Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Zombie Zoology: Zombie Anthology

Publsihed by Severed Press

Zombie Zoology, released last May from Severed Press, features twelve stories about dead animals coming back from the grave. The stories take place in varied locals like roach-infested buildings, farms and outer space, and the animals are brought back to life by magic, extraterrestrial pathogens, experiments gone wrong and unexplainable circumstances.

The anthology stands apart from others in the zombie subgenre not on the strength of any particular stories in the book (they're all good!) but because of the uniqueness of the material covered. There are whole publishing imprints dedicated to nothing but zombie fiction, but hardly any of it deals with zombie animals. Zombie Zoology, by and large, skirts the topic of undead people in the majority of its stories, focusing primarily on animal outbreaks both small- and large-scale.

The only thing that might irk some zombie purists is the tendency of these zombie beasts to break one of the tried and true rules: in several of these stories, damage to the brains did nothing to stop them. In one particular story, a zombie goat sustained multiple skull fractures and still came back for more. But then, zombie animals are largely uncharted territory, so it isn't a major issue. Zombie Zoology should definitely earn Severed Press some new fans and offer a breath of fresh air to any zombie fan.

Review by Lincoln Crisler

Buy it here.

Lincoln Crisler's debut novella, WILD, is due in March from Damnation Books. He has also authored a pair of short story collections, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). A United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer, Lincoln lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at www.lincolncrisler.info.

End Times

by Rio Youers
Publisher PS Publishing, September 2010

With End Times, Youers delivers a tour-de-force that chills the blood, raises the pulse, plucks our emotional strings, and weaves the reader into the story with a unique voice that pushes the envelope of dark fiction. Youers does not follow trends. Nor does he rely on blood and guts to scare the reader. For the author, a scare just won’t do. Due to this, many readers give thanks. This is why his work grabs you and won’t let go, resonating long after you finish. His characters are real people that we can actually identify with, and most importantly, we care about them. Their emotions become our own. Dare I say you may even shed a tear… I know I sure did. That said; make no mistake, End Times is a very dark novel, indeed.

We find Scott Hennessey (A.K.A. Scott No Fingers) a scarred, yet triumphant man. Scott used to be a heroin addict that dropped out of school and lived on the streets, doing anything he could for another hit. He rose above and carved out a career for himself with the local newspaper despite all odds. Actually, Scott used to be a lot of things… until an old friend calls him with a warning that becomes his last words: Mia Floats Softly is back.

Scott’s memory is vague. The voice on the phone seems so familiar, but he can’t place it. And rightly so; after rising above a past best forgotten, Scott scrambles to make sense of the warning. He can feel Mia’s pull. It’s as palpable as his past, and once again, his veins crave the demon that shadowed that part of his life. But this is the least of his worries. His friends are dying and Mia Floats Softly has only just begun—her eyes set on the biggest prize: Scott Hennessey. The long and painful journey takes him around England—where he finds Mia’s mark on everybody she consumes—to the Dakota’s of America. Scott must find the answers before Mia finds him.

With End Times, we find the author in rare form. Told in a non-linear fashion, the story whisks us away into a world as real and dark as our own. What truly makes this novel shine, however, is the imagination behind it. Arthur Machen, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and a host of other authors come to mind. Rarely has the melding of reality and fantasy been mixed so well that it captivates those who delve into Scott’s world and accompany him on his heart-wrenching journey. Once again, Youers proves to be one of the most formidable story tellers of our time.

Reviewed by, Ben Eads

Buy it here.

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

Thursday, February 17, 2011

To Each Their Darkness

by Gary Braunbeck
Apex Book Company

Gary Braunbeck is, without a doubt, one of my favorite writers. Few people manage to write with such bleak lyricism raw emotion and literary panache as he does. For this reason, Fear in a Handful of Dust is one of the most useful and entertaining books on the craft and fandom of fiction on my shelf, even surpassing On Writing. There’s no hyperbole or tongue chewing in that statement, the book is good. And out of print. So here comes this book that I am repeatedly assured is most definitely not a simple revision and update of a book I (and some of you, quite possibly) already own.

It is, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

First off, it is a heavily revised and updated version, with a bunch of new material added and some whole sections excised. Second, just look my opening paragraph. The original wasn't too shabby and it's out of print. Who the hell is it that's complaining about access to a book that many wouldn't be able to get a hold of without sacrificing a neighbor's first born?

If you've read Fear then you know what to expect, but if you haven't... prepare yourself. This isn't just a how-to manual for writers or an opportunity to swap stories with a fellow horror geek. It's also a harrowing journey through the life and soul of the writer. That is why I love the subtitle of the original version (“Horror as a way of Life”) so much: it exemplifies his credo that a writer must put every bit of themselves into their writing if it is to have any lasting effect. His explanations of his life don't stand as opportunities to play the hard luck artist, instead, he uses them to show how he has placed every fiber, every tear, every late night screech into the wind and even those tiny bits of hope that seem so hard to grasp into the stories he has created.

And he's damn funny while he does it (just try listening to Smoke on the Water without falling apart after reading this).

That's what makes the following hard to say: I'm disappointed. There are moments that display a marked lack of continuity which I am sure come from merging new material into the older, which was itself stitched together largely from pre-existing articles. The worst of these is a point where he references a portion of the original which had been excised from this version, as if it was still there and going so far as to accuse the reader of skipping around if they don't recall that part. And there are others that are merely confusing. This isn't something that kills the book or destroys what Gary is attempting to do with it, but it pisses me off. I sound like a whiny griefer, choking on sour grapes and a tall glass of haterade but DAMMIT, Gary, I expect better than that from you. For someone describing himself as a merciless reader who abhors sloppy writing... well... it just seems lazy.

Ranting aside, it is a good book. It is a must-have for writers and a should-have for fans. I still prefer the content in Fear (due to those previously mentioned issues), but if I didn't already own that then I would prefer the price point and availability of this version much more.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


by Kaaron Warren

Published by Angry Robot

Slights is the story of Stevie Searle and begins when she is eighteen. At first blush, this book appears to be a coming of age novel, but it isn’t long before the reader, with a sickening feeling in the pit of the stomach, realizes that this is a memoir of madness; a tale of living and love replaced by an obsession about what happens after we die, and a deftly written one at that. Stevie is a serial killer, but unlike Bundy and Gacy, she's more of a "mad scientist" type. She seeks information she is not meant to have, and will do whatever is necessary to get it with no regard for the consequences.

Her first unsuccessful suicide attempt provided a glimpse into her own afterlife--a small gray room crammed with all the people in her life that she'd slighted up to that point--and she's slighted many, and goes out of her way to do so. Subsequent "controlled" suicide attempts allow her to revisit her "gray room" several more times just to see who's there--to see the new people whom she slighted between visits. Her theory is that every time she slights someone she takes a little piece of their soul--and that's what ends up in her gray room… her personal hell.

Once she has this information about her own afterlife, she sets out to see if everyone else's is similar to hers, and the killing begins. She tries to kill her victims softly so that she can revive them in order to find out what they saw, not often successfully. Luckily, she has a large back yard…

Stevie is a hard character to like. She's even hard to feel sorry for. She's so disconnected from the rest of humanity that it's alarming how she goes out of her way to be rude and nasty to everyone she meets. She makes plain her desire to be distanced from humanity, then is illogical enough to believe that someone will remember her birthday. In many situations, she will tell you "Here's what should have happened" and detail that; only to follow it with, "Here's what happened" and describe that. Both descriptions are equally dispassionate. It is her creeping, relentless, and gradually worsening disturbed mind and distorted life that glued the book to my hands, even though it caused me more than a moment or two of queasiness.

Aside from Stevie, there are few likeable characters in this grim debut novel. That being said, it's also a brilliantly written book that will not allow you to walk away from it. This is psychological horror at its very best.

If you're a fan of horror that's so well written and flows like a symphony, you'll want to pick up a copy of this book.

And I dare you to put it down!

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Carson Buckingham

Carson Buckingham is a writer living in the great American Southwest and she reviews horror/paranormal suspense novels.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Far Dark Fields

By Gary A. Braunbeck
Publsihed by Leisure Books

The latest book in Braunbeck’s Cedar Hill series, FAR DARK FIELDS will be devoured by fans, but it may leave new readers confused and cold. As I am somewhere in the middle, I should be the ideal person to review this, right? I mean, I have read two of Braunbeck’s previous novels set in that haunted Ohio town, but have missed two, so while some names and events were familiar to me, a good portion were not. While Mr. Braunbeck does provide some explanation of past events, enough is left for the fans of Cedar Hill to fill in the blanks that novices to that creepy Midwest town might be left scratching their heads. Ok, that bit of proviso out of the way, let’s get to the juicy bits.

Geoff Conover, a high school English teacher is our protagonist in this tale. A student at his school goes on a killing spree and heads towards his old home town of Cedar Hill. The kid is wounded, dying, but using his last breath he asks to speak to Geoff. The teacher, a survivor of a mass murder himself, reluctantly goes to speak with the kid. What follows is a mystery involving the local bogeyman with the great name of Hoopsticks and the reason he was spared so many years before. That mystery unfolds through a series of flashbacks, and then some flashbacks, and then a few more flashbacks. Remember when I said people new to Cedar Hills may feel a bit lost? Well this is where that will happen.

There are enough good fright moments here to satisfy most horror junkies even if they’re new to Braunbeck’s haunted world. One particular good part had Geoff descending into the very bowls of Cedar Hill in his hunt for the truth. Fan or not, that was great stuff. Furthermore Braunbeck’s trademark warm and easy to read style is in full effect and the man can spin a heck of a yarn. That said, not everything is perfect with this book. The explanation for Hoopsticks leaves a little something to be desired and leaves a lot of things unexplained. I can only assume that was done so that in a future book such questions could be wrapped up. In a similar fashion, the end of this the novel was also a bit so-so and pretty blatantly sets things up for a sequel. Now I don’t mind sequels, but I do like the stories before them to have their own clear and satisfying endings. I can’t honestly say that FAR DARK FIELDS has that.

Cedar Hill fans should get this book as it continues to expand the mythology of that town nicely. Those new to Gary A. Braunbeck should probably pick up some of his earlier titles, not only to see if his style meshes with their tastes (always a good idea), but to become familiar with the thick backstory needed to enjoy this book to the fullest. So depending upon who you are, buy accordingly.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


by Wrath James White
Published by Deadlite Press

Population Zero was originally released as a limited-edition novella through Cargo Cult Press in 2008. Deadite Press re-issued the book as a paperback and digital release in December 2010. The main character, a Welfare claims analyst named Todd, was taught as a child that animals need to be sterilized, sometimes even euthanized, in order to keep their populations down. When Todd, as an adult who sees the dregs of society waltz into his cubicle all day in search of a free handout, takes this ideology to its most extreme, hard decisions and bloody meat become the order of the day.

Population Zero is stylistically more similar to White’s 2008 Leisure release, Succulent Prey (also originally released as a limited-edition book, in 2005), than to his most recent novel, 2010’s The Resurrectionist. Todd is written almost as a prototype of Joseph Miles, the protagonist from Prey (though Prey does predate Zero by at least three years); according to the author, both are meant to be sympathetic characters capable of the most heinous crimes. Like Joseph, Todd fits this bill perfectly. It’s hard to disagree with a guy who feels indisposed to giving drug addicts more money for drugs and human baby factories a reward for producing children they can’t raise. Also like Succulent Prey, Population Zero features an insane amount of stomach-turning graphic nastiness, and a rougher writing style than White’s more recent, and more refined, work.

Overall, Zero is a fast-paced read that gets more brutal with each turn of the page and comes to the sort of jarring, satisfying ending one might expect from White’s work by now, with a mixture of the graphic horror and thinking-man’s concerns that are hallmarks of his writing.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Lincoln Crisler

Lincoln Crisler's debut novella, WILD, is due in March from Damnation Books. He has also authored a pair of short story collections, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). A United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer, Lincoln lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at www.lincolncrisler.info.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Death's Sweet Embrace

by Tracey O'Hara
Publsihed by the HarperCollins imprint Harper Voyager

Death's Sweet Embrace, put out by the HarperCollins imprint Harper Voyager, is second in a series of urban fantasy novels from Australian author Tracey O'Hara.

This series of books takes place in a world where humans and "parahumans," shape shifting folk from wolves, dogs, lions and bears, oh my! live together in an integrated society. The immediate threat is a serial killer loose on a college campus, where we are introduced immediately to Kitt, a feline shape shifter who has been called in by Oberon, a bear shifter, to help with the investigation. Conveniently for the reader who likes their melodrama shaken, not stirred, this will also include Raven, the male hero with the sticky romantic past with Kitt, a union that resulted in the birth of twins currently attending the college.

Think two parts crime procedural, one part Thundercats. While the action is non-stop, character development runs thin and relies instead on the stock characters of the modern era -- dark, brooding alpha hero who denies his inner feelings for the main heroine (Raven), a tough warrior chick who retains her feminine mystique amidst blood and guts (Antoinette), and the womanly, healing mother of the hero's children and object of his desire (Kitt).

The serial killer fades into the background, jammed in between too many side characters and subplots, a plot device designed to bring together characters who otherwise would not be engaged in various forms of hurt/comfort interplay. Their family lives and tribal ties to Packs and Prides proves far more interesting reading than the desire to see a killer brought to justice; the book would have done better to focus on this more human aspect of family and loyalty, and the Romeo and Juliet inspired conflict between the main characters.

Should a reader become snowed in and dream of a beach book to dispel the winter blues, Death's Sweet Embrace will provide fun-filled entertainment of the action-packed variety, but do not expect more than pulp is capable of delivering.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Martin Rose

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