Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Multiplex Fandango

by Weston Ochse
Published by Dark Regions Press

Multiplex Fandango is a sixteen-story, 283-page collection of fiction spanning over a decade of Weston Ochse's career. The stories, six of which were written specifically for this book, are each preceded by a movie-style introduction of the main characters (or elements of the story) and a quote, generally from a movie or book.

Weston Ochse is the real deal: a military veteran and former intelligence officer whose resume is no doubt peppered with events he can't talk about, who travels to exotic locales on government business to this day and lives with his wife in the American desert Southwest. So when he writes about places like China, Japan, the Mexican desert, the streets of Los Angeles and New Orleans during Mardi Gras, there's a sense of authenticity that you'd typically only find in an anthology featuring several authors from different walks of life. Ochse's work has received high praise from genre stalwarts like Joe Lansdale, Ed Lee, Brian Keene and the late Richard Laymon, and Ochse himself cites Cormac McCarthy as an influence. In fact, Ochse's short stories channel McCarthy's enviable skill at painting pictures and setting scenes with mere human language.

“Tarzan Doesn't Live Here Anymore,” Fandango's opening story; “High Desert Come to Jesus,” about a man involuntarily seeking penance from his victims; “Hiroshma Falling,” about a melted man's struggle to find his family in the aftermath of America's nuclear strike on Japan and “City of Joy,” a heart-wrenching science-fiction story, are personal favorites and are all worth the cover price individually, but only comprise a quarter of the book's material. Even the one story that missed the mark in this humble reviewer's opinion, “The Crossing of Aldo Rey,” was unique and tense and didn't quite resonate simply because it was written from a perspective that is sometimes hard to digest. The short notes from Ochse at the end of each story, detailing their origins and inspirations, are a welcome addition and all part of the Multiplex Fandango experience.

Multiplex Fandango is available for pre-order now through Dark Regions Press.

Reviewed by 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.


By Gina Ranalli
Published by Grindhouse Press

If you find yourself despairing of the condition of literature today and if you sorely miss Shirley Jackson and M.R. James, you're in luck, dear readers.

We now have Gina Ranalli.

Ranalli's House of Fallen Trees begins with the enigmatic sentence, "Two men have the carcass."

How can you not immediately love a book that begins like that?

The story is about Karen Lewis, a young reclusive writer who inherits half a Bed & Breakfast in Fallen Trees, Washington when her brother, Sean, missing from that same town and is presumed dead. The other half is owned by Rory, Sean's openly hostile partner.

Karen flies across the country to visit this B & B, only to find that she must hike in to get to the place--there is no passable road.

For a Bed & Breakfast?

And that is only the beginning of the strangeness. In this book, peopled with beautifully drawn three-dimensional characters and rich description, there are beasties, ghosties, and some downright freaky happenings--all of which Ranalli handles so deftly that reading her words is to the mind what fresh chocolate fudge is to the palate. I never wanted it to end, and read many paragraphs multiple times, just to enjoy their dark beauty repeatedly.

Creepiness abounds, incidents escalate, and Lewis begins to feel that she's losing her sanity. She very well could be. Ranalli keeps the reader from knowing without seeming to withhold and so we are all as on edge and as off balance as the main character. Delicious! She packs so much story into such a brief book that it is nothing short of amazing.

The characters are voluntarily isolated by visiting the house. But when they try to leave, isolation becomes enforced and they must find a way out.

Will they?

I'll never tell.

Haunted house stories abound. Good ones are hard to find. Brilliant ones are as scarce as Spock ears at a romance novelists' convention. Aren't we all fortunate that House of Fallen Trees adds one more to the megaclassics of the genre--Ghost Story, The Haunting of Hill House, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad," and The Shining.

This is one you'll want to add to your "favorite books" shelf--I promise you.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Waiting Out Winter

by Kelli Owen
Published by Thunderstorm Books; 1ST edition (2011)

WAITING OUT WINTER, a small, slender volume from Thunderstorm Books' Elemental chapbook series is Kelli Owen's newest release. It packs a huge punch that belies its size, however, and is more deserving of your time than some books three times its size and two-thirds the price.

Nick and his hunting buddies come home from a couple weeks in the woods to find themselves immediately neck-deep in an apocalyptic situation created by the local government's inept and little-too-late response to a pest problem. The result is a town, and possibly greater surrounding area, under siege from a most-unexpected front.

WINTER's length makes it difficult to discuss in-depth without giving too much away, but two things definitely worthy of mention are Owen's skill at toying with reader expectations and the unyielding tension throughout the story from the first sentence to the very last. This one's a limited edition (I believe the hardcover is already sold-out), so don't wait.

Buy it here.

Review 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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Flesh Eaters

by Joe McKinney
Published by Pinnacle Books

Like the two violent hurricanes that pound and swamp the city of Houston in the opening chapters, Flesh Eaters reads like a swirling wall of wind, debris, and water that knocks you to the ground and traps you there. Unable to escape, just pray that you’re safe. As the storms ultimately clear, something unnatural has spawned in the cesspool of sewage and pollution that is now a mostly submerged city. And that something wants to kill and eat you.


But how can you, when hundreds of square miles of your city are underwater -- neck-deep in water moccasins, bloated corpses, unrecognizable poisonous goo, and cannibalistic undead?

Flesh Eaters is Joe McKinney’s latest entry in his zombie series that began with Dead City and Apocalypse of the Dead. This volume is a prequel, and it tells the interwoven tale of two families struggling to survive in the deteriorating societal breakdown that exists after every mega-disaster weather event. Add to this mix one undead filovirus, and this world becomes a living (or not so living) hell.

The principal story follows Eleanor Norton’s fight to save her family while also fulfilling her duty as an officer of Houston’s Emergency Operations Command. Eleanor is a strong-willed, well-rounded character and her personal challenges mirror the greater disaster that overwhelms her. She is a complex character that will have to dig deeper into her personal values and survival skills than she ever thought possible if she and her family are to survive.

Her boss, Captain Mark Shaw is also trying to save his family while dealing with eighty thousand survivors trapped on high ground - an island of temporary safety in the middle of what is to become a war zone. Supposedly, help is coming, but like so many other disasters in recent history -- it’s too little, and much, much too late. Faced with an imminent catastrophe, Captain Shaw has to make life-and-death choices that directly affect his family and the thousands of civilians under his charge.

Mr. McKinney brings his vast experience in Disaster Planning and Police Operations to flesh out this story and give it a truly haunting sense of reality. His writing is crisp, fast, and he seldom lets the characters (or readers) come up for air.

The tension in Flesh Eaters builds naturally, and under Mr. McKinney’s firm authorial hand, there is plenty of gut-wrenching and ‘blow-their-heads-off’ horror as the outbreak happens. He turns the screw slowly, and we see how normal people must come to grips with world-shattering destruction. Ultimately, this is an apocalyptic story about families... one functional, one dysfunctional, and the choices that they make when the chips are down.

Needless to say, not everyone makes it out alive.

Flesh Eaters is an action-packed must-read. And without a spoiler alert, let’s just hope that Mr. McKinney has a sequel in mind for one of the survivors. Of course, that’s assuming there is one.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by R. B. Payne

R. B. Payne is a dark fiction writer. His stories have appeared in Doorways, Dark Discoveries, Necrotic Tissue, and the recent Stoker-nominated Midnight Walk anthology. He is insanely enthusiastic about writing book reviews for Shroud magazine. But rather than continuing to blurb himself by pretending that someone else wrote this bio, he would prefer you seek out his stories and read them late at night. For the record, he lives in Los Angeles and lurks at www.rbpayne.com. He would love to hear from you as long as it’s not a beating heart delivered in a cardboard box.