Thursday, December 30

The Horror Library Volume 4 Ed. by R.J. Cavender

R.J. Cavender and Cutting Block Press have done it again! Just when you think that you've found a horror anthology that outshines the rest (see THL V.3), Cavender and Co. come blasting out of the woodwork with another volume in their Horror Library series that is brimming with incredible talent, and some of the most unsettling stories you've yet to read.

The Horror Library - Volume 4 compiles 29 incredible stories, none of which miss their mark, landing only clear, brutal hits at break-neck speed. Here we've got some returning faces (Jeff Strand, Bentley Little, etc.), some newcomers, and one very peculiar instance where an author actually has 2 stories present (Lorne dixon with Ash Wednesday and Continuity). And like I said, every single one hits their mark, leaving the reader fully satisfied, and craving for more short fiction from Cutting Block Press and The Horror Library series.

Stand outs include:

A Very Important Message for Those Planning to Travel to Costa Rica by R.J. Cavender & Boyd Harris - kicks us off right with a well told story (in 2nd person) detailing the perils of traveling to a foreign country alone. This story is incredibly unsettling, and sets the creepy and terrifying pace for what is yet to come.

Into The After by Kurt Dinan - is a wicked tale told in the aftermath of 9/11, that begins and almost ends as a heartwrenching supernatural tale, and then wallops the reader over the head with a twist so brutal, that it's actually hard not to react.

Flicker by Lee Thomas - is an unusual and very dark story about snuff film actors that are forced (but not truly forced) to perform time and time again. It's great in that it forces the mind into suspending disbelief just enough in order to be able to accept some truly disturbing ideas.

Jammers by Bentley Little - tells us the real truth about traffic jams, and what goes on at the front of the pack. This story is all kinds of creepy, starting (and flowing along) with a very uneasy feeling, and ending with enough of a kick to get you back up to speed with the following stories.

I Am Vision, I Am Death by Erik Williams - is a wicked little story about two people sharing the same consciousness, and the repercussions of such. I absolutely loved the sheer blackness of this story, as it proves itself to be very descriptive, and horror-TV-show-pilot material, but on a new level.

Lorne Dixon has two entries in this volume, first with Ash Wednesday - a phenomenal story about a crew of firefighters who go into a burning asylum to save an infamous Cult leader, only to end up in a formulaic, but well pulled off twist ending; and second with Continuity - which tells the story of a crew of filmmakers that collectively see more than what appears on screen. This one was great too, with hilarious, yet scary scenes, involving some long dead actors.

And as my final offering, I give you - The Healing Hands of Reverend Wainwright by Geoffrey L. Mudge - whose story about a traveling preacher takes all sorts of twists and turns that leave the reader questioning everything, and drops an ending that just begs the question: "Why haven't I read Mudge's work before?"

While The Horror Library: Volume 4 doesn't completely outshine it's predecessor, it sure does live up to the spirit of the series. Granted, Volume 3 was the first one I'd read, but having checked out Volume 4 now, I'm satisfied to say that this is a premiere horror anthology series for assorted tales. The stories chosen are incredible, the editor obviously shows his love for - and knowledge of - short horror fiction, and the quality of the books is way above standard.

As I've said before, you won't be disappointed by this purchase.

Volume 1, 2, 3 and 4 are also available at Cutting Block Press' website, and on Look out for Volume 5 in 2011. As far as I can tell (as of writing this review), CBP is still accepting submissions for the 5th volume.


Wednesday, December 29

The Gospel Of Bucky Dennis by J.R. Parks

As far as Southern Gothic Horror goes, this bad boy is top of the heap. It's rare, these days, to come across a first novel by an author gifted with such lyrical prowess. J.R. Parks starts this novel off with a bang, introduces the reader to their new favorite anti-hero, and grabs your hand - whisking you through a backwoods, hillbilly horror ride in a jet black '69 Charger. Sit tight folks, this one sparks real fast, and doesn't let up. Hooah!

During the 1980s, the stink of evil permeates like bad cologne throughout Verney County, Mississippi. Hellhounds and demoniacs had taken up residence, hurtin’ on folks and gettin’ mean. But there’s one feller they didn’t count on. Bucky Dennis—high school football star, Vietnam veteran, and divorced father of two—Bucky’s the slack-jawed bayou bubba that won’t take no guff.

After a botched insurance sale to a British stockbroker turned werewolf, Bucky stirs from his post-war decomposition and crippling apathy only to be baptized in hellfire. With a five-fingered Buick and a .44 named Harriet, Bucky delves into the dark side of the unknown and uncovers a devilish plot for the world’s undoing.

As mentioned before, Parks has a lyrical prowess that could be rivaled by none other than my favorite wordsmith - Steve Vernon. It's really hard to find that one person who can just speak to your soul, someone who knows the gait at which you love to read, someone who can make you forget you're reading and instead throw you headfirst into a spell so deep, that you literally have to remember to breathe. While The Gospel of Bucky Dennis may not be that for you, it certainly was for me.

Now, Bucky's an anti hero that I honestly adore. He's got balls, he's got sass, and better yet - he's painfully human. The punishment that Parks doles out on his titular character is fierce, but he's done the man a solid by always letting him come out on top. Well, at least almost on top. I can imagine Parks having had a ton of fun with this one. The strength of this character lies in Parks' ability to put him in some completely unbelievable situations, beat him with emotional, physical, and mental hardships; and then finding the solution in dialogue, a few choice actions, and a whole lot of attitude. You can't help but love this guy.

Parks has an obvious affinity for classic monsters, and tackles them in his very own way with this novel. The Gospel of Bucky Dennis is basically a collection of short stories that tie together in the end, creating a whirlwind trip through the author's very imaginative mind. We've got werewolves, zombies, blood sucking bats, and evil cults bent on raising hell in this little novel. Very ambitious, and very well done.

I'd get out there and grab a copy of this if I were you. It's not only an adventurous and fun read, but it's got enough blood boiling action to keep you going from start to finish. Easily one of my favorite releases in 2010.

Check out more Bucky Dennis at the official website, on Twitter, and at the official Bucky Dennis store. You can grab a copy there, or at Amazon and other fine online retailers.


Tuesday, December 28

Survivor by J.F. Gonzalez

Let it be said that J.F. Gonzalez's novel - Survivor - is quite possibly one of the most powerful books in the horror genre today. Between a plot set-up that is quite Laymon-esque (for it's grandiose themes and plots twists), and a writing style reminicent of Ketchum (for it's accessibility and simplicity), Gonzalez has not only crafted a very disturbing tale of rape, murder, and the underground snuff community; but he's also proven that sometimes 'going the distance' can be done with style.

It is supposed to be a romantic weekend getaway. Lisa is looking forward to spending time alone with her husband—and telling him that they are going to have a baby. Instead, it becomes a nightmare when her husband is arrested and Lisa is kidnapped. But the kidnappers aren’t asking for ransom. They want Lisa herself. They’re going to make her a star—in a snuff film.

What they have in mind for Lisa is unspeakable. They plan to torture and murder her as graphically and brutally as possible, and to capture it all on film. If they have their way, Lisa’s death will be truly horrifying…but even more horrifying is what Lisa will do to survive.…

The beginning of this book is absolutely innocuous. In fact, judging from all that I'd heard about Survivor, I was under the impression that I'd be throttled from the get-go, and was shocked to find that I wasn't at all.

This should have been the first warning sign.

Scratch that. The first warning sign should have been Brian Keene's endorsement on the blurb page.

"Quite possibly the most disturbing book I've ever read in my life" - Brian Keene

The sheer beauty of this novel lies in the fact that it does reach out an grab you. It quite possibly is the most disturbing book you will ever read. The lull of what looks to be, at first glance, a crime/thriller novel, is incredibly deceptive and, in Gonzalez's hands, expertly carried out. And right when the reader is getting ready to aknowledge the fact that something is going to happen that will take the story to the next level, Gonzalez takes it that much farther.

The action is pretty steady for the first 50 or so pages, chronicling the events that will eventually lead up to a seriously heart thumping climax that seems to span an immeasurable amount of time. And I'm talking about a good 300+ pages of high octane, blood boiling, massively evil - meanness. The real deception here is that the climax that the reader will come up against is really only one of many. Twists and turns run rampant in this little novel, blowing all pre-conceived notions of what 'shocking' and 'terrifying' actually are. What Gonzalez does to these characters is absolutely sadistic and mean, but he does it skillfully - managing to remain completely respectful and not crossing any major lines/taboos with his language and description. The fact that he gets so far out there with this story does not mean that he won't reign it in when needed. It's very evident that Gonzalez was uncomfortable writing some of these scenes, which comes not only as a relief, but also as a saving grace for the reader. I can't imagine the absolute vulgarity and crassness that might have happened if someone not as skilled as Gonzalez tackled this subject matter.

Now, that doesn't mean that the author doesn't go straight for the throat though. No, no, no. Gonzalez attacks with everything, and leaves nothing but bloody trails behind.

His characters are sympathetic, brutal, nasty, and absolutely terrifying in their intensity. The reader really has to be prepared for some of the most honest emotion they've read to come pouring off of these pages. And that's not always for the better. There are points where one can actually understand why and how the offender in this particular is doing something. It's almost sickening to be able to sympathize with that. And that's exactly what I'm talking about here. Gonzalez has the power over the reader. This is how a book should be written.

All in all, I wouldn't suggest Survivor to anyone but the most hard core of horror fans. It's absolutely vicious and brutal, but if you do grab yourself a copy, you're in for an incredible story, and a great example of how an author can really grab a reader and command his/her emotions with the best laid words.

I really cannot say this enough: Survivor is an incredible powerful book, and Gonzalez really deserves to be noticed for his superb ability to transform the reading of one novel into an incredibly harrowing journey. I'm glad I read this book, though I must stand by my warning against taking it lightly.

You can check out J.F. Gonzalez at his website, on Twitter, and at his blog. You can grab copies of Survivor at pretty much any big box online book retailer in their Used/Rare section.


Monday, December 27

Zombies: A Record Of The Year Of Infection by Don Roff, Illustrated by Chris Lane

Zombies: A Record Of The Year Of Infection is presented as the illustrated journal of Dr. Robert Twombly, discovered in the aftermath of a worldwide zombie infection. To say that this book breaks ground in the massive amounts of other zombie appearances in horror fiction would be stretching a bit, but based on the strength of the story's simplicity and the impressive art direction, I can say that it definitely deserves to be noticed.

This illustrated journal was discovered in the aftermath of the worldwide necrotic infection that began on or around January 7, 2012 and lasted for approximately one year, killing more than 5 billion people.

The journal is a unique record of the time of infection in that its author sought to understand the undead by living among them. It is also the record of the author's day-to-day experiences at a time when such records were not commonly kept.

The manuscript was found inside an empty cottage at the edge of Hudson Bay in northern Canada. The fat and the whereabouts of the author remain unknown.

The contents of the journal are reproduced uncensored and in their entirety.

Now, when I say that there is a simplicity to this book, I actually mean it. The way the story unfolds is very cut and dry. Scientist finds himself in zombie apocalypse, studies the various stages and physical effects of the infected, attempts to escape worldwide catastrophe, writes it all down. Like I said...very cut and dry.

Which is refreshing.

The difference between this and other zombie novels/illustrated guides/fiction, is that this one doesn't make any bones about it's lack of complexity and straightforward storytelling. The author obviously sought to make the reader believe that they were actually reading the work of a scientist - someone not very concerned with flair and over-the-top storytelling - and therefore left out any over dramatizing; and in some instances - completed sentences and/or finished thoughts. In fact, I was a little put off by this at the beginning, but the overall effect is actually quite chilling if one suspends disbelief. Roff really pulls this off very well.

The art in this volume is stunning. Chris Lane pulled out all the stops in order to create a visual starkness that blends beautifully with the narrative. Lane's use of what looks to be ink and watercolor is both desperate and startling, showcasing a preference towards heavy black lines and vicious red washing than anything else. An approach that I absolutely love.

Me, I'm not tired of this whole zombie revolution and it's massive amount of copycat and mob mentality fiction. But it's incredibly refreshing to see something that doesn't even bother to try to contend with all of that. There are no morals to this story, there are no pretty 'and-the-hero-saves-the-day' moments, and there are no apologies for being exactly what this book is: a straight forward account of the zombie onslaught.

You can grab it at Amazon and other online retailers. Surprisingly, there's also a wikipedia article about it. Check that out here. You can visit Don Roff at his official website and follow him on Twitter here. You can check out Chris Lane at his website.


Monday, December 6

Weapons by Liisa Ladouceur

When it comes to poetry, I know most people tend to think about lilies and rabbits, or a host of other painfully boring little things that send little girl's hearts a-flutter, and send most little boys screaming in horror at the possibility of being infected with cooties. It's either that, or it's about black butterflies ripping wounds in the hearts of you, you, and you. Well, that's the stereotype, isn't it?

Not for me.

I LOVE poetry. More importantly, I love it when it's done well, and with a certain amount of attention paid to the dark side of things. The beautiful and talented Liisa Ladouceur has all of those bases covered and more. What she does with words is what most wish they could do, and my, does she do it with style.

The grace and tone that these words are delivered with is absolutely awe inspiring. I've been following Ladouceur's publications for some time, and while some of them are damn near impossible to find, what you will manage to grab out there is sure to satisfy. The only thing better than reading her poetry is actually listening to her speak it. As anyone who listens to Rue Morgue Radio knows, this woman has a very distinct and silky smooth voice that is absolutely made for stuff like this.

Weapons had a super limited print run of 13 copies, making it an instant collector's item. In fact, Ladouceur hand stitched the spines herself - making this just as much a piece of art as it is a
piece of literature.

Here's a taste of what you might have missed with this one (which is also quite appropriate for this frigid season, as well):

Ice Pick

You chip away at it. Like a scab.

Like the blood you've collected.

Pooled, and piled, as if enough

Could form a heart.

These snow white hands of yours

Tenacious. Precise. They know

Where she lies, under ice afar.

They know how to sculpt her

Until she is less and less

A snowflake. A scar...

See what I mean?

Ladouceur is capable of throwing down the perfect words in a way that makes a mixture of images burst into your head at a single glance. She does this with a sexiness and brutality so wickedly refined, that it's utterly amazing. Personally, I'm of the opinion that this is where the bar is set. To attain anything better than this is but a dream. It's safe to say that she's my favorite poet, and I really can't imagine that changing any time soon.

I really can't wait to see what Ladouceur's poetic prowess has in store for the future. For all parties interested (and that should really mean everybody), you can find her at her website, at the Rue Morgue Magazine website and their forums (where you can also find lil ole' me harpin' on about books). You can also grab yourself a copy of her incredible poetry chapbook On Tenterhooks at Burning Effigy Press. I highly recommend it.


Friday, December 3

Best New Zombie Tales Volume 2 ed. by James Roy Daley

I'm going to start this off by saying that you should really get your hands on this book. I usually leave this kind of a statement for the end of a review, but in all honesty, it would be an absolute shame if you missed out on this one.

I haven't read a zombie anthology this good since Skipp and Spector's Book of the Dead (Bantam - 1989), and will not hesitate to say that Daley owns zombie anthologies now. What Daley has compiled here is some seriously groundbreaking stuff, the likes that we haven't seen in a very long time. Riddled with stories by genre mainstays and a surprising amount of newer voices, Best New Zombie Tales Volume 2 really sets the standard for zombie short stories.

What you're looking at here is 20 fantastic stories, 1 recipe, a comic by Robert Elrod, and an intro written by Daley himself, that is just as incredible as all of the stories that follow it. The intro centers around a fictional account of Daley being attacked by H.P. Lovecraft, and what turns out to be one of the most hilarious parts of the book. That alone should have told me I was in for something awesome.

I won't go into detail about all of the stories inside this mind-blowing anthology, but here's a taste of some of my favorites.

Rio Youers' story Bury Me Not is the first one out of the gate, and I honestly think he didn't even wait for the starting pistol to fire. He just smashed on through, carrying with him a poetic beauty, and an incredible ability to combine raw emotion and brutal description into one masterful piece. The story follows the end of a relationship between a young woman and an old but worldly man whom she developed a special friendship with and visited often. Youers really goes the distance with this one. This was an incredible story to lead off with.

Laundry Day by Steven A. Roman is up next, telling the story of a man who just so happens to do his laundry on the night that the world goes to shit. Laced with a brutal humor and some seriously gory violence, this one is a slaughter-fest crowd pleaser for sure. Action from the get go, with a surprising twist ending that I really didn't see coming.

I'd never read anything by David Niall Wilson before, but if Coming Home is any indication of his overall style, consider me a fan. Wilson tells the story about a Marine squad that is flown into an airbase via helicopter to find out why they've lost communications with the ground. Billy, one of the Marines that volunteered for this mission can't get his family off of his mind, and when things get hairy on the ground, he decides to take a chance and make a break for it. Wilson really captures what I can only imagine could be one of the biggest fears a soldier could possibly have - not being able to protect the ones you love - and really shoves that emotional turmoil down your throat.

John Everson shows up to the party with Camille Smiled, which is an absolutely crazy entry - possibly the most fucked up family story you'll read for a long while. Mourning the tragic loss of his child, Jack invests his time and money in an old gypsy/voodoo charm that is said to bring the dead back to life. Little does he know, sometimes the dead are better left alone. If you're familiar with Everson's writing, I guarantee that this will be a departure of sorts. There's nothing erotic in this one, but the beauty in Everson's words is there nonetheless. The story just grabs ahold of you and refuses to let go, culminating in what is quite possibly the most satisfying ending of a short story that I've read in years.

I cannot end this without mentioning Matt Hults' The Finger, which is abso-fucking-lutely insane. This story just broods and broods and then BAM! - explodes all over the page. The feel is very comic book/80's monster movie/slasher-esque, with relentless action and more visceral gore and nastiness than you can shake a stick at. Or shake off a stick. Either one describes this delightfully disgusting story. A young man comes up with a foolproof plan to make some serious cash, scamming a local diner by placing a severed finger into a bowl of chili and acting as if it was there to begin with. When his plan fails (in a hilariously black kind of way) he is shoved face first into a nightmare scenario reminiscent of a Hieronymus Bosch landscape, replete with a giant zombie-monster that makes my inner horror/fanboy writhe with joy and repulsion. This is the perfect story to end on. Fucking amazing.

All in all, Daley has a masterpiece on his hands with this one. If you walk away from this review without buying the book, you're really missing an incredible thing. This anthology is certainly both the stuff of nightmares, and a zombie lover's wet dream. ALL of the stories are downright amazing. Daley has really outdone himself. I will be following this series until the end.

Check out Books of the Dead Press at their website. You can also check out James Roy Daley's personal website here, and catch him on Twitter as well (as BOOKSoftheDEAD and his personal feed). Best Zombie Tales Volume 1 & 2 are both available at most online booksellers.

Also, keep an eye out for other exciting books from Books of the Dead Press.


Wednesday, December 1

Hack/Slash: Trailers Part Two by Image

Unlike other people who choose to review comic books in a grouped or lumped style, I'm going to try and bring them to you as I find them, and let you know what's going on with every single issue. Call it expanding, call it obsessive, call it...whatever. I have a love for comics, and I want to bring that to y'all all the same as novels and anthologies. They are a very important part of horror literature, after all.

That being said - first up is Hack/Slash: Trailers Part Two by Image Comics.

Now, I haven't gone into a comic book shop in...shit...probably about 15 years. Well, unless I was buying Mcfarlane Movie Maniacs figurines, that is. (I know...shame). Recently I decided to take a walk out to a shop I haven't been to before, to see if I could track down Brian Keene's Doom Patrol #16. I did (and will review it later), but I also came across this grisly little gem.

To be fair, I'd heard through the grapevine that Mike Oliveri wrote a story for this issue of Hack/Slash, and that's primarily what sparked my interest. Now, before I go on acting like I know what I'm talking about, I want to say that this is the first time I've ever even encountered this particular title, let alone any of the previous issues in the series. I can say, however, that I'm going to be on the hunt for this entire (and epic) series. It's incredible!

Hack/Slash: Trailers Part 2 is basically to comic books what anthologies are to novels. This specific issue has what they call "13 tales of Naked Fear!", in the style of slasher movie trailers. That's right. 13 mini-bursts of brutal, sexy, bloody, relentless horror stories and imagery from 13 different writers and artists - all done in 62 pages.

Of all of them, I'd have to say that Home, Home On Derange by Steve Seeley (story), Jenny Frison (art), and Josh Emmons (letters); Wallow In Death by Mike Oliveri (story) and Sean K. Dove (art & letters); and Psyche by J. Torres (story), Joe Song (art) and Rus Wooton (letters) were among my favorites. Not just because they were great little stories, but because the art complimented the stories so well. They also felt like the most original pieces in the book (okay...Psyche wasn't original, but points have to be given for the twist on Bloch's/Hitchcock's Psycho)

Rape Van by Mike Norton (story), Brent Schoonover (art), Nate Lovette (colors), and CRANK! (letters) holds top position though, for being strangely unique and brutally hilarious. Imagine a van...nevermind. You have to read it.

Whether you're looking for a bevy of beautiful blondes being butchered around a campfire (Campfire Stories), the senseless slaughter of cute-but-evil little fuzzballs (Too Cute), a midget...thing...that attacks from within the womb (Womb With A View), or a sensuous look at just letting yourself go with the music (Blood On The Dancefloor), this issue is for you.

You can check it out at Image Comics' website, Tim Seeley's official website, and at the official Hack/Slash Inc. website. Amazon has several Omnibus' available for this series, but from what I can see they don't have single issues available. Here's the search.


Abolisher Of Roses by Gary Fry

In January 2011, Spectral Press dropped a great little chapbook on us called ' What They Hear In The Dark ' by Gary McMahon. With th...