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Lost in Darkness by Jeffrey Thomas

Review by Peter Schwotzer

Originally published in Famous Monsters of Filmland

In Jeffrey Thomas’s latest effort LOST IN DARKNESS from Bad Moon Books he again surprises me with the direction of this novel. What I love about Jeff is his ability and talent to change things up from book to book. He can be as visceral and bloody as they come, but he can also write a moving atmospheric tale steeped in the supernatural.

With “Lost In Darkness” Jeff manages to accomplish just that.

A 14 year old girl is hit by a car on Halloween night trying to saver her friend. She has one of those near death experiences. Yet, hers is completely real and three dark beings attach a ride back to the land of the living with her, along with another being from the realm of the dead.

What I liked most about this book were the characters and the storyline.

The characters were vibrant and real, the interaction between the three teenage friends was believable and life like.

Jeff took the ages old idea of “what comes after” and put his own macabre twist on it and with the “Shadow Beings” came up with some really great and interesting creatures.

The story started quickly and I was immediately drawn into the story. Jeff kept me turning the pages quickly, wanting to find out what happened next.

All in all another superb effort by on of the best writers working in dark fiction today and a little different than what I have read from Jeff in the past, not that I have read everything he has written…yet.

If you are looking for a book with great characters and a fresh, frightening twist on “what comes after” you must read “Lost In Darkness” and I highly recommend it.

Everything Howls by Christopher Lopez

Review by Peter Schwotzer

Originally published in Famous Monsters of Filmland, March 20, 2012

In his debut novel EVERYTHNG HOWLS Christopher Lopez puts his own spin on the “Wendigo” legend and does it exceptionally well, with a frightening, bloody tale set in the midst of a monster snow storm.

The story is well written and fast paced. The frights come at you fast and furious as Christopher builds up the desolation and dread from the howling snowstorm that has blanketed the town of Keme.

I really enjoyed the main characters, they were very well done and three dimensional. I came to care about what happened to them and thus was really drawn into the story.

I also especially liked his interpretation of the “Wendigo” legend. I won’t spoil it by revealing it here, but it is safe to say that is one of the most original one’s I’ve read and the creature he created was especially terrifying.

All in all for a first novel “Everything Howls” is pretty impressive. Christopher was able to really captivate me with the story and the characters. The ending was equally impressive and was quite shocking as I really didn’t see it coming.

I am looking forward to more from Christopher in the future and I highly recommend “Everything Howls” to anyone who is looking for a superb horror tale.

I must also say that this is a really nice book by Bad Moon Books, as I have come to expect from them, I especially love the cover art, captures the feel and desolation of the story beautifully.

Lost in Darkness by Jeffrey Thomas

Originally published in Hellnotes

Ah, adolescence: the betwixt and between. Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered; especially at twilight; and hey, ain’t supernatural love grand? Lost in Darkness author Jeffery Thomas not only embraces the agony and ecstasy of adolescence – he French kisses it. Swoony with barely suppressed desires and other seductive horrors, Thomas plays to the ‘tweens and teen in us all. While probably aimed at the popular young adult market, LOST IN DARKNESS has appeal beyond it. Recalling that facial blush, and the blood rush to the ears and alternative sensory zones, reminds of those endearing young charms. And, when the otherworldly is involved – oh my, the possibilities are endlessly rapturous.

Dana Tower is a lovely adolescent out on Halloween, trick-or-treating with two contemporaries, a girl and guy. Said guy is covertly enamored of Dana, and the girl is an argumentative Goth with attitude. During the course of the evening, personality and posturing lead to an accident. Dana is hit by a car and suffers serious brain injury. While in a nether state of consciousness, she connects with three evil unearthly entities, and one celestially fine fellow. They follow her back to earth as she recovers. One of the malevolent trio assumes the guise of a dark-haired hottie male. Needless to say, the protagonist and her gal pal are both attracted to it/him. On the side of light, is the predictably blond angelic ghost who is also extremely alluring. Dana is drawn to the two opposites for different reasons; although the bottom line, so to speak, is rather basic.

Libido may be all well and good while simultaneously being down and dirty, but Dana does periodically come up for air. And with a clarity of vision unusual for one of her years and hormones, she fights the noble battle against the nasties who want to infiltrate our dimension with their diabolical takeover. Spoiler: Actual soul kissing is the means of achieving their nefarious goal. But the same application applies to aiding the spiritual and soulful blond cupcake. Sigh and surrender? Yes! Seldom has the term “no brainer” been so literally appropriate.

The dark fantasy side of Steven Spielberg comes to mind in this horror-lite look at untested youth confronting creatures with baleful intentions. A sequence with a demonic teddy bear is reminiscent of the clown toy in Spielberg’s/Tobe Hooper’s movie Poltergeist: “As she watched his cute, harmless face, his little smile grew wider. His mouth opened to grin at her. It was full of multiple rows of sharp teeth, like the jaws of a shark. Dana wanted to scream, but when she opened her mouth the darkness poured down her throat like a liquid … black waters that were drowning her. She began to wave her arms in panic. She saw those purple glowing eyes coming closer to her. The grin of sharp teeth kept growing wider … wider.”

The title Lost in Darkness may be interpreted as a metaphor for sifting through the complicated dynamics of passion, loyalty, uncertainty, and acceptance. The character of Dana Tower is a tough and sweet chick. She can square her shoulders, yet is not immune from going weak in the knees. Jeffrey Thomas infuses her with youthful exuberance and dogged determination; reminding us that challenges, mysterious or mundane, can be fulfilling and rhapsodic.

Rough Cut by Brian Pinkerton

Originally published in Horrornews.net, March 4, 2012

Wow. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think of Brian Pinkerton’s novel ROUGH CUT. I was absolutely enthralled with it from beginning to end and am a little sad that I am done with it due to the fact I was having such a blast while I was reading it. The book is entertaining, well-written, has some excellent, realistic characters, and is just a fun read in general. There are a lot of things to like about Rough Cut and it is without a doubt the best book that I have read this year.

While I liked a lot of things about the book the one thing that stood out the most was just the overall plot. I wasn’t exactly sure where Pinkerton was going with it at first since Tuttle and Marcus Stegman (the young filmmaker responsible for the movie that Tuttle tries to pass off as his own) have a pretty friendly relationship (so to speak), but once we find out that Stegman is quite out of his mind and has no qualms about murdering people everything falls into place and the fun begins. I had an awesome time trying to figure out how everything was going to play out and how Harry was going to get out of the some of the situations that he gets into as a result of Stegman’s actions. There are certain parts that are just tense as hell (the bit where Tuttle is dumping the film critic’s body and the cop shows up comes to mind), and the final confrontation between Harry and Stegman is thrilling and didn’t leave me feeling disappointed at all. One of the things that I really liked most about the book is that the plot is moving right along and Harry has finally gotten everything that he wants and then we (and Harry) find out something that Stegman has done that comes out of nowhere that kicks things into overdrive. I also really liked the subplot involving the abused woman who runs away from her asshole husband, and while it is a little confusing at first and takes a while to connect to the main story the payoff is pretty awesome and plays a key role in the plot.

The characters from the book are nothing short of awesome. I totally loved Harry and in some ways I can totally relate to him. I have worked on some low budget horror films and know that most people don’t take them seriously. I would love to one day be a respected filmmaker (and writer), so I can understand why Harry feels the way he does about making a movie that people care about. He is just a well-rounded character that reminded me a lot of Roger Corman or Lloyd Kaufman due to the types of movies that he makes. Stegman is a great character as well, and while he comes off as just a harmless oddball at first he quickly shows us that he is actually a creepy, insane, junkie who likes killing others, especially if they could cause him trouble or if they just get in his way in general. I dug Rachel, Tuttle’s love interest and struggling actress as well, and Lenny (the abusive husband) is just a total piece of shit that you love to hate. He is one of those types of people who sees nothing wrong with beating the hell out of his wife (and anyone else) and looks at her like she is his personal property. I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that he eventually gets what he deserves in a very cool (and violent) way.

Pinkerton is a very talented writer and has a great deal of knowledge about the inner workings of the film industry, which is one of the reasons that this book is as good as it is. I really like his writing style and even though the book clocks in at nearly 400 pages I read it pretty quickly. Pinkerton gets to the point and doesn’t beat around the bush like some writers do. He doesn’t ramble on for pages on end just to pad out the length to make the book as long as possible (why do some writers think that the longer their books are the better they are?) and there wasn’t a single instance where I felt bored while I was reading it and was tempted to skip ahead a few pages. It held my interest from beginning to end and as I said earlier I was a bit saddened when I finished it because I found myself wanting more.

As you can tell I really enjoyed Rough Cut. It is an awesome book that I think will really appeal to many horror fans (or fans of good books in general) out there. To be honest there is really nothing bad that I can say about it and I think that Pinkerton should feel very proud of his work. If you are in the mood for just a fun read in general then I suggest you pick up a copy of this book and be prepared to be fully entertained.

Snake Eyes by Joseph D'Lacey

Originally published in The Eloquent Page, January 10, 2012

Last year I had the good fortune to read The Kill Crew and then Meat by Joseph D’Lacey. Each were superb examples of the horror genre, both are darkly bleak but utterly compelling. D’Lacey’s latest publication is SNAKE EYES, a single volume split into two separate novellas. This is a slight departure for the author as the first story moves into the realms of science fiction while the second has a more fantastical tone.

I don’t want to delve to deeply into the plot of the first novella, A Man of Will and Experience, I believe that part of the enjoyment of this particular story is making discoveries yourself, but what I will say is be prepared to explore a landscape that shifts on more than one occasion. Be ready for an experience that feels akin to reading without the aid of a safety net.

The story veers off in some unexpected, but entirely welcome, directions that will keep any reader on their toes. I’m confident that no one who reads this will figure out the conclusion in advance. You can’t help but be impressed when a writer elegantly re-defines a reader’s expectations multiple times in a single story. Every time I reached a point where I thought I had the plot sussed, D’Lacey throws in another literary curve-ball. I really enjoy writing like this, authors who encourage their reader to engage the old grey matter are a delight to read.

At its heart A Man of Will and Experience is about the pursuit of an ultimate answer. Johnson, the single constant in the entire story, is compelled to keep moving forward. He cannot stop until he finds out why he is in the situation that he is in.

How best to sum up A Man of Will and Experience? Try and imagine the most twisted, mind bending episode of The Twilight Zone you can think of. Got it? Good, now make it far twistier than that.

The weirdest thing, and I admit that this may be pretty specific to me, is that I actually know someone called Robert Johnson. I have a sneaking suspicion that every time I bump in to him in future I’ll be sneakily glancing at the top of his head.

The second novella, A Trespasser in Long Lofting, fits more into the realms of the supernatural. Things start small and I enjoyed the pace of the set up, from the descriptions of the crumbling village to a couple of farmers bickering out in their field. It brings a nice air of familiarity to proceedings. When the Trespasser arrives all the villagers gather together. Everyone voices their opinions, and you get some subtle hints at a colourful history that exists between the various members of the group.

The Trespasser’s presence begins to cause friction within the village and it’s not long before the situation starts to spiral out of control.  Like the characters in a classic fairy tale the villagers of Long Lofting are confronted with a force that challenges their entire belief system. I enjoy any story where normal people are thrown up again extraordinary events.

There are some wonderful darkly comic moments scattered throughout the narrative. The bickering I mentioned earlier, characters using some truly inventive slang (which I fully intend to try and use regularly myself) as well as the revelation of the trespasser’s name being particularly funny.

D’Lacey’s writing continues to go from strength the strength and he deserves as large an audience as is possible. He proves with these two novellas that he is just as comfortable writing science fiction and fantasy as he is with horror.

Return to Darkness by Michael Laimo

Review by Nick Cato

Originally published in The Horror Fiction Review, December 30, 2011

This sequel to the author's 2004 DEEP IN THE DARKNESS picks up right where things left off seven years ago. The backstory: Dr. Michael Cayle--who has moved his family from Manhattan to a small town in New Hampshire--becomes a slave to a race of small creatures known as Isolates. They hold his wife and daughter prisoner as they force Michael to heal their sick and mend their wounded in their underground lair. The creatures have control of everyone in town, and five surrounding towns are also under their spell, making escape impossible.

RETURN TO DARKNESS finds Dr. Michael about to committ suicide, when the thought of his wife and daughter out there in the woods convinces him to go on with the hellish ordeal. His wife--having been raped by an Isolate and given birth to a demon baby in the first novel--now has Isolate DNA running through her veins. She appears to Michael as a half human/half monster...but his young daughter Jessica still seems to be all human. The only way for Michael to get his family back is to have a different person sacrifice an animal to the creatures...a feat that was put on him by an alleged friend, a ritual that has been the town's dark tradition for centuries.

A family of four move in to the neighborhood, and before long Michael plans ways to get one of them to take his place. But the father is a drunk lunatic, his wife and teenage son no better. The eighteen-year-old daughter Shea, however, takes a liking to Michael, and before long helps him find his daughter while he helps her to get revenge on her father who has raped and abused her since she was a child.

What follows is a bloody horrific time as Michael--with increasingly poor health due to struggles with the Isolates--plots a way to escape the cursed town with his daughter, all the while wondering what to do about his possessed wife and his feelings for the young girl who risks life and limb to help him.

Like DEEP IN THE DARKNESS, RETURN is chock-full of suspense, plenty of scares and creepy atmosphere, and an impending sense of doom that'll leave readers breathless. Laimo gives the "ancient evil in a small town" thing a fresh kick in the pants here, delivering a sequel that's every bit as frightening as its predecessor. This is MUST reading for fans of DEEP, and while newbies will get a better effect if they read DEEP first, there's still enough background given to make it work as a stand alone novel.

The seven year wait for RETURN was well worth it, from its fast paced opening right up to the darker than dark finale.

Monsters of L.A. by Lisa Morton

Originally published in Passion for Novels, December 14, 2011

This collection of short stories is one of the best I've read, some intertwine within each other and some are stand alone but the adaptations of popular myths and monsters is brilliant. My particular favourite was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which is one of my favourite books anyway. Morton makes Dr Jekyll a woman and the potion he takes is trying to make her a man and is likely to stun everyone with her new way of gender changing. The drug is brilliant, she becomes Mr Hyde, but her sexual impulses get the better of her and she becomes very violent. This is one of the longer narratives in the book but I was very pleased about this. 

The very essence of this book is to adapt popular fiction and find new and interesting ways of retelling them and it works amazingly well. Ironically the only story I disliked was the longest one near the end of the book, which is why the book only got four stars instead of five. I did like the little commentary at the end of why Morton chose to write the stories in the ways she did and I found it increased the enjoyment of the stories. But of course, if you don't want to read that section you don't have to.

Some of the stories are intended to be scary, I was a little scared in the haunted house, yet when you discover the true reason of why the house is behaving the way it does its a fantastic story. It takes on the role of the house as a speaker at some points which is a really inventive way of understanding what took place in the house. The Slasher is also one to make you cringe a little as well as the fear of The Killer Clown which sparks of the fear of clowns within everyone.

Dracula was a story which I thought I wouldn't like but the combination of the classic take on Dracula moulded with the modern versions of vampires was incredible. I found myself laughing out loud at the end of the book when I realised who the other character was actually meant to be based upon. Of course as always I won't give it away! 

Stories such as Frankenstein and The Mad Scientist are linked in very interesting ways, The Mad Scientist is actually a doctor who tried to save a man's life. Overall I enjoyed this collection lots and found myself feeling a lot of various emotions while reading it! Morton is very talented at adapting the stories to create her own interesting take on them!!

Monsters of L.A. by Lisa Morton

Originally published in Rants-N-Scribbles, December 5, 2011

As I have mentioned before, I'm generally not a big fan of anthologies. The reason I accepted Lisa Morton's MONSTERS OF L.A. is because since I have started reviewing I have drifted away from my horror roots and focused more on the ever popular YA novels. With this anthology I thought it would be a great way to work some horror back to my reading in bits and pieces.

There were many things that made this collection quite enjoyable. First off, some of the stories slightly overlap with each other, not enough that you have to read them all in order or miss out, but just enough to make you smile when you read about a character from another story, or an event. It was quite ingenious to weave those in. The best part of this collection is the comparison of the monsters from my childhood, to more modern stories, events and people. And the best thing about this anthology? The writing. The humour alone was enough to leave me in giggling hysterical fits as I rode home on the subway. (Especially a very awesome vampire crack...and if you read it you know exactly what I am talking about!)

I also love how the author provided background information on the stories, however I feel they should have been placed with each story individually instead of at the end as more of a reference. I think it would have made the story to read the background first and then dive in prepared, especially if you weren't familiar with the monster in a particular story.

One other little thing that bothered me was that one longer piece was included, and although I enjoyed it, I feel it should have been left as the very last story in the collection to avoid interrupting the nice flow that was going on up until then.

As usual, I feel the need to rate and review each story separately, not finding it quite fair for each story to be based on the anthology overall grade. This is very time consuming and why I don't do this very often.

Now on with the ratings!

Frankenstein - 5/5
This story fits the Frankenstein model very well. It was a good length, evoked the perfect emotions and was very well written. I loved it!

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde - 3/5
I found this story too be too long and often too confusing. I think it would worked better as a longer/novella length piece at minimum. It would have been better to get inside the doctor's head a little more to find out more about the motives for what she was doing. Some parts seemed to be missing and some emotional reactions from the characters also seemed to be lacking. I was not a fan of this story.

The Phantom - 4/5
The Phantom of the Opera has been one of my favourite tales as long as I can remember, and Lisa Morton did a fabulous job with her interpretation. I love the uniqueness she has added by making the phantom a female junkie who was ruined by fame. It was lovely. My only real complaint is that is was way too short and I would have loved to read more.

The Hunchback - 5/5
I'm ashamed to say I have never read the original Hunchback story, but I know the Disney version remarkably well (thanks to having a young Disney obsessed child), so some of the story was unfamiliar to me, and kind of a spoiler at the end, but I can't blame the author for my lack of knowledge. I think it was brilliant that the author used a gay male student who was the constant target for bullies as the Hunchback character. This story was so well written that even though I saw the end coming it was still just as emotional.

Dracula - 5/5
At first I found the humour in this story to be slightly irritating, but once I figured out what was going on I realized just how perfect for this story it was. Dracula being shown as this egotistical movie star was hilarious, especially once he starts getting upstaged by his new on the scene co-star. If this story doesn't make you laugh there is something wrong with you!

The Bride - 3/5
I liked how this story tied in with Frankenstein, but that was all I really enjoyed about it. It was really too short to develop any emotional bond to the main character. The events also came off as too coincidental for me. 

The Mummy - 4/5
This story started off strong but I felt it fell apart as it approached the end. I was left confused as to the motivation for what is going on and how things will move forward from here. (Although a little more does come to light in The Zombie story, but still not enough to make me want to rate it higher.)

The Invisible Woman - 3/5
This was an interesting concept, but I don't think it came together as well as the author hoped. Part of the reason for this is it's too short length. It's always hard to make an idea clear and concise in a limited amount of words, but it's especially difficult when you tackle more difficult topics. I would love to reread this as a longer piece.

The Mad Scientist - 2/5
This story was way too short to be enjoyable. It almost felt as if it was simply thrown in to fill space and cover another monster topic. I really wanted to know more about the doctor and his work, the bond he had with his wife that would lead him to do what he did, and so much more. A little more from this story comes up in The Zombie, but still not nearly enough to make me happy.

The Werewolf - 4/5
I loved the idea of the werewolf as a famous musician who sort of "wolfs-out" on stage to make his music better. I felt really bad for his assistant though and all the stuff that nasty werewolf put him through. The ending left me highly confused as I don't understand why things didn't go another way...of course I can't say why because that would ruin it...but yeah...

The Haunted House - 5/5
I absolutely loved this story. I think it might have been my favourite of the whole collection. It tells the story of an old house and how this ghost hunter show tries to make it into a haunted house to raise their ratings. The house is so upset because all it wants is to be happy and have a family live inside to take care of it, and it feels like these ghost hunters are ruining her chances at happiness. It was fabulously written and I highly enjoyed it!

Cat People 4/5
This was an odd and quirky story. I had no background knowledge of "cat people" so I went into it completely blind. I feel in love with the main character, a young woman who feels like she has been walked all over most of her life and becomes obsessed with this female cat creature because she portrays a strong feminine role. It was quite an interesting read and I did enjoy it. I like how part of it surfaces again in another story.

The Creature 3/5
I'm not overly sure how I feel about this story. It started out very well. I liked the whole creature from the black lagoon coming out of the famous tar pits angle...and I liked everything including the creature as a whole...but once the story spun off into life with one of the characters after the event it lost me, and I started hating it. Sometimes authors just need to know when to end it. Often that is the hardest part...they either gone on too long, or not long enough.

The Alien 2/5
I actually had to go back and skim this story a second time when I came to write the review. It was spectacular, a simple story about a plant that shows up one day and seems to alter the thoughts of those who come in contact with it. The writing was good but the story itself just didn't stand out.

Kaiju (Giant Monster) 4/5
This was an interesting tale about a giant monster that comes out of the water (kind of like a Godzilla) but seems to take extreme care in not hurting anyone...ironically enough it is a human male who does most of the damage as he tries to "save" the people around him.

The Devil 4/5
I really liked this story as well. We have this poor guy who is terrified of haunted houses and he is being dragged to one of those haunted house type rides at an amusement park by a woman he really wants to impress. Obviously he can't wimp out and forces himself to "man-up" for her sake. The ending was slightly unexpected and very well done.

The Slasher 4/5
The writing in this story had a beautiful and creepy flow to it. The whole fascination with the crack in the foundation that draws the main character in is very well done. I think a little of the story that is told by the secondary character is a little over the top, but it is a horror story, so I guess it is to be expected.

The Killer Clown 4/5
This story creeped me out the most. As a small part of the story makes reference to, the clown from Stephen King's It has always scared the daylights out of me, so to me, as to the main character in this story, clowns are scary scary creatures. Add to that that this story has an "It" nightmarish kind of feel to it and you have the makings of many sleepless nights for me in the future. The one things that did bother me with this story is that if my fear of clowns was as crippling as this young woman's...I think my boyfriend would be a little more careful about not only dressing up as a clown for Halloween (that's just pure heartless) but also taking her to a location that has a giant clown as a mascot. Just saying...

The Urban Legend 4/5
I really enjoyed this story, however, due to it's more novella like length I feel like it should have been placed at the very end of the collection. I loved seeing the growth of the main character, especially through her relationships. She was a very strong woman, which was easy for us all to see, but she couldn't realize it herself until the end. I would like to read more from this story...and I actually think the author might have more coming.

The Zombie 5/5
I'm not a huge fan of zombies, but Lisa Morton wrote a fantastic zombie story in this collection. I can't say too much without ruining it, but it nicely weaves together a few of the other stories from this collection and paints a vivid picture of a post-apocalyptic world and the characters trapped within it.

Overall this was a great collection and I highly enjoyed reading it. I'm glad I took the chance on it, and it was wonderful to have a little horror thrust into my world for however short a time.

When the Leaves Fall by Paul Melniczek

Review by Peter Schwotzer

Originally published in Famous Monsters of Filmland, December 6, 2011

Paul Melniczek is quickly becoming to Halloween stories what Santa Claus is to Christmas.

With WHEN THE LEAVES FALL Paul further cements his position as one of the best new authors in horror today. It is a short but powerful tale of small town life, youth, friendship and Halloween.

When Chris and Kyle decide to visit the town’s haunted house they discover secrets that would have been better left alone. Secrets that ultimately change everything they thought about their quaint little town.

Coming in at 100 pages this is a book that can be read in one sitting. Which is good because once you start you won’t want to put it down until you finish.

If you are looking for a little Halloween to inject into your life during this years Holiday season I would suggest using the links above to get this wonderful Halloween tale, I highly recommend it.

I also have to mention that this a really beautiful book with cover art by Caroline O’Neal.

Heart of Glass by David Winnick

Review by Dan Reilly

Originally published in Fear.net, November 4, 2011

Heart of Glass was my first exposure to the fiction of David Winnick, but I doubt it'll be the last I hear of him. Winnick formerly worked as a freelance journalist for Wizard magazine, and based on the Author Bio at the back of the chapbook, this might very well be his first piece of published fiction. The heart of the story is simple: Adam and Sonia are a young married couple who have hit a rough patch…Adam feels that the love has gone out of their relationship, at least on Sonia's side of things. They go through their life together in an almost robotic manner, working and doing chores and watching TV, but Adam longs for the days when Sonia loved him with the same burning intensity that he still feels for her. One day, while shopping at a local antique mall, Adam spots an unusual treasure: A jigsaw puzzle made entirely of glass. With fond memories of a childhood spent assembling puzzles with his parents and sister, Adam purchases it, hoping that it could be the thing that helps him reconnect with the seemingly distant Sonia. Things are about to change in their relationship, but not necessarily in the manner that Adam might have hoped.

Winnick has an easy-to-read, engaging writing style, and he makes the young couple seem very real, especially to anyone who has been married themselves. I especially appreciated the way that he conveyed Sonia's point of view, in what had previously been a very one-sided narrative. Although Heart of Glass is clearly headed into out-of-the-ordinary territory from the very beginning, the final few pages, where events leave the realm of the everyday, is where Winnick started to lose me. I didn't dislike the ending, but it did feel rather abrupt and out of place with what had gone before.

Rough Cut by Brian Pinkerton

Review by Nick Cato

Originally published in Antibacterial Pope, October 15, 2011

Harry Tuttle directed a few popular horror films in the 80s.  Since then he has been churning out bad, low budget features, many which go direct to DVD or cable TV, barely keeping a cult following.  When his ex-wife marries a hot-shot Hollywood director and begins to get famous, he becomes inspired to get back on track.  The problem is, Harry finally comes to the realization that he just doesn't have it anymore.  He has become a hack.

One day he screens a new film given to him by a young wanna-be director.  The film, 'Deadly Desires,' blows Harry away; it's the most realistic, scary horror film he's seen in ages.  He strikes a deal with the new director (Marcus Stegman) to release the film, only with himself credited as director.  Marcus--badly in need of cash--eventually agrees.  Sure enough, Deadly Desires becomes a huge hit, and Harry's career seems back on track, bigger and better than before.

When a popular film critic interviews Harry, he also watches a screener DVD of Deadly Desires, and becomes convinced one of the kill scenes is too real to have been faked.  And when no one can get in touch with the actress who dies on film, all hell breaks loose: Harry realizes he has bought a genuine snuff film, and Marcus is currently at work on another one, this time targeting Harry's new girlfriend who also happens to be an actress.

ROUGH CUT features a well-crafted plot, tight writing, and a fantastic level of suspense.  Although aimed at a horror audience, this novel will also be enjoyed by fans of thrillers and crime fiction.  It's apparent Pinkerton has done his homework here: his portrayal of the ins and outs of the film business kept me as interested in the proceedings as the ever-growing tension.  You won't be bored for a second.

Ursa Major by John R. Little

Originally published in Dreadful Tales, September 5, 2011

“What a story!”

That’s exactly what I said when I put this one down. I’d never read Little’s work before, but after the nail biting insanity that is URSA MAJOR, I just found myself completely at a loos for words. This is an intense and brutal ride. Little is obviously a master of his craft.

A peaceful camping trip turns ugly as a step-father and daughter come face-to-face with a blood thirsty, mindless force. What happens when you have to make decisions that have no pleasant options?

There’s little in the way of an explanation in that synopsis. I know, I keep talking about “synopsis this” and “synopsis that”, but I find that with the right bit of information, you can make a book sound as intriguing as it’s supposed to sound. Ursa Major deserves something on a much more grand scale. Something like – “This book will make you weak in the knees before throwing you to the ground in utter despair, begging for the writer to stop before your heart explodes.” Yeah, something like that. Ursa Major is really exactly that. It’s a whirlwind trip into the mind of an author who is not afraid to make his readers severely uncomfortable with the situations he is likely to put his characters into.

Little’s characters are 100% rock solid, giving the reader more to latch onto, but also making it that much harder to watch as they face excruciatingly terrifying trials and tribulations. We see what’s ahead of them, and know full well that this will not end nicely. Hell, it says so right in the synopsis – “…no pleasant options…” The author doesn’t even stop with that, instead pickingup the pace, making the unthinkable happen, and then bringing the world crashing down all over again. His power to deceive the reader into thinking on a different path is brilliant. For one, I thought that the main character was a believable, likeable man, only doing what he thought was right. It was painful to see what Little put him through. After all, he could be any one of us. And after this novella, I won’t be camping up North any time soon. That’s for sure.

The story is short. It’s 64 pages. Short. But it’s packed with so much action and so much stress, it’s damned near impossible to come away from this without losing one’s breath. There really isn’t a slow point during the telling of the tale, at all. Even the back story  that is interspersed throughout is rapid fire. From my description, one might surmise that the wasy Little writes is like a machine gun on full auto, but it’s not. If you haven’t read Little’s work before, let me tell you something here: You’re aout to find out what it is to see writing that is so damned close to perfect, that’s it’s almost unbelievable. He makes this look easy. Everything fits perfectly where it should, and stands as if it was waiting for its time to shine. The prose here is beautiful. I’m now a John Little fan, through and through.

The Red Empire by Joe McKinney

Review by Peter Schwotzer

Originally published in Literary Mayhem, August 26, 2011

While going through what seems like a mountain of books to be read, (my TBR pile), I was in the mood for something short. I had just finished Sandy DeLuca’s “Descent” and wanted something a little lighter, and fun if you will.

I pulled out a copy of THE RED EMPIRE that the wonderful people at Bad Moon Books had sent me and after reading the back cover I said, yes this sounds awesome.

I was not disappointed, “The Red Empire is a book that brought me back to my childhood watching Creature Feature on Saturday afternoons. These weren’t the giant ants from the classic “Them” but I think “The Red Empire” would not have had any trouble with their bigger brothers.

I have had experience with fire ants when I lived in Florida and know full well what they can do. But if you have the defense department genetically alter ants to be used as a weapon, you know that something will go horribly wrong, and that is when the fun begins.

Coming in at 154 pages,  it can be read in one sitting, at least for me. The story starts quickly and introduces the main characters in the first few chapters. I found the characters to be very lifelike and enjoyable, the action was fast paced and the story well written, my only complaint being I wished it was longer.

If you have a couple hours of spare time you would be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable way to spend it than sitting down with a copy of “The Red Empire.” Use the above links to pick up a copy, you will not be disappointed.

The Red Empire by Joe McKinney

Review by Mike McCarty

Originally published in Horror World, July 17, 2011

Born in the Atomic Age, science fiction and horror films featuring big bugs crawled onto the cinema screens in the 1950s and haven’t stopped crawling ever since. Why? Simply put, fear of the bomb and the fear of the bug combine well in creating terrifying tales. With the end of Cold War era, could the creepy-crawling terror possible continue? You betcha! This is especially true with THE RED EMPIRE, Joe McKinney’s frightening sci-fi novella swarming with nasty little bugs.

The Red Empire is the U.S. Army’s secret weapon against insurgents and conflicts throughout the world. Inch long, super-intelligent fire ants capable of taking out any enemy quickly. A monstrous colonel of million of these buggies were created; they breed fast and eat flesh even faster. The military was transporting the critters along the Texas-Mexico border when the military truck was washed out and the red ants got loose. Around the same time, Amy Bloom was returning home with her daughter who just had received surgery on her eyes. To make matters worse, a violent psychopath convicted escaped from the U.S. Marshals.

I wasn’t sure how Joe McKinney could handle writing a science fiction book, because he is primarily known for his zombie horror books: Dead City, Apocalypse of The Dead and Flesh Eaters. What makes Joe’s horror so exciting works in the sci-fi genre too; Joe gives his zombies a rational explanation for something that seemingly impossible to happen. And that is why The Red Empire is so damn good too, it feels real — real as inch long fire ants crawling up your pants and eating your flesh.

Although The Red Empire isn’t the big bug variety of the 1950s Atomic Age, it is still a creep-crawly classic for modern times with plenty of chills and thrills packed into this little book. Highly recommended.

A View From the Lake by Greg F. Gifune

Review by Peter Schwotzer

Originally published in Horrornews.net, July 18, 2011

Greg F. Gifune’s A VIEW FROM THE LAKE is an unrelenting journey into the depths of madness and terror that will forever change the way you look at a snowstorm or your favorite lake again.

There are not too many authors that can actually scare me, Mr. Gifune is one of them.

“A View From The Lake” is one of the best ghost stories I have ever read. Though calling it a simple ghost story might be an injustice, it is so much more than that. I found it very hard to turn the lights out after I finished, it had that much of an impact. This book will stay with you long after you finish the last page.

From the very first page Mr. Gifune draws you into a world of madness, where things aren’t always what they appear to be. His prose is dark and disturbing, the atmosphere haunting and unsettling. Mr. Gifune leads you on a horrific journey that ends….you, my friend will have to read the book to find that out, but it is safe to say the ending will leave you breathless and shaken.

Mr. Gifune continues to push the boundaries of what dark fiction can be, and in my opinion one of the best authors in the dark fiction. If you have not yet read anything by Mr. Gifune what are you waiting for, use the link above to order “A View From The Lake”, I guarantee you will not be disappointed and I give it my highest recommendation.

Black & Orange by Brian Kane Ethridge

Book Trailer

Rough Cut by Brian Pinkerton

Review by Jordan Norton

Originally published in The Crow's Caw, July 9, 2011

An abused wife tormented daily by her husband’s rage and fists… a violent, alcoholic husband angry at life…a horror film director on the wrong side of a steadily declining career… his protégé with the goods to shock the entertainment industry coupled with an out of control coke habit… a wannabe actress searching for her big break. Life’s road is different for everyone but for these five people, it ultimately leads to the same dark and horrific place: Hollywood.

ROUGH CUT is a gripping story (and I mean gripping in the purest sense of the word… it literally would not let me go until I read the last page) about the film industry and more specifically, the horror film industry. Harry Tuttle is a very likeable director who managed to secure a cult following during his earlier filmmaking years but has seen picture after picture get worse and worse reviews. And even though his production company believes firmly in “quantity over quality”, Harry just isn’t willing to accept the fact that his middle age has arrived with nothing of significance to show for it.

One day, a young man named Marcus Stegman shows up at PJ Productions hoping to have his new film screened by Harry and Harry agrees (even though the little voice inside his head is saying “here we go… another hack trying to cash in on my name”). Boy, was that voice way off. The film is incredibly scary and intense. As a director, Marcus has done what Harry never could and right away he recognizes the opportunity in front of him: make the kid an offer and call the film his own. Dishonest? Yes. Merits the possible fame and wealth? Definitely. Whatever happens from this point forward is worth owning the potential this film holds… or is it. How valuable is life? How far are you willing to go to be successful in a town full of deceit, false hopes and empty promises? It’s only a matter of time before Harry will face that test and see just what kind of a man he really is.

Rough Cut is a cut above the rest. The characters are incredibly intriguing and the story line is unique, well-developed and perfectly described. Bottom line: Brian Pinkerton can flat out write with the best. This story was so entertaining I almost called in sick to work so that I could continue reading it. If you’re looking for a decent book, look elsewhere. This thing cooks, people… good luck putting Rough Cut down once you start.

A View From the Lake / The Red Empire

Review by Slade Grayson

Originally published in Bookgasm, July 1st, 2011

In Greg F. Gifune’s A VIEW FROM THE LAKE, Katherine and her husband, James, own a small summer vacation resort comprised of a main house and small rental cabins around a quiet Massachusetts lake. It’s an idyllic existence until one morning, a small, Japanese boy wanders out of his parents’ rented cabin and drowns in the lake. James finds the boy’s body and takes the death unnaturally hard. From there, he starts to slowly lose his grip on sanity.
Katherine attempts to console her husband and urges him to get therapy, but James slips further and further away … until one day, he disappears completely. The lake is dragged, but James’s body isn’t found, although he is believed to be dead.

From that point on, Katherine’s life spirals downward. Business suffers, because who wants to vacation at a lake where a child drowned and a poet has gone missing? She decides to sell. She just needs to get through one more winter first …

Of course, weird things happen, because this is published by Bad Moon Books, purveyors of fiction featuring weird things. Weird things such as Katherine hearing James’ voice and seeing apparitions of small children. She enlists the aid of her alcoholic college friend, Carlo, who is (conveniently) still in love with her. Together, they discover that James may have had a sketchy past, and someone or something is trying to draw them into the lake.

This is a slim book ­­­— barely 190 pages — but overall, a well-written one, with some creepy scenes that reminded me of The Shining. The author knows how to set a scene and draw the reader in, and the 190 pages fly by, which is not meant to be a criticism at all.
Also from Bad Moon Books is THE RED EMPIRE by Joe McKinney, an author who is apparently attempting to have books come out from as many different publishers as he can. Pinnacle recently released his zombie/natural-disaster novel Flesh Eaters, while Gutter Books put out the crime-oriented Dodging Bullets. Here, McKinney turns his writing talent to weird sci-fi that sounds like a modern-day take on a cheesy 1950s movie.

The Red Empire is actually a species of engineered super-intelligent, very adaptive, inch-long fire ants, created by the military as a weapon of mass destruction. Their purpose is to be released into the Middle East to eliminate the civilian population, and therefore, the insurgents who are killing U.S. soldiers. Unfortunately, the truck transporting them across Texas is washed away in a hurricane-strength storm, and the ants are off to ruin every picnic they find. Just kidding — they’re going to kill everything that crosses their path.

Amy Bloom and her daughter, 14-year-old Casey, return home from a San Antonio hospital where Casey was the recipient of a cornea transplant. Due to the storm and washed-out roads, they barely make it, but when they do, they find an escaped — and armed — federal prisoner named Ricky Fallon hiding out in their home. Ricky just wants to head to Mexico, but he won’t pass up the opportunity to take hostages.

Meanwhile, Dr. Preston Baum was widowed a few weeks before when his wife died in a car accident. He hears about Casey’s cornea transplant and is desperate to find out if she has his dead wife’s eyes. Baum may be the only hope the Blooms have of being saved from the psychopath in their midst, and the army of killer ants advancing on their home.

As I said, the whole thing sounds super-cheesy, but it all works. At 151 pages, this book is even slimmer than the other, and the story itself covers only a matter of hours, but it doesn’t feel incomplete or rushed. McKinney even manages to tell it from multiple perspectives, which is a nice touch. There’s enough action mixed with character development that no reader should feel shortchanged.

Although with his list of credits, I do wonder what McKinney has coming out next. Chemistry textbook? Harlequin romance?

Heart of Glass by David Winnick

Review by Peter Schwotzer

Originally published in Literary Mayhem, June 23, 2011

Time has not been kind to Adam and Sonia’s marriage. They have drifted away from each other and barely speak anymore. On a trip to the local antiques mall, Adam finds a jigsaw puzzle made of clear glass. He believes that working on the puzzle together may help with their problems. However the puzzle has a strange hold on Adam, and what he thought might bring him and Sonia together threatens to tear them apart forever.

First off, this chapbook was given away by Bad Moon Books at the 2011 WHC in Austin and can be found using the above link at Amazon for Kindle at only 99-cents, for this amazing little story I would pay a lot more than that.

In fact it is the best short story I have read so far this year. It is one of those stories that you think when you finish…wow!!

The back cover synopsis above will tell you what the story is about but it is Mr. Winnick’s writing that makes it stand out. In just about 27 pages Mr. Winnick manages to pull you fully into Adam’s and Sonia’s world, letting you experience what they are going through in their marriage.  To me this story seemed a lot longer, Mr. Winnick was able to pack quite a bit into such a short story.

And the ending…amazing…I absolutely loved the ending.

If you own a Kindle and have 99-cents, I can guarantee it will be the best 99-cents you ever spent.

Ursa Major by John R. Little

Review by Peter Schwotzer

Originally published in Literary Mayhem, June 22, 2011

A peaceful camping trip turns ugly as a step-father and daughter come face to face with a blood thirsty, mindless force. What happens when you have to make decisions that have no pleasant options?

It has the same kind of scary as The Terminator. You know, like being chased by a relentless pursuer, a heartless android…who is getting closer, closer, the ending inevitable”. From the introduction by Gene O’Neill

When you look at the cover art for this fantastic little novella you have no doubt about what this story is about. Knowing what the story is going to be about in no way takes away the impact of it when you read it.

“Ursa Major” is a 64 page tension filled journey that will leave you breathless in its wake. From the very first paragraph Mr. Little draws you into the story and never lets you go. He turns up the pressure with each ensuing page relentlessly and just when you think everything is going to be OK, he throws in an ending that will stop you dead in your tracks.

I now understand why I have read so many glowing reviews of John R. Little’s work. “Ursa Major” works on so many levels, I finished the story and immediately read it again. I for one will be searching for Mr. Little’s back catalog. If he can do what he did in 64 pages, I am dying to see what he can do with a full length novel.

Bruce Boston on his Bram Stoker Award win for Dark Matters

Interview by Alexandra Siedel

Originally published in Fantastique Unfaltered, June 26, 2011

AS: Your poetry collection Dark Matters (Bad Moon Books) recently won the Bram Stoker Award. What inspired you to put together this deliciously dark collection.

BB: I've been publishing poetry for forty-five years, and compiling and publishing collections for more than forty. It's one of the things I do as a writer in the ongoing attempt to reach more readers. Of course there is no point in compiling a book of poems unless you can find a publisher for it. In recent years most of my collections have leaned toward the dark because that's where the markets seem to be for genre poetry collections. Dark Matters is my thirty-second book of poems. One way it differs to some degree from earlier collections is that more of the poems are explicitly (with a dedication) or implicitly (by content) influenced by writers who have inspired me in one way or another: Wallace Stevens, Ray Bradbury, Jean Cocteau, T.S. Eliot, Ross Macdonald, Nostradamus, etc.

AS: What is the best thing about receiving this Bram Stoker Award and how do you feel about it?

BB: The best thing about this one was receiving the award in person, very different and much more satisfying than hearing about it online. Not only the ceremony itself – going up on stage to applause, delivering the acceptance speech, getting your photo taken, etc. – but also the aftermath, being congratulated in person by writers you know and admire. Lots of ego strokes there. For how I feel about it, see below.

AS: Apart from receiving the Award, what were the highlights of your Stoker Weekend? Was there anything that didn't go as planned?

BB: The main highlight of any writers convention is the chance to get together with other writers, formally in panels and socially otherwise, the chance to renew old acquaintances and make new ones with good conversation. And there were plenty of fine writers and editors from the horror field at this Stoker Awards Weekend. So many there was not enough time, even in a long weekend, to talk at length with all of them.
The train trip didn't exactly go as we planned. I hadn't ridden on a train for more than twenty years, and will not be taking any extended trips on one again. While Western Europe has progressed to high-speed monorails, the American system has continued to decline. The cars sway back and forth like boats and bump along like two-bit carnival rides. Much of the food is inedible. And our sleeper compartment was cramped and uncomfortable rather than the cozy we'd hoped for.

AS: This Bram Stoker Award is not your first. In fact, you've now received four of them in recognition of your poetry collections, which is quite a record. What's your secret?

BB: I think Mary Turzillo nailed it in a review of my collection The Complete Accursed Wives for Strange Horizons when she wrote: "Boston has the gift of making his poetry appealing to people who generally aren't fond of poetry."
Mary is referring to what I think of as my populist poems, the kind that can speak to any literate reader whether or not they usually read poetry. I write poems exclusively for readers of poetry also, more complex and layered, not necessarily better, just different. In any case, such populist poems make up a good portion of my collections that have brought home Stoker Awards. And who votes for the Stoker Awards? The active members of the Horror Writers Association, fiction writers for the most part, many of whom do not normally read poetry and some who even frown upon it. I've encountered a similar success with the Asimov's Readers Award for poetry, and for the same reason.
As to how I feel about winning four Bram Stoker Awards for poetry…perhaps sated is a good description. I'm thinking that next time around, I'd probably enjoy presenting the award to a poet whose work I admire more than winning another one myself.

AS: Your novel The Guardener's Tale was also a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, and you are the Chair of the 2011 Bram Stoker Award Novel Jury. What is your attraction to horror, especially as a poet?

BB: The Guardener's Tale is not a horror novel, but a dystopian science fiction novel along the lines of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. It has few if any scenes that could be considered explicit horror. Most of the darkness in the book is psychological and situational rather than graphic or supernatural. When The Guardener's Tale started receiving recommendations for the Stoker Award, no one was more surprised than I was. As a poet, I've easily written as many science fiction poems as horror poems, with a decent share of fantasy and mainstream along the way. I think all writers are attracted in their own writing to what they like to read.
With regard to my specific attraction to horror, I would quote Howard V. Hendrix in a blurb he did for Dark Matters: "No matter how seemingly marginal, extreme, or dark the science fiction, horror, and fantasy tropes Boston plays upon here, in his hands those extremities cut into and through all the supposedly central and mundane assumptions of our daylight world." To put it another way, the social and political hypocrisies of the everyday put forth a distorted view of the world by too often ignoring the darkness we all possess as human animals. Horror writing can cut through such hypocrisies to present a more complete view of consciousness and reality.

AS: What's next for you?

BB: My next collection of poems, Surrealities, should be out from Dark Regions Press in a month or so. This book is a bit of a departure for me in that it is not a collection of science fiction or horror poetry, but of surreal poetry and poems about surrealism. It's also a departure in that I did the illustrations for it, albeit by happenstance. You can find the illustrations in a gallery on my Facebook page.
You don't have to be a member of Facebook to view this.
Beyond that, fellow poet Gary William Crawford and I have been gradually compiling a shared-world collection of poems and prose poems set in a hypothetical world known as the Shadow City. Gary first created this world, and then invited me to join him in writing about it.And beyond that, I hope to continue to follow my imagination and inspiration wherever they lead.