School’s started up again, it’s cool and rainy, the leaves are changing … but I’m still calling it Review Summer for a while. And up this week, reviews of the Morbid Metamorphosis anthology, John McNee’s Prince of Nightmares, and Kids by Paul Feeney!
Title: Morbid Metamorphosis
Editor: Robert Nelson
Publisher: Lycan Valley Press
The theme for this anthology is ‘terrifying tales of transformation,’ which makes for a wide range of possibilities. From curses and lycanthropy to torture and medical miracles, from primal nature to the supernatural, here for your disturbed enjoyment are twenty-two such tales.
My top pick of the bunch has to be Terri DelCampo’s “The Skelly Effect,” a fun, gooshy, grisly take on the pandemic apocalypse. Forget infected crazies or zombies; how about stripping society to the bare bones? I wouldn’t mind seeing more stories or a whole book set in that world … fleshing it out, so to speak.
Other standouts for me included: “Little Spark of Madness” by Simon Dewar (with which many creative types will surely identify), Tina Piney’s “The Death Vaccine” (ah, the quest for eternal youth, but at what cost?) “Danger’s Balls” by Ken MacGregor (there’s always a need for more organ donors!), “The Lake” by Stacey Turner (those teenagers and their hijinks!), and “Hyde and Seek” by Nicholas Furr (an interesting twist on the classic).
Title: Prince of Nightmares
Author: John McNee
Publisher: Blood Bound Books
You know that feeling you get when you’re reading something really really good and wondering why you haven’t seen any of the author’s books before and then you get to the biographical note at the end and see the words “… first horror novel”?
Yeah. This is that. This is a whole lot of that. On the one hand, it’s discovery and elation and anticipation and wow. On the other, it’s envious dismay because here’s another skilled and talented hotshot making you look back on your own early works and just cringe.
To further rub salt in the wound, he goes and does it by taking one of the tiredest tropes – the haunted house – and putting all sorts of fresh new spins and twists on it, resulting in a terrific updated and elevated (and gory and bloody and graphic) not-your-usual-musty-old-moody-ghost story.
The house in this case is the Ballador, converted to a hotel and capitalizing on the eerie experiences reported by guests. It’s become a favored destination for paranormal nuts, willing to pay handsomely for a chance to sleep in one of the rooms where people almost always have nightmares.
A little vacation at the Ballador was not, however, part of Victor Teversham’s plan. The reservations were made by his late wife just before her suicide, and he only follows through in hopes of getting some better understanding of whatever final message she was trying to send.
Victor is not, to put it mildly, a very nice guy. He’s the kind of self-made success who got there by hook and by crook and by general bastardry. Hardly the sort of person to be bothered by superstitious and bad dreams, or so he thinks.
Pretty soon, it’s apparent that whatever walks in Ballador House does not walk alone … and, unlike the denizens of the Overlook Hotel, isn’t just looking for more guests to join the party. What’s in the Ballador wants something else, and Victor may be the man who can make it happen.
Author: Paul Feeney
Publisher: Dark Minds Press
Most parents’ deepest fears involve something happening to their children. Their children being hurt, getting sick, going missing. While you’re helpless to prevent it, or make it better. They trust us, depend on us, rely on us to fix it, to DO something, to let it all be okay again. An inability to hold up our end of that sacred bond is nonstop emotional agony. It’s all the fear and distress, plus guilt, shame, failure, and betrayal. Is there anything worse?
Well, as a matter of fact … yes, yes there is. As the grownups in this book are about to find out, when they get together for a nice family weekend – Matt and Julie with their three, Julie’s brother Ben and his new partner, cousin Eve with her son and husband and stepson. Nicest of all, the grandparents are away on a cruise. They’ve got the whole lavish ancestral mansion to themselves.
It’s quite the place, that house. Very old-fashioned. No TV, no internet, rooms full of antiques and musty paintings and medieval weapons. Far out in the peaceful, scenic country. Sounds great, until the violence begins. Sudden. Horrific. Unexpected.
One minute, there they are, having coffee, chatting about adult things. The next, they’re noticing how quiet it’s gotten – parental sixth sense knows this to usually be ominous – and thinking maybe they should check on the kids. And the next? Blood and death, horror and confusion.
Someone is in the house, armed and dangerous. Someone has rigged all kinds of lethal traps. Someone is trying to kill them. And it soon becomes all too terribly clear that the someones in question are their own children. How are they supposed to defend themselves against that? How can they possibly fight back? How is this happening, and WHY?
It’s a gripping read, well-written with plenty of savagery and gore, and it forces the uncomfortable close-to-home contemplations of what would YOU do, and my only complaint was that it ended too soon. I would definitely, and eagerly, read a follow-up or six!
Next week, reviews of: The Nightmare Project, Mother Fucking Black Skull of Death, and Through a Mirror Darkly.