Horror World Book Reviews
September, 2009

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His Father’s Son by Bentley Little; Signet, 2009; 384 pages; $7.99

Steve Nye is the average Joe, perhaps even more boring than most. He works for a company that puts together alumni publications, and he is an aspiring writer.  He has a steady girlfriend and a group of buddies he hangs out with.

Everything changes one day when his mother calls to say Steve’s father tried to kill her and has been confined to the psychiatric ward of a hospital. Violent behavior is the last thing Steve expects from his quiet, distant father. He soon learns his dad has suffered a stroke and has worsening dementia. He’s prone to fits of unreasonable anger, and he mostly speaks gibberish. Occasionally, though, his father is lucid. During one of those periods he says something that will change Steve’s life: “I killed her.”

That brief sentence leads Steve to investigate his father’s past, including the suspicious death of the elder Nye’s first wife. As a child, Steve moved frequently with his parents, and he discovers a number of unsolved murders at each stop, leading him to the conclusion that his father was a serial killer.

As his search continues, Steve is faced with a dark truth about himself: that the son may not be so different from the father.

Bentley Little takes readers down a slow and disturbing path in HIS FATHER’S SON. The novel’s languid pace allows Little to take his time with the story, peeling back the layers of Steve’s character until his unusual behavior seems almost understandable. Little should also be commended for creating an engrossing work about a man who possesses virtually no likable traits.

Steve’s short stories are interspersed throughout the novel, a neat trick that provides the reader with even more insight into Steve’s troubled psyche.

Though a few horror fans may be disappointed at the book’s lack of a supernatural element, those who stick with it will be rewarded by what may be Bentley Little’s darkest novel yet.

-- Mark Justice

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The Gray Zone, by John R. Little; Bad Moon Books, September 2009; $19.95

Time-slip fiction, once the province of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and moldy science fiction magazines, is all the rage once more. From the TV series Lost to Captain America comic books, fictional characters are bouncing through time like a blizzard of ping pong balls. Pop culture is providing us with so many time travel stories we should own stock in Excedrin.

But the thing is, nobody does this kind of story better than John R. Little.

In The Gray Zone, Little’s protagonist, a young man named Henry Davison, is given an extraordinary gift as a reward for saving a boy from drowning. He can now travel to any point in his life, from childhood to the age of 52, and live there for as long as he wishes, while retaining the memories of his entire existence.

After the age of 52, Henry’s future is blank, something he refers to as The Gray Zone.

Little gives us Henry’s life story in a series of beautifully-written chapters, revealed in non-linear sequence. Little makes us care for Henry Davidson as we marvel at his special ability.

Then we’re pulled along as 52-year-old Henry enters The Gray Zone.

What happens there is both horrifying and heartbreaking.

I thought I had a pretty good idea of where Little was headed with Henry’s story. I was wrong.

It’s a testament to the fine writing in The Gray Zone that the story has lingered with me for days.

Whether you call The Gray Zone horror, SF or fantasy doesn’t matter. The only thing that counts is that it’s one of the most powerful and terrifying pieces of fiction in recent memory.

-- Mark Justice

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The Revenant Road by Michael Boatman; Drollerie Press; 2009; 308 pages; $15.95

Humorous horror is a tough proposition. If a writer can achieve the perfect balance of the two forms, then chances are good that the reader is in for a good time. If there’s too much humor or just enough yuks to kill the dark mood, then we’re looking at the script for a made-for-SyFy flick. In other words, pure cheese.

Fortunately, Michael Boatman knows the recipe.

The Revenant Road manages to straddle the line between terror and comedy, and it does so deftly, managing to generate serious scares while producing scenes and dialogue that are genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.

Obadiah Grudge is a phenomenally successful mystery writer, His books sell millions of copies. And every critic hates him. One even throws up on the sales receipt for Obadiah’s novel. Not that it matters to Grudge. He has a great life. But that changes when his father dies. That’s when Obadiah discovers he’s different. He’s destined to carry on his father’s work.

And the family business is monster hunting.

In addition to inheriting the family business, Obadiah also gets Neville, his father’s nutjob of a partner and his pet Raven. Now Grudge is walking The Revenant Road, and there’s no exit.

Did you ever read an unheralded novel and wonder why it wasn’t on the bestseller list or on its way to the big screen? That’s how I felt when I finished Boatman’s opus. The guy has acres of talent, great timing and the ability to create scenes of terror that will delight the most jaded horror fan. And how can you not love a novel with a character named Doctor Necropolis?

Here’s hoping Boatman stays in the horror field and revisits The Revenant Road in the very near future.

--Mark Justice

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Far Dark Fields by Gary Braunbeck; Leisure, 2009; 323 pages; $7.99

Cedar Hill holds in its grasp some of the most fascinating characters this side of Castle Rock and Derry.  Braunbeck’s novels such as The Indifference Of Heaven (aka In Silent Graves), Keepers, Mr. Hands, and Coffin County have built a strong mythology from bricks of emotion, superb writing, tradition, and horror that takes a piece of the reader’s soul with the conclusion of each novel.  Comparisons to King, Grant, and Bradbury have been mentioned many times so they won’t be delved into here as Braunbeck is by far his own man with his own stamp on the legacy of horror in a small town.

Geoff Conover survived the greatest massacre on American soil in the twentieth century. A teenage relative snaps and guns down thirty-two people while he remained strangely unharmed. Becoming the “miracle baby” of Cedar Hill, he fights his demons for most of his life until another gunman goes off and kills himself, but not before requesting to meet with Geoff.  The one word he mentions begins the Dante-esque spiral into a world where realities blend and everyone has a story about the town “where weird shit happens.”  The Broken One, a specter who follows Geoff and torments him with cryptic clues and may or may not be purposely driving him over the realm of insanity.

The characters from the other Cedar Hill stories meet up, join up when someone or something steals a pair of young girls.  They pool their experiences to win the final battle against the evils which keep rearing their ugly heads, such as Hoopsticks, the deformed creature from Coffin County, who turns out to be one of the most intriguing monsters in recent memory.

How many modern horror novels can inflict such emotional pain, terror, and cognitive movement these days?  Far Dark Fields doesn’t run in a suspenseful linear motion as most typical tales, so it fails to carry the terror quotient into a high zone or overwhelm the reader with nonstop action or gore.  Yet that’s not what Braunbeck is about. He frightens by worming his story deep inside the reader and feeling around until he or she changes, just a little bit.

Gary Braunbeck’s novels often creep and crawl under the reader’s skin, then force themselves into the psyche and heart, sometimes leaving, sometimes lingering for a long time.  One thing that’s sure, though, is that they will affect on some level.  That much is guaranteed. Why this man doesn’t top the charts befuddles most readers and authors familiar with his work.

--- David Simms

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By The Sword, by F. Paul Wilson; www.tor-forge.com, 2009; 443 pages; $ 7.99

By The Sword is the 17th installment in F. Paul Wilson’s ‘The Secret History Of The World’ mythos which includes his Adversary Cycle of books as well as his beloved Repairman Jack novels.  And for those who have followed along with the series up to now, it became apparent with his last novel, Bloodline, that the direction of the Repairman Jack novels were headed for some substantial changes. 

Prior Repairman Jack novels were all pretty much stand alone novels, though they did share threads affording them the continuity that the series is based on.  The plotting of those novels was also somewhat basic, meaning that they followed a structure and you could blurb them relatively easily.   Another important trait of the prior novels in the series was that Wilson never shied away from putting Jack’s humanity on display for the reader thereby rendering him even more of an everyman that his appearance or professional demeanor would suggest.  For example, we wept along with Jack when he lost his sister, dad, and unborn child.  We shared his ambivalence on his brothers passing.  And we understood his rage when he willingly choose to kill.  And lastly… through all of Jack’s earlier exploits, Wilson always made sure there was a little light heartedness buried somewhere in the mix, even if it was just to take the edge off the brutality.  But with Bloodline, readers saw the pattern shifting. 

Bloodline’s plot was busier, more complex, and while past novels had their share of violence, it was turned up a notch in Bloodline.  Also, Jack’s page time in the novel dwindled; he appeared to be overshadowed by other characters in the sub plots.  (Longtime fans may have expected something like this…after all, the ending to the mythos was already written and published in 1992, and in it Jack was regulated to a co-starring role, though a very important one).  And finally, there was no tidy end to Bloodline’s plot; the story would be continued in the next release.

By The Sword is a direct follow up to Bloodline, last year’s Repairman Jack release.  It continues with the story of Dawn, a young girl who was made pregnant for a sinister purpose (her child may posses abnormal DNA) by her older boyfriend.  After Dawn discovers that her boyfriend killed her mother, she runs away in fear and it is left up to Jack to find her.  But Jack isn’t the only one looking for her. A fast growing cult of young men called the Kickers is also on her trail. 

And while Jack is searching for Dawn, he takes on another job that entails locating a Japanese sword called a katana.  As it turns out, much like his search for Dawn, there are others searching for this sword to put it to evil use.  In his quest for the katana, Jack finds himself in deadly competition with a long forgotten Japanese cult that is into self mutilation, a near do well collector of antique swords, the Kickers, a Japanese corporation who seems to own a portion of every major company in the world, and the Yakuza. 

And all of these sub plots come together in one of the most action oriented, occult based, and blood soaked Repairman Jack novels to date.

Long time fans know that Wilson is in the process of wrapping up the Repairman Jack series and there are signs of this sown throughout the novel.  Characters that appear in Nightworld (the already published conclusion of his mythos) appear or are mentioned throughout By The Sword.  Readers will also detect that the overall tone of By The Sword is harsher and there is less of the jovial banter and semi comic asides that have been a staple in earlier books.  And while certain aspects of the plot come to a resounding and brutal conclusion, the main plotline remains unresolved which is very atypical of a Repairman Jack novel.  And most noticeably, in keeping with the tone set in Nightworld (and the Adversary Cycle novels that precede it), the level of violence in By The Sword is unusually high for a Repairman Jack novel. 

But it’s all good…this just may be the most riveting Repairman Jack novel Wilson has published so far, from its on-the-ground-running opening to its blood soaked finale.  By The Sword is definitely one of the highlights of the Repairman Jack series and it more than lives up to what its title implies.  With only a few more books expected in the series it will be interesting to see where Wilson will take Repairman Jack in the near future. If By The Sword is any indication, readers are in for one hell of a wild ride.

--T. T. Zuma

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Midnight Walk edited by Lisa Morton; Darkhouse Publishing, Inc, 2009, 257 pages; $15.95

Let’s face it – most new horror these days is not adventurous.  When every other novel that hits the shelves has something to do with a loves-struck vampire or banal haunted house which have all the menace of a neutered kitten, one can’t fault readers from getting discouraged.  Sure, there are some damn good new writers out there, most are stuck in the small presses where the masses can’t reach – or discover.  Of course, this means that the best publishing usually happens in the small presses. 

Lisa Morton is one of those writers who wants to turn the tide.  Midnight Walk takes readers on a journey who are tired of “the same old crap.”  Nearly all of the stories hold up well in this themed collection of western/mid-western writers (mostly from Southern California) which has a distinct multi-cultural flavor.  It eschews the overdone and boring and embraces the different settings horror used to flaunt.

The best examples of bucking the system begin with “Monsoon Devil” by Armand Constantine, which brings the reader to Delhi for a tale of retribution.  A superb opening, it twists the old revenge trope into something unexpected.  Richard Grove’s “Silver Needle” brings an old Scotsman’s tale into play which gives a fascinating take on the meaning of Halloween.  When’s the last time a good horror story employed the Zulu tribe?  “The Measure of a Man” follows a young Zulu as he takes on the undead – a zombie story that is neither silly nor a Romero rip-off – definitely one of the high points here.  The second best tale in here belongs to Jodi Kaplan Lester whose “The Guixi Sisters” serves up a different, but severely creepy story of Chinese sisters who are anything but who they appear to be.  Even the editor, Lisa Morton, gives the reader a taste of her own twisted sensibilities in “Diana and the Goong-Si.”

A decidedly different horror anthology for 14 writers who aimed to break out of the box and, for the most part, found success.

-- Dave Simms

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Urban Gothic, by Brian Keene; Leisure, August 2009; 301 pages; $7.99

Horror comes in many flavors: the full-bodied filet mignon (think Peter Straub), the classic T-bone (try F. Paul Wilson), and the rare, rib eye cut (possibly Deb Leblanc or Jack Ketchum).  Then there’s the all American cheeseburger.  The greasy, sloppy, mess that contains juicy ground beef that the customer knows isn’t healthy or going to help him or her on that diet, but damn – it tastes good.

Welcome to Brian Keene’s world.  Possible heir to the throne of Richard Laymon and Ed Lee, his novels ooze tasty writing full of the blood, gore, and scares which made their’s so much fun to read.  At their best, all three chewed up hours of readers’ time and left them with a belly full of old fashioned horror.  Even when they just aimed for sheer entertainment, their novels filled the mind with a literary B movie (not a bad thing at all).  Of course, all three have surpassed that cheeseburger level many times and Keene has already with mind benders such as Terminal and Take The Long Way Home.

But Urban Gothic is that good greasy burger that so many crave from their favorite joint. Keene takes the spooky abandoned house on the corner motif and adds a wrinkle to it. The seediest side of Philadelphia, just this side of Camden, New Jersey (arguably the most dangerous city in the country) draws six young characters into its heart.  The driver steers the suburban couples into a search for drugs but is ended when his car breaks down a block away from the nucleus of that hell.  A group of black teens approaches and a social commentary ensues. The kids run off to what they believe is a sanctuary and Leo, the “gangs” leader organizes a rescue team.  Add an elderly couple and a traveling scrap metal thief and the burger becomes king-sized.  

The fun begins as an evil awaits them that brings to mind the X-Files, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and People Under The Stairs.  One by one, the inhabitants pick off the six young folk as they scheme to escape while Leo’s group heads into the doorway of hell. Gory as all get out and seemingly a tribute to The Cellar and Header, Urban Gothic reads as a fun romp through horror from an age gone by, and well done at that.

Keene does take a stab at delving beneath the grimy surface of the setting and what is truly scary. What traps the people of that neighborhood is nothing less than monstrous but can’t be killed by any typical weapon. In a place where police fear to tread, horror becomes all too real and while the creatures can be reasoned away, the reality cannot.

-- David Simms

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Rot, By Michele Lee; Skullvines Press, 2009; 50 pages; $14.95

Zombie books and movies have been swarming the shopping malls like George Romero’s living dead in both Dawn of the Dead flicks (and let’s not forget the novel adaptation by Romero & Susanna Sparrow). The formal is all the same: the dead come back to life to munch on brains, usually set in a pre-apocalypse or post-apocalypse setting.

Originality?

Yes, there are some pioneers out there doing some bang-up work in this genre:  Joe McKinney, Jonathan Maberry,Kim Paffenroth, Permuted and of course Shaun of the Dead – and there are plenty of old school gems: all the Romero flicks and of course one of my personal favorites Return of the Living Dead.

Oh, I forgot one – Michele Lee.

Rot is one most of original and highly inviting zombie works I’ve read in years. Set in the very near future at the Silver Springs Specialty Care Community, a sort retirement homes for those zombies whom nobody wants to deal with.

The story is about Dean, who retired from the military to take a job at Silver Springs figuring it would be a lot cushier than fighting wars. His new job is to put down the undead once they’ve gone savage.

The problem is Dean falls in love with one of the zombie ladies named Amy … and she turns up missing. So Dean and a rotting zombie named Patrick (who is also in love with Amy) go searching for her.

The sub-theme of this book is how we treat our elderly in our society and Michele Lee does just as good job with this heavy type material as Melanie Tem did with the novel The Tides

Mark McLaughlin’s cover is truly frightening – one of Skullvine’s most intense artworks yet.

Rot is part zombie novel, part mystery, part love story – a 100% a great page-turner. Highly recommended!

-- Mike McCarty

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This Ghosting Tide, by Simon Clark; www.badmoonbooks.com, September 2009; 106 pages; $ 18.95

Simon Clark burst into the horror scene with 1995’s Nailed by the Heart, an extremely dark and well received tale focusing on a family who, along with the citizens of a small English town, do battle against zombie-like creatures that have risen up from the sea.  Since then, Clark has penned at least 19 novels with similar central themes (including a wonderful sequel to John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids) and this output has garnered him a reputation as being a master of apocalyptic fiction.  This Ghosting Tide, his latest novella from Bad Moon Press, continues his tradition of conjuring up terrors from the seas that are hell bent of ending life as we know it.

The catalyst for This Ghosting Tide was spawned from Clark’s involvement with a BBC television series on ghost hunting called ‘Winter Chills’.  Clark mentions that he used his experiences from the series (along with copious amounts of imagination) to come up with the basis for his story.  This Ghosting Tide chronicles the employment of a young man named Kit, who, along with a few others who are down on their luck, are employed by a somewhat eccentric man to document the existence of the supernatural.  As a group they tote along camera equipment, audio recording devices, and their employer’s pet monkey as they travel from gravesites to haunted houses trying to find some evidence that there really is something to all those stories concerning things that go bump in the night. 

Kit, an unbeliever, is often embarrassed and sometimes horrified by the illegal acts and occasional defilements he must commit while performing his job duties.  None the less, despite having no success in proving the existence of the supernatural, he stays with these amateur ghost busters for want of a paycheck.  After a particularly morbid adventure that almost costs him his life, Kit starts having second thoughts and thinks of quitting.  The group retreats to a bar after Kit’s near death experience to discuss their latest escapade and how they might be wasting their time.  There they meet a young lady who implores them to investigate the strange occurrences at her home.  After some deliberation, they decide to go see what’s up at this woman’s house which happens to be located nearby, bordering the sea shore. 

What they discover at her home soon makes believers out of the group when they witness an actual supernatural occurrence, and become victims of its assault.

The action soon moves from the house itself to the sea where the tide has recessed for what appears to be miles, and we follow along with the crew as they travel out onto the ever expanding beach to see what awaits them.  They soon find themselves in another dimension where the dead are ready to return to England and take over the world. Clark’s climax, a race back to the shore against time, the dead, and some exotic sea creatures, is thrilling as it is clever.

This Ghosting Tide is a fun, creepy read, and recommended to all Simon Clark fans and to those who enjoy apocalyptic tales.

--T. T. Zuma

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Shock Totem #1, 2009; 100 pgs; $5.99

Perhaps the most terrifying thing today about the genre we all love is the number of magazines devoted to horror that are dying premature deaths. Six much missed titles quickly come to my mind and I’m sure there are many more that would come to me if I took a few moments to think about it. So imagine my surprise when a group of fearless individuals decided to flip the bird to the current economic bogyman and give us what we can never get enough of, what we all dearly need; a magazine devoted to showcasing fresh new voices in horror.

Shock Totem is a smart looking product. It has a glossy, perfect bound cover showing off a surreal work of art by Robert Hoyem. It is digest sized which is, in my oh so humble opinion, the perfect size for going about town with a magazine, and as I do a lot of my reading away from home this is a big plus. Inside you will find several black and white photos that, while not illustrating any of the fiction, do add some atmosphere. While the magazine is only one hundred pages in length, the typeface is rather small, and while it might cause strain to readers needing their eyeglass prescription checked, it does mean you get a lot of meat on what amounts to a very little bone.

And speaking of meat, let’s get to the writing. Shock Totem has the usual editorial and reviews section that you would expect plus three interviews with John Skipp, Alan Robert, and William Ollie. On addition to the mix that you don’t see in a lot of magazines, or even in anthologies these days, allows the contributing authors a chance to write about their ideas and inspirations for their tales. As I always like reading stuff like that, I found this section an excellent way to end the magazine.

As for the fiction, there are eight short stories, one excerpt for William Ollie’s upcoming novel; Killercon, and a poem by Brian Rosenberger. These are the stories that really struck home with me.

“Music Box” by T.L. Morganfield is a delightful read on many levels. The realistic scenes of a couple’s disintegrating relationship is a good counterweight to the tale’s real stars, a group of sentient toys that witness the mayhem, and one cute, cuddly follow that actually makes some of his own.

Flash fiction is often overlooked and underappreciated but it can be damn hard to pull off. Therefore I must applaud Jennifer Pelland and her very effective “’Til Death Do Us Part”. Here’s hoping Shock Totem continues to offer more tiny terrors in future issues.

Zombie stories are all the rage right now, and while I love the undead quite a lot, their overuse is beginning to wear on even me. Thankfully Brian Rappatta handles the shambling dead very well in his “The Dead March”. The story is really about a boy and his abusive father, but the child does have the amazing ability to bring the dead back to some semblance of life so soon the zombies are, well on the march.  

Perhaps my favorite of the magazine is story at the end, Kurt Newton’s “Thirty-Two Scenes From A Dead Hooker’s Mouth”. I love stories that buck the traditional narrative conventions and this tale is told in reverse as a series of small scenes. It starts with the character’s death and goes all the way back to her birth and highlights various little atrocities along the way. 

Shock Totem #1 is a great debut. I thoroughly enjoyed the magazine from cover to cover and I can’t wait for the second issue to come out. If the team behind the magazine can keep the quality this consistently high from issue to issue then horror fans the world over should rejoice.

-- Brian M. Sammons

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The Golem by Edward Lee; Leisure, 2009; 323 pages; $7.99

From the elements of folklore and myth, Edward Lee raises up a novel of modern-day horror in The Golem.

After striking it rich with the release of his first videogame, Seth Kohn and his girlfriend Judy move into a renovated historic home on Maryland's tranquil Eastern Shore. But they quickly discover that evil dwells in the quiet town of Lowensport, and someone covets what Seth and Judy possess. When Seth takes an unexpected business trip, Judy is trapped in a life-and-death struggle against merciless drug dealers, sorcerers, and a legendary monster that exists only to destroy.

Edward Lee has been called "the hardcore horror king," and fans of even his mass-market paperbacks have come to expect copious amounts of gore from him. In The Golem, Lee does not disappoint: He fills the novel with sex and violence, necrophilia and mutilated genitalia. But this "horror king" proves to be a paradox: At one point in the book, he describes an undead creature ripping a woman's arms from the sockets before raping her; less than ten pages later, his characters are chatting about faith. During this spiritual discussion, Lee sets up his theme of free will; a character insists that God could end suffering in the world, but doing so would defeat His purpose: "We need to [fix] those things ourselves, and we're just not there yet."

As the blood-soaked story continues, Edward Lee shows how we create our own yokes from our addictions; the novel's heroes and villains alike lose their free will as their eyes are transfixed by the objects of their desire. "Just as the woman is cowed by drugs, the captain is cowed by cash," a character proclaims. Or, to quote another book, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Essentially, each character in Lee's novel becomes a kind of living golem, enslaved by success, or greed, or cravings that can never be satisfied. When Judy is sexually assaulted and hooked on drugs again, her tormentor gloats, "She'll do anything we tell her." To ensure that readers grasp the symbolism, Lee includes a scene of Judy being raped atop a barrel of the clay used to create the golems; as her assailant leaves, Judy "felt like something rising from the dead...She looked at the bag of crack and wept."

Still, Lee offers a message of hope in his seemingly hopeless novel: A character says, "We're humans! We screw up! And the only way to alleviate our error is to try as hard as we can to keep our lives in the light of God." And so, toward the end of her ordeal, Judy "prayed to God for the strength" to throw away her drugs; it's no coincidence that she wields the cross from around her neck as a weapon against one of the rapists.

The Golem isn't perfect: There are annoyances, like the way the author uses Judy's character for information dumps. (Even Seth rolls his eyes at Judy's endless knowledge. He says, "My God. Is there anything you don't know?") But Edward Lee should be praised for aspiring to write more than just a "by the numbers" horror novel. By weaving together a gripping historical backstory and a contemporary narrative, presenting thought-provoking ideas on faith side-by-side with wince-inducing gore, and working to "evolve" the golem, Lee has created something original upon which he can proudly stamp his bloody brand.

-- Jeff Edwards

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It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Zombies!, By Michael P. Spradlin; Harper Collins, 2009; 96 pages; $9.99

Zombies, zombies, zombies! Zombies are everywhere these days. They’re in movies, books, video games, comic books, TV (if the announced series based on the zombie comic; The Walking Dead does in fact come out), and even in music. It is to this undead infestation of music that I want to draw your attention. Before when someone one mentioned “music” and “zombie” in the same sentence they were probably talking about Rob Zombie. But now the cavorting corpses have taken over the lyrics of songs devoted to one of our most honored holidays: Christmas. The venerable Christmas carol, once the domain of the charitable and the merry has now been forever tainted by the stench of the rotting and the cadaverous. The results could be called sacrilegious, offensive, and in bad taste. They could be called that, but not by me. I find them hilarious and chances are, if you’re reading this, you will to.

Author Michael P. Spradlin has taken thirty of the most beloved carols and popular Christmas related tunes and has changed the words to reflect the ever growing Undead American point of view. Luckily zombies are atheists (who knew?) and decided to skip the traditional, Christian Christmas songs like “Silent Night”, “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the like. A wise choice as no one needs the image of baby zombie Jesus eating brains in the manger. Oh wait, forget I said that.

Highlights of the collection are “I Saw Mommy Chewing Santa Claus”, “Deck the Halls With Parts of Wally”, and “Have Yourself a Medulla Oblongata”, to name only a few, easily recognizable classics. Modern pop/rock songs are also covered, such as “Undead Christmas” sung to the tune of “Blue Christmas” and possibly even sung by Elvis himself. Of course that assumes The King is not still alive and well and hiding out in Kalamazoo. Even cult favorites like “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” get resurrected into “Grandma Got Turned into a Zombie”. Yay, now one of the most annoying, overplayed songs of the holidays might actually be listenable again. Thank you zombies! 

To add to the overall feeling of wacky wrongness the book evokes so well there are numerous black and white illustrations by artist Jeff Weigel. These depict zombies engaging in a wide array of yuletide yuckiness, such as a merry undead decorating a tree with his own intestines, stockings hung by the chimney with care and the bloody legs still inside them, and other insidiously ingenious illustrations.

For zombie fans getting this book is a no brainer. Ha, get it? Zombies…brains…ugh, never mind. It is a quick, enjoyable read that you’ll catch yourself humming along with as you go. If the undead are your thing then give this one a try when it comes out in November 2009.

-- Brian M. Sammons

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Timescape: Dreamhouse Kings, Book #4 by Robert Liparulo; Thomas Nelson, 2009; 304pages; $14.99

How often does a series keep the suspense building over time? Even tougher, how often does a young adult novel actually frighten readers both young and old(er)? Each of Robert Liparulo’s YA books ends on a cliffhanger that annoys the hell out of you. Who can hold off several months to find out if any of the memorable characters survive, or if the kids did manage to find their mother before she perishes in some strange place or time?  Kudos to the author of the DREAMHOUSE series who ratchets up the suspense more and more while avoiding the pitfalls of many a writer.  He feeds readers bits of backstory here and there, never enmeshing himself too much into the history of the house, the many portals it holds, the times, lands, and horrors they lead to, or from where the dark, mysterious Taksidian came.  The action and characters come first, as they should.

For those new to the Dreamhouse Kings series, what the hell is wrong with you? For any horror, fantasy, or thriller reader, this series is a must.  The house where the Kings move into is more than it seems.  Forget being haunted, this holds far more disturbing and interesting histories.  Many a doorway exists as a portal to some strange land or time, many that nearly kill the main characters and make one think about the period of history to where each leads.  Teens Xander and David lead the adventure as their mother disappears, taken by a behemoth of a man, and is seemingly lost, or dead. For once, the adults do not act as boneheaded klutzes.  Rather, the father’s on a mission of his own which began when his own mother was taken by the house decades ago. Mysterious Uncle Jessie and his helper from the nursing home, Keal, show up and reveal he designed the place as well as hint at the relationship with Taksidian.

This time out, the crew recovers from their excursion to a future land where an apocalypse has devastated the country and strange creatures rule.  More odd, frightening trips through the portals and time bring the reader into Liparulo’s mind.   No spoilers here, but the fourth book definitely ups the ante here and jumps into top speed from the first page.

-- Dave Simms

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Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Stories of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox and Unusual from the magazine "Morbid Curiosity," edited by Loren Rhoads; Simon & Schuster, 2009; 320 pages; $14.99

San Francisco Weekly called Morbid Curiosity (the magazine) “the Readers’Digest of the Dark Side.”  With sections such as “Childhood’s End”, “Far From Home”, “Gainful Employment”, “Curious Behavior”, “Morbid Medicine”, and “Exploring behind the Curtain,” could they be wrong?  The magazine was one of the most brutal, fascinating, and funny publications to hit the horror scene, ever, so when Loren Rhoads combed the ten issues in search of the best stories, a boring read could never occur – for anyone with a pulse.  Think of Morbid Curiosity as Penthouse Forum letters for the disturbed crowd – except that these occurrences probably did happen.

Standout “stories” are touching, “You Lock it Behind You,” “A Night in the house of Dr. Moreau,”  weird, “Feed,” “Man-o-Gram, Guys Shouldn’t Give Milk,” and just freaking scary or disturbing, “Black Mass,” “Souvenir of Hell.”  Yet that shouldn’t deter readers from the other entries – all have merit in some wacky way or another.  Some say that truth is stranger than fiction – maybe that’s true.  If the writers within attempted to insert these incidents in a short story, credulity might be pushed to the breaking point. 

What it all boils down to is that this collection probably will be one of the strangest reads ever to enter the mind, knowing that Loren Rhoads prides herself on getting realistic accounts.   Want more details?  Pick it up and worry about the therapy bill later.

-- Dave Simms

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Black Static 11 Magazine

Another issue, another superb offering in the realm of horror mags. Eleven straight quality issues, all winners – except for one other obvious example, how many periodicals in the darker realms can make this claim? From the slick art of the covers to the many monthly goodies inside, no other British horror magazine can compare.

Chris Fowler’s articles always hit a nerve, particularly with writers and true fans of quality horror.  His take on the death of a critic begins seething and ends resigned, just as the death of quality movies and the world’s expectations have.  The film reviews are plentiful and give more than insight and humor – they often give away copies of the DVD. 

Then there are the book reviews. Instead of simply reviewing the most popular titles or digging deep to unearth hidden treasures (which they do as well), Black Static spotlights an author or two and reviews most, if not all of their books.   This month, they focus on Charlaine Harris, the author of the Sookie Stackhouse series which spawned the hit show True Blood.

However, the limelight falls squarely on Gary Braunbeck and his exquisite, dark but heartfelt and terrifying stories.  Try finding an equal in a newer horror author these days – he’s easily head and shoulders above the rest.  The many Stoker awards on his mantle prove he touches the souls of many a reader yet for some unfair reason, he is yet to become a household name.   Each novel in the Cedar Hill mythos is reviewed in depth but the real treat is the spotlight interview. Probing questions reveal secrets in his tormented soul, as well as humor and his insight into how Cedar Hill came to be.  This expose’ of Braunbeck’s writing and mind are sure to win over at least a few new fans.

Finally, there are the stories. Each one works and even though Steve Rasnic Tem is the only “name,” as Black Static fosters new talent more than most high quality fiction magazines, many a gem resides within the pages.  Give it a try.  The best mag on the other side of the pond.

-- Dave Simms

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Previous reviews now appear in the Archives