeavor.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Falling Away, (Thomas Nelson), by T. L. Hines

A recluse who has visions and can't die. A lonely woman who sees the dead. A misfit who lives in the crawlspaces of life. Four individuals entwined by subtle quirks of fate and chance, and now an obsessive-compulsive veteran hooked on pain meds, an “embedder” who lodges bits of metal under her skin to control her fear, and demon-possessed cult leaders.

All in a novel's work for T. L. Hines, because when you pick up a Hines' novel, expect to embark on a journey to nowhere normal. Like his character in Unseen, Hines' stories live in the cracks between things, or to steal a line from a Gary Braunbeck novel, they take place in corners of the world where the “edges aren't quite squared”. Hines' characters are wonderfully flawed and human, but it is through these flaws that they are blessed and find their ultimate salvation.

Dylan Runs Ahead has done nothing but that – run ahead, run away from his demons. He ran away from shame and his Crow Reservation to the Army. After a terrible accident claims the life of a fellow soldier and friend and smashes up his leg, he runs away from nightmares and pain into the cozy embrace of painkillers. He runs away from bad memories by banishing them to the “Kill Box” in his head. And now after bad business has gone sour, Dylan Runs Ahead is running again.

He can't run from destiny, however. Dylan Runs Ahead is a Chosen. The problem is, no one seems to know for what. Eventually, however, Dylan Runs Ahead will need to stop running and hold his ground, face both the demons within and without, before Something Awful decides to choose his destiny for him.

The Falling Away is a fresh new spin – finally – on spiritual warfare and demonic activity. Also intriguing is the pattern that seems to be developing through Hines' novels; that people dismissed by society as “strange” or “misfit” are really unsung heroes who triumph BECAUSE of their flaws, that instead of being outcast from society they've been set aside for special, eternal work. In any case, another novel by Hines – another trip into Noir Bizarre – is something not to be missed by anyone who wants something different in spiritual fiction.

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Kevin Lucia is the Review 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. Visit him on the web at

Johnny Halloween, (Cemetery Dance), Norman Partridge

In Johnny Halloween, Norman Partridge once again takes readers on a journey into Halloween's dark, fantastic world. His ability to invoke the autumn-spiced magic of this season securely places him alongside writers such as Ray Bradbury and Al Sarrantonio; however, his edged, two-fisted noir sensibilities gives this celebrated autumn season an added punch, and because of this Partridge continually offers something new where others have merely tried to imitate. Of this new collection, the best tales are:

Johnny Halloween”, the collection's titular story, in which an aging sheriff faces a specter from the past who brings back unpleasant memories; “Satan's Army” a dark, sardonic tale about the depths religious fanatics are willing to reach in order to convince people Halloween is evil; “Black Leather Kites”, a tale featuring two old friends facing off against an impossible otherworldly threat on Halloween Night; “Three Doors” a story about Johnny Meyers and his magic black hand and a ghost from the past that won't go away, and “The Jack O' Lantern”, a novelette set in the world of Patridge's novel
Dark Harvest. With power struggles between corrupt cops and a new incarnation of the October Boy toting a shotgun, it's easily the best story of the bunch.

Like in Dark Harvest and Lesser Demons, Partridge continues to strike bold new ground, carving out new territory through familiar stories. He does this with style and incredible voice, however, and readers can be sure that with Norman Partridge at the wheel, quality is never sacrificed just for the sake of something new.

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Kevin Lucia is the Review 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. Visit him on the web at

Lincoln’s Sword (EOS/HarperCollins) by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald

As brother battles brother in a war that will decide the fate of the nation, a man strides through time and space in order to guide history into its proper course by placing a symbolic blade into the right hands. Lincoln's Sword, the latest historical fantasy by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald (authors of Land of Mist and Snow), presents the events of the Civil War through the lenses of symbolism and magic.

Confederate officer Cole Younger is rushed through rites of initiation into "esoteric disciplines" at the urging of a mysterious stranger. Mercy Levering, a talented practitioner of ritual magic, provides comfort to her friend and confidant, Mary Todd Lincoln. Mary is a sibyl, beset with visions of a country covered in the blood and smoke of disunion, as well as those of a mystic sword that is vital to bringing the nation together once again. Both Cole and Mercy are recruited by Mr. Thomas, an enigmatic figure with the ability to travel through both time and space, to ensure that the sword gets into the hands of President Lincoln in an effort to manipulate the events of history to fall into the proper pattern.

The main problem with this otherwise fine novel is the handling of the titular sword. While obviously symbolic of the sacrifice needed to form the Union, it is more often treated as merely a MacGuffin. Its true purpose and the reasons for its importance are ambiguous at best and, in the end, it only serves as the focus of Thomas' various machinations. Setting that aside, the novel's tight pace and multiple points of view keep the reader interested throughout. Further, the use of mysticism and magic within the historical period are handled with a light touch and do not overwhelm the overall story. In the balance, Lincoln's Sword is a good read.

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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.

The Plea of Apollisian, (Skullvines Press) by Shane Moore

Shane Moore, retired police detective turned epic fantasy author, has embarked on the ambitious Abyss Walker series with his first of many, The Plea of Apollisian, through Skullvines Press.

The book opens up among the gods of the land of Terrigan. An exiled goddess of Mercy finds herself made mortal, where she gives birth to a son. Her union with a human brings misfortune upon them both, as they are slaughtered. Lance, the orphan child of prophesy, survives with an agenda of vengeance, hiding secret magical abilities.

Together with his brawny swordsman friend Jude, they travel the Terrigan countryside together against a backdrop of impending war between the human nation of Beykla and the dwarf nation of Stoneheart, seeking a translation for an ancient text. The narrative interweaves a myriad of characters, paladin Apollisian, for which the book is named, his comrades Alexis the elf and a squire, the general dwarf Amerix, and Were-Rats along the way.

The book moves quickly, and proves a light read with an action-packed plot. Shane Moore enjoys exploring the language as he depicts scenes with great diligence. For the reader who enjoys epic fantasy movies, this is a good choice, as the book evokes a cinematic feel in pacing and scenes, from the foolish thief who runs across dinner tables to evade capture, to the evil King of Nalir who enjoys torturing his lackeys with smarmy, self-satisfaction, to a dragon sprawled across his ancient treasure.

However, there is an emotional aspect lacking within the central characters that detracts from the whole. Lance is angry over the murder of his parents, but it ties into his present actions as more of an afterthought. The reader who craves a more character-driven story may do well to seek elsewhere.

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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

Friday, September 10, 2010

Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile, (Permuted Press) by J.L. Bourne

For those of you who haven't read it, J.L. Bourne's Day by Day Armageddon started off with a simple idea: show a zombie apocalypse through as personal a lens as possible, via the journal of a survivor. Bourne, as an active member of the armed forces, brought enough battlefield knowledge and raw, honest humanity to make for an engrossing tale. As long as you could get past the lack of story to the story, it was an entertaining addition to the zombie genre. The sequel, Beyond Exile, for good or ill, is basically more of the same thing.

Once again, we are placed in the shoes of our narrator, at the exact point the previous book left off: reeling, but still standing after an attack by some roving marauders at the underground bunker nicknamed Hotel 23. Dead people are up and walking, those they kill get up and kill, etc. You know the drill.

Everything that Bourne did right with the first book is still here: the narrator is engaging, if a tad superheroic and the journal approach is handled with style and ease. There are moments, especially in some of the notes found in derelict or destroyed locations, which shine with heartbreaking brilliance. The voice is strong and the writing is smooth as butter.

Unfortunately, everything wrong with the first one is also present here, and is more glaring the second time around. This is a story where a whole lot of things happen, but they ultimately mean nothing. The only character we get to know in any real detail is exactly the same at the end of this book as he was at the beginning of the first one: a strong, knowledgeable, skilled and driven survivor. There is never a moment of believable weakness, he has no faults whatsoever and there is never even the mildest concern for his safety.

Further, the lack of a central, overarching conflict turns the whole into a series of events that amounts to nothing. Bourne even recycled the situation of the narrator by having him crash out in the middle of nowhere, spending much of the book with him trekking back to the Hotel (with magical resupply drops, killing all possible tension there). It took me much longer to read this than it should have because I couldn't bring myself to care.

I get and appreciate the idea behind it and few people have handled the correlation between zombie fiction and the war on terror, especially from the point of view of a soldier, with the same directness. It's a situation that seems like it will never end, with no definable big touchdown victories and only the vaguest hope of making it through the next encounter. Life doesn't work like fiction; nothing gets tied up at the end with a neat little bow. But that's also part of why we read fiction.

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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 No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Vampire Haiku, (How), by Ryan Mecum

Vampire Haiku is Ryan Mecum's follow up to the hugely successful Zombie Haiku. As with his previous collection, Mecum again follows his protagonist through the infection and change into a monster, meting out the story in short bursts of seventeen syllables. With slick graphics and over the top production for a book of poetry, Mecum provides readers with yet another interesting read.

Vampire Haiku begins in the 17th century with William Butten, a passenger aboard the Mayflower, who is bitten by a fellow passenger, Katherine Carver, and becomes a vampire. Katherine is forced to leave, and William is forced to suffer through the New World alone. Mecum's narrative is laced with actual details from history, such as famous characters and dates, which help to envelope the reader in the fantasy which he constructs. William celebrates the first Thanksgiving, the Salem Witch Trials, the Boston Tea Party, and so on, clearly moving up and down the coast to keep his identity hidden from curious investigators.

Come the 19th century, William seems to have settled in Washington D.C. However, he makes it out to modern day Texas, and the Alamo, where he turns Davy Crocket into a vampire. Soon, however, the Civil War begins and William finds himself in Maryland, switching military allegiances and supping on "The Antietam leftovers."

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, William makes the acquaintances of some of the most famous names in United States history, from Emily Dickenson to P. T. Barnum, Babe Ruth to James Dean, and so on. Ultimately, he is reunited with his love Katherine, but with a surprise ending that will keep the attention of readers until the last page.

Critics will ultimately find two issues with Vampire Haiku. The first is the glaring anachronisms which pepper the manuscript, the largest being the concept in general. Haiku wasn't established as a form in Japan until the mid to late 17th century, nor titled haiku until the late 19th century, so there's no reason a Westerner would be writing haiku in 1620, nor would they call it that.

Furthermore, some of the lines seen out of place. For example, in 1620, Katherine explains to William that "tanning is bad," which doesn't make sense considering 17th century fashion, in which pale, if not white, skin was en vogue. The other issue is Mecum's interpretation of the term "haiku," which ignores many of the basic concepts which define haiku (seasonal reference, juxtaposition of humanity against nature, etc.) and focuses solely on syllable count, which many interpreters of haiku consider inappropriate in English.

However, many readers will forgive Mecum these glaring errors, as the book is clearly listed as "humor," and issues with historical accuracy and poetic quality can be written off as part of the joke. That being said, Vampire Haiku is not without its cringe moments, and there are a few places where readers will shudder. Readers interested in a quick, humorous vampire read that explores and reinvents United States history through a blood-sucking lens and challenges modern vampire stereotypes will really enjoy Ryan Mecum's Vampire Haiku.

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Reviewed by Joshua Gage.

The Monster Within Idea, (Apex Publications), edited by R. Thomas Riley

The Monster Within Idea is a horrific, heart-felt, and hopeful collection of short fiction that explores what lies within us all: the monster. Riley’s ability to toy with us psychologically affords the reader little protest by creating people--not characters--faced with relatable dilemmas and odds just as uncertain as the reality in which they exist. Each story in the collection is a real treat for the imagination and the diversity is sure to please. Standouts are:

Touching God”, two young brothers endure a life of pain from a father who enjoys abusing them. In hushed whispers, they contemplate escaping and going away. To where? It wouldn’t really matter. But James wonders when the abuse becomes more frequent, and his brother spends more time with his toy train-set in the basement. “It’s a secret” his brother promises him, and it’s a big one.

Twin Thieves”, Milton would do anything to have his wife back. Their marriage, at first wonderful, somehow took a turn for the worse. His mind is bent on what exactly went wrong as it rifles through memory after memory of bliss; longing to find that moment of understanding. Once discovering a way to augment this, Milton plays guinea-pig to the incessant dilemma of forgetting today in favor of what was and what could be.

Bubo”, Darrel walks into a bar looking for someone only spoken of in whispers: Bubo, with a problem only he can solve. Darrel has cancer and it is only a matter of time before the inevitable happens. Can the coldest of hearts pay a price even Darrel regrets? And once made, what happens to his cancer?

The Day Lufberry Won It All”, in a distant, dystopian future, Lufberry walks into a bar hoping to hustle someone for money at a game of Pool. To his surprise, this bar has his favorite vices of cigarettes and alcohol and best of all, gambling. When he takes a bet from a kid over a simple game of Pool, will he walk away with the kid’s other-worldly billiard balls? Or will he walk away with nothing...or something worse?

Just Decoration”, Toni solves, “people problems” and she’s damn good at it. She’s offered the job of killing, and publicly displaying the body of a prominent businessman. She accepts with enthusiasm. Toni breaks her professionalism in favor of personal gain. But will it make the kill as sweet?

The Lesser Evil”, Mark Fitzgerald is a politician in every evil sense that word has come to embody. The man has done bad things. Real bad things. Or has he? Jimmy, and his partner, “triple KKK” wonder as they take care of another one of Fitzgerald’s messes. Once the truth is known, a decision must be made that shakes a man to his core and changes his life forever.

Brittle Bones, Plastic Skin”, what if you could change history, time itself? Frank Macintosh wishes he could do so. He remembers his wife and their three-year-old son, Topher. He still hears the pitter-patter of his little feet around the house. Despite Frank’s loss, there is something about the house and the tree that shares its soil that haunts him. Not a day goes by that the tree taunts him, reminds him. Will it be too late for Frank when his research of the house’s history reveals a horror even his frayed mind can’t comprehend?

Riley truly takes the reader’s hand and holds it tight through moments where his skill to eviscerate our imagination intersect with the harsh reality of what, we, ourselves are capable of. Each story that comprises this collection hits every note on the emotional and creative scale in an eerie, relatable way. Written with a strong and enthralling voice, The Monster Within Idea gives us originality and imagination instead of clichĂ©s--a collection that clearly stands apart from the rest.

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Reviewed by Ben Eads.

“Hellfire and Damnation,” (Sam’s Dot Publishing), by Connie Corcoran Wilson

With two collections already under her belt, Connie Corcoran Wilson takes the short story in some fascinating new directions in “Hellfire and Damnation.” Lean at just over a hundred pages, the book still manages an examination of each level of hell as described in Dante’s, Inferno, with each tale representing a sin appropriate to its section. It makes for a perfect framing device, and it’s a wonder it hasn’t been used in horror collections more often .

The first story, “Hotter than Hell,” acts as the reader’s entry through the gates of the underworld itself. The tale revolves around an unrepentant murderer awaiting his execution. Alone, except for the letters sent to him by his soldier son from Kuwait, he witnesses the breakdown in his child’s idealism before finally coming to understand the reality of what punishments await him on the day of his death.

“Rachel and David,” the sole occupant of Limbo, offers a well-written, if somewhat traditional ghost story, given greater strength by its folklore status. The next tale, “Love Never Dies,” explores Lust in far more ambitious territory with a tale involving young girls being resurrected for use as prostitutes in Pompeii. “Amazing Andy, the Wonder Chicken,” breaks up the serious tone of its predecessors with the story of a chicken that survives decapitation only to be exploited for money and lusted over by a farmer’s greedy mother-in-law. “Queen Bee” follows up on “Andy’s” darkly comic atmosphere in the next circle with a very short but amusing narrative of spite set in suburbia.

“Going Through Hell,” fits in the circle occupied by the violent perfectly with the harrowing story of a female cop and would-be writer forced into an unspeakable position by a serial killer. The next tale, “Confessions of an Apotemnophile,” runs into similarly graphic territory, and is made even more disturbing by the protagonist’s willing role in his own mutilation. It also boasts what may be the best ending in the book. The final story, “An American Girl,” closes things with a killing orchestrated by a high school girl and its messy aftermath.

“Hellfire and Damnation” does a number of things right. The connections a number of tales have to reality and folklore offer a special creep factor that adds to the tension, while Wilson make sure there are enough of the stranger tales to keep the “based on a true story” vibe from becoming pervasive. Still, it is often the latter that showcases her best work, and one comes away wishing even more of this territory was explored.

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Patrick Rutigliano resides in Indiana with his wife, Hannah, and a very peculiar cat he found on his doorstep. He began his professional writing career in 2007 with a sale to Permuted Press. Since then, his work has appeared in History Is Dead, Monstrous, and Shroud Magazine. A full bibliography of his work is available at , although he advises the reader to take any of his rambling outbursts with a grain of salt.

Empire of Salt, (Abaddon Books), by Weston Ochse

Empire of Salt is Weston Ochse’s latest novel, and as good an introduction to the man’s work as one is likely to find. The story finds eighteen year-old Natasha Oliver, her brother Derrick and their father moving into their new neighborhood. Bombay Beach is on the coast of the Salton Sea, a fairly creepy place in real life, let alone once Ochse gets done with it.

Not only is the Salton Sea a large, stagnant saltwater lake, Bombay Beach is populated by the sort of people one might imagine would be left if everyone with common sense and means just up and left. Not only is Bombay Beach populated by a reformed crackhead with too many kids, a Romanian Elvis-impersonating ex-soldier, and a naked preacher, there’s also a secret, gated installation. And zombies. Don’t forget the zombies.

As Natasha, Derrick and their friend Veronica discover that some of the kooky stories might not be all myth, they rescue a soldier from a group of zombies and, with the help of a few of Bombay Beach’s more colorful characters, attempt to end the clandestine military project behind the zombie outbreak and escape the Salton Sea once and for all.

Empire of Salt’s greatest strength is its engaging cast of supporting characters (a few of the others include the Olivers’ dead grandfather’s two girlfriends an old man with hooks for hands and a thirty-four year old mentally disabled man chained up in his family’s back yard) and retired soldier Ochse’s attention to detail (it’s always nice when authors get Army lingo right).

Another refreshing change of pace is that the book isn’t about a massive, worldwide zombie apocalypse, but a small outbreak that the characters actually have a chance of nipping in the bud. Finally, the Salton Sea is a great setting for a horror story; Google it and see for yourself.

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Lincoln Crisler is a United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer and the author of two collections of dark stories, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at